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Restored John Livingston plane, displays coming to airport
Arizona resident Jim White spent eight years restoring John Livingston's Monocoupe airplane. He plans to fly the plane to Waterloo in August and have it on display for a few weeks.

WATERLOO -- Jim White can thank his father for the connection to John H. Livingston.

White's father was an air show pilot and barnstormer with Livingston, a Cedar Falls native and champion air racer in the 1920s and '30s. During his racing days, Livingston used the Model 110 Monocoupe NC501W, purchasing the first of the line. He modified it to reach speeds of 200 miles per hour, which was unheard of for that style of plane at the time.

After a convention many years ago, White's father discovered that an old friend of his had purchased Livingston's plane in 1971.

"I frankly didn't know the plane was still intact," White said.

White called Al Allin, the plane's owner, to express an interest in the airplane, but was rebuffed. In 1996, White had a day to kill while in Dallas, so he called Allin to see if he could drive out to nearby Krum to see the plane. Allin had other ideas.

"He said 'I was about to call your dad because I decided I was not ever going to have time to do anything with the airplane,'" White said.

White bought the plane that day and got to work restoring it. Several years later, he had it completed and, soon, the plane will be stopping near Livingston's old flying grounds.

White is flying the 110 Monocoupe to Waterloo in early August, with plans to leave the plane on display for about three weeks.

"People are excited about this airplane," White said. "It's a piece of history."

One of those people is H.D. "Ike" Leighty, of Waterloo. Leighty first met Livingston while attending school in Cedar Falls with one of Livingston's nieces.

Leighty, a pilot and a member of the Waterloo Hangar QBs, began compiling a history of Livingston for the dedication of Livingston Aviation, a business based at the Waterloo Regional Airport that provides aircraft chartering services among other programs. Rick Young, an area businessman and co-founder of Livingston Aviation, approached Leighty about compiling the information because of his friendship with Livingston and his brother, Aden "Bite" Livingston, another pilot.

"I got involved with the thing, and it's been a passion of mine ever since," Leighty said.

John Livingston, who died in 1974, got his first experience with aircraft after he was hired in 1920 by a local manufacturer as a mechanic for a recently purchased airplane. After Livingston would work on the aircraft, he would test his work by driving the aircraft. One day, Livingston began running the plane faster and soon found himself airborn.

Livingston tried to keep it to himself, but wasn't about to stop flying. "He had six hours of solo time before the owner and the pilot found out about it," Leighty said.

From there, Livingston went on to find success in air shows and as a racer.

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Calling Livingston a good air racer would be like saying the University of Iowa wrestling program has an adequate history of success. In 1931, Livingston and his Monocoupe entered 65 races. He placed first in 41 and second in 19.

A good deal of his success came because Livingston continually modified the plane to gain a few more miles per hour. One of his biggest changes was to shorten the wings from 32 feet to 23 feet, creating the Clipwing version of the aircraft.

Leighty said one win netted Livingston $8,000, which doesn't sound like much in today's terms, but was quite a sum during the era of the Great Depression.

"$8,000 during the Depression was enough to buy three or four houses," Leighty said.

Livingston didn't hang on to the plane for very long. He sold the plane in 1933, not long after the National Air Races began modifying its rules to focus more on qualifying speeds than type of aircraft. To run that kind of plane against pure racing aircraft would be like someone today modifying a sedan to compete in NASCAR races.

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Still, his record in 1931 is considered one of the top one-season records compiled by a racer. "He was kind of like the Dale Earnhardt of air racing," White said.

White restored the Monocoupe to fly as it did when Livingston owned it. For example, the plane has no radio, so when White flies it into Waterloo, he will have to use a handheld radio. When White purchased the plane, he expected the restoration to take three or four years. That was before he discovered some parts of the plane in worse shape than expected.

"When I uncovered the fuselage, I basically uncovered a rat's nest," White said.

He finished restoring it two years ago and has taken it on several flights, though none as long as his planned flight to Iowa. White said he expects to have the plane in the Cedar Valley on Aug. 6 or 7.

While Livingston's Monocoupe display will be a temporary show, an unrelated attempt to display more Livingston memorabilia is under way. Satch Paige, owner of the airport's restaurant, Wings of John H. Livingston, is asking the airport board to install a display case to display some of Livingston's memorabilia inside the terminal.

Brad Hagen, the airport's manager, said the board seems receptive to having the display but is now looking at locations inside the terminal and the design of the display.

"It's a question of what we put where," Hagen said.

The terminal has previously displayed some of Livingston's things but removed the memorabilia when it was renovated a few years ago. Those items are now in storage at the Cedar Falls Historical Society.

Contact RC Balaban at (319) 291-1418 or rc.balaban@wcfcourier.com.

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