Rare Vintage Bizliner Hits The Market
by James Wynbrandt
The maze of amazing aircraft on static display at NBAA conventions always highlights the cutting edge of business aviation technology, but one of stars of the ramp on the market this year at Henderson Municipal Airport (HND) is more than 50 years old: N500LN, a meticulously restored HA Howard 500, sporting a recently completed interior refurbishment.
Its radial engines aside, this is no nostalgia act. The Howard 500 can go head to head with any turbine twin flying today, cruising at 350 mph, boasting a range of more than 2,200 miles and able to maintain a sea level cabin up to 16,000 feet of its 35,000-foot service ceiling. But who’s looking at airspeed, anyway?
“It’s not about getting there fast,” said Tony Phillippi, owner of N500LN. “Once you’re on that airplane, you’ve arrived at your destination.”
Parked on the Apex Aviation ramp here at HND, N500LN is one of only two airworthy Howard 500s in the world, and Phillippi owns both. “It was love at first sight,” he said, recalling his first glimpse of a 500 through “two inches of open hangar door” in 2001.
Made by Howard Aero of San Antonio, Texas, the HA Howard 500 aimed to be the first transcontinental executive airplane. A clean-sheet design, it nonetheless resembles the Howard 250 and 350, executive transports created from refurbished military variants of Lockheed Model 18 Lodestars and Venturas by Durrell Unger “Dee” Howard and his chief mechanic, Ed Swearingen. (Swearingen, of course, went on to become a notable aircraft designer in his own right, creating the Metro series twin turboprops and SJ30 light jet, among more than two dozen other designs; Howard, meanwhile, is not to be confused with Ben Howard of Howard Aircraft, designer of the Howard DGA.)
The Howard 500 first flew in 1959, but regulatory holdups delayed certification until 1963. By then, business users wanted turboprops, not pistons. Only some 17 of this, the last radial engine passenger transport manufactured in the U.S., were built.
“Turbines are a lot less work. It takes a lot of skill to maintain the R-2800 engines,” Phillippi said of the 18-cylinder, 2,500-hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-CB17 Double Wasps. “You have to have your own staff–at least we found that’s the case.”
But for a sophisticated business aircraft, let alone a vintage specimen, the Howard 500 is relatively undemanding. “The maintenance is probably 15 to 20 hours for every hour of flight, if you’re flying 200 hours per year” as Phillippi and N500LN do. “It’s not prohibitive in terms of the ultimate cost,” he said. “We assign one guy to it, with a couple of helpers.”
Carrying up to 12 passengers, the light and airy six-foot, two-in standup cabin features Connolly leather seats, two divans, birds-eye maple cabinets and woodwork and blue carpet and curtains.
Phillippi, founder and owner of Phillippi Equipment in Eagan, Minn., uses the Howard for pleasure and business. In fact, just arriving in the vintage aircraft is often enough for him to seal a deal. “It’s probably the best salesman that we ever had. Let’s just say the ramp presence of the 500 is unbelievable,” he said. “We have great fun with it. It’s been as far south as Panama and as far north as the Arctic Circle. We fly low and count the antlers on the elk. I’ve never regretted having it for one moment. It’s an absolute hoot.”
Built in 1962, N500L was owned in the 1970s by aviator and inventor Forrest Bird, and later based in the UK until Phillippi bought it in 2009. Following a complete restoration, the engines were replaced at the Red Bull Hangar-8 maintenance and restoration facility in Salzburg, Austria.
Phillippi feels an extra obligation toward guardianship, having become friends with the designer. “I went to see Dee Howard in San Antonio,” he said. “He was obviously on the backside of life, but still sharp, and he stood there with tears in his eyes and thanked me for keeping his airplane in the air.”
Nonetheless, N500LN is here as the first step toward finding a new owner. Said Jay Duckson, Phillippi’s friend and president and founder of aircraft brokerage Central Business Jets (CBJ) in Burnsville, Minn., “He has been thinking almost with dread that it may be time to pass the Howard legacy torch onto somebody who feels as passionate about these aircraft as he does.” CBJ, which usually deals in large-cabin jets, is representing the Howard. “It’s like a Mercedes-Benz dealer having the ability to sell a 1947 Gullwing Benz,” Duckson said. “It’s a true flying collector’s piece.”
No firm price has been put on N500LN. “It’s about finding the right people, so it can end up with the right family for the next 25 years.” said Phillippi. “It’s not just a piece of iron–; it’s a piece of history.”
Duckson estimates it will sell in “the mid-millions.” Toby Batchelder, CBJ sales and marketing agent added, “We fully expect the buyer to be part of the one-percent club who wants something no one else can own.”
At some point, Phillippi will also put his other Howard, N500HP, on the block. He owns two “project” Howards as well, though he has no plans to undertake the restorations. “Two is enough,” he said.
Though the Howard 500 wasn’t a success, Howard and the Dee Howard Company went on to create innovations like thrust reversers for business jets and pioneer executive airliner conversions, handling, for example, the modification of a Boeing 747-300 complete with a hospital operating room and an elevator for King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.
Whether you’re in the market for a vintage business aircraft or not, the Howard’s appearance here represents a unique opportunity to get an inside look at a business aviation treasure. “We love to have people who really appreciate this kind of history on board,” said Phillippi. “This is for the world to enjoy.”
Howard 500 Makes NBAA Debut
by Fred George, Nov 18, 2015
Lots of heads turned when Ryan Mohr, chief pilot for Phillippi Equipment Co. of Eagan, Minnesota, landed Lady of the Night, one of the firm’s Howard 500 heavy twins at Henderson Airport on Saturday evening and moved it into the static display. It’s the first time that the historic aircraft has appeared at NBAA. Dee Howard’s masterpiece marked the bold end of an era when World War II piston engine aircraft and their derivatives were the mainstays of the Fortune 500 fleet.
“I never get tired of flying it, it’s always a challenge,” says Mohr. “It has speed, power and you see a lot of scenery at typical cruise altitudes.” Mohr’s regular job is flying Boeing 737s for a major U.S. air carrier, so he’s accustomed to flying at 39,000 to 41,000 ft. “Howard 500 also has excellent control harmony, nicely balanced control feel with manually actuated ailerons and hydraulically boosted rudder and elevator.”
Little more than a half-century ago, Leroy Grumman decided to challenge piston engine business aircraft manufacturers by introducing the Gulfstream [later Gulfstream I], a clean-sheet, pressurized turboprop that could climb as high as 30,000 ft., cruise as fast as 280 to 300 kt. and fly as far as 2,000 nm at 250 kt.
Grumman’s move was a figurative slap in the face to Durrell Unger “Dee” Howard of San Antonio, the famed modifier and converter of surplus Lockheed twins. Most other heavy-piston twin modifiers threw in the towel, but not Howard.
In response to Grumman’s challenge, Howard launched development of a Lockheed PV-1 Ventura derivative, stretching the fuselage 48 in., adding larger-capacity wet wing tanks, fitting a couple of 2,500-hp Douglas DC-6 spec R-2800 radials, adding panoramic windows and cabin pressurization and converting the bomb bay to an underfloor baggage compartment. The resulting aircraft would cruise as fast as 335 kt. but it normally cruises at 200-265 kt. while burning 1,200 lb. per hr.
Howard believed he could sell Howard 500 for $565,000, about half the cost of the Gulfstream. He was sure no one would pay more than $1 million for a business aircraft.
But the Grumman ironworks was flush with cash from its military aircraft contracts, so it could push the Gulfstream into production four years ahead of the Howard 500. Its late entry into service wasn’t the Howard 500’s only handicap. It’s the most challenging aircraft ever flown by Show News, but that also makes it the most fun.
“It has the weight of a DC-3, but half the wing area and twice the horsepower,” Mohr says. “P factor on takeoff and very limited rudder authority at low speed mean you have to lead the power on the left engine over the right by 15 to 20 in. MAP to keep it on centerline. After speed increases and the rudders become effective, you can marry the throttles.” Then, acceleration is brisk through 98 kt, average rotation speed. The V2 one engine inoperative takeoff safety speed is 111 kt, but Mohr says there’s zero margin for error. The props have auto-feather, but the pump takes 10 seconds to move the blades to full feather, seemingly an eternity when the pilot is holding full opposite aileron and rudder until the aircraft begins to accelerate through 130 kt. At that speed or higher, the aircraft becomes much more controllable.
Lady of the Night has a distinguished history as the 12th of 17 Howard 500 aircraft that were produced. It originally was purchased from Dee Howard by Dr. Forrest Bird, who flew it himself for several years. Later it was sold to Duncan Baker, who used it in support of his oil company’s travel needs. Then it sat dormant in a hangar in the UK for a couple of decades.
Howard 500 aficionado, collector and operator Tony Phillippi discovered the aircraft about eight years ago and immediately negotiated a purchase agreement. The aircraft has been even more of a project that Phillippi’s first Howard 500, N500HP. It was plagued with oil leaks, engine fires and several other major squawks.
After restoring the aircraft to superb mechanical condition, Phillippi had it painted and completely refurbished the cabin while retaining Dr. Bird’s original interior layout.
“My father cautioned me never to buy anything I wanted and never to sell anything I needed. When I first saw the big props of the Howard 500 through the hangar door, though, I was hooked.”
Howard 500 is on display this week at Henderson Airport. Mohr beams when he talks about the aircraft, speaking about it as though it were a human member of his extended family. “I can’t give it too much attention or its big sister, N500HP [Phillippi’s other flying Howard], will get jealous.”
New Aircraft Debuting At NBAA
Who will admit to being old enough to remember an earlier NBAA showing by this purpose-built, late-1950s business aircraft – even if there was one? For most attendees, however, this will be a first sighting. Only two of the 17 Howard 500s built remain in flying condition, the aircraft having inopportunely appeared on the executive airplane market just as more modern turboprop and jet designs were taking hold. It looks like one of the Lockheed Lodestars or Venturas that Howard Aero Inc. had previously been converting from military use, but in detail it was, essentially, new-build. And it retains sea-level cabin pressure up to 16,000 ft.; beat that, you young whippersnappers!
Howard 500 adds some romance from the past
While there are many new models gracing the flight line at the NBAA static park at Henderson Airport, it is a vintage executive aircraft that was getting all the attention this morning.
The Howard 500 was an American executive transport aircraft produced by Howard Aero Inc during the early 1960s, and is now just one of two flying models left in the world.
The pair are owned by Minneapolis based TP Aero, which focuses on restoring and maintaining aircraft that have made their mark on history.
The aircraft on display was brought back from Europe where it had been based for more than 30 years, and restored with a new paint job to reflect the style developed by manufacturer Dee Howard and his legendary mechanic Ed Swearingen.
As one of the pioneering executive aircraft, the Howard 500 was the last radial engine passenger transport ever built.
TP Aero owner Tony Phillippi says: “The plane is part of aviation’s romantic past and best times. When she arrives and departs, those who love aviation gather for the joy of the moment.”
November 24, 2015
An engine of a 1963 Howard 500 is shown at the Central Business Jets display during the National Business Aviation Association Convention & Exhibition at the Henderson Executive Airport Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015. The Howard 500 is considered to be one of the first corporate planes.