Nut Tree Airport, Vacaville, CA, USA - 10 February 2007

Sometimes the most nondescript airfields can yield the largest surprises.

One of our travelling party suggested that we drop-in to Nut Tree Airport, Vacaville as he thought there was a Neptune stored here. As it turned out the entry in the book was misread, and instead of seeing PV2 (Harpoon) he read P2V (Neptune).

Anyway, not to worry, as there were many surprises to be seen here.

The first aircraft seen was the Tri-Gear BAC 250 (N6711). In the 1950's there were many companies converting ex military Lockheed Loadstars and one of the major players was Dee Howard.

As Howard added more and more modifications to the existing aircraft, they were re-branded as the Howard 250 - 250 being the cruising speed in mph of the original Loadstar.

Items that were modified included fibre glass nose extensions, picture windows, increased mtow, elevator and rudder boost tabs as well as structural reinforcements. These aircraft could carry up to 12 passengers in boardroom type luxury at speeds up to 310mph.

Nearly all converted aircraft retained their original tail-dragger configuration, but three examples were converted to tri-gear configuration and named BAC 250s. In 1953 Howard Aero and Alamo Aero Services merged to become Business Aircraft Corporation, hence the new BAC moniker.

Only 2 of the 3 examples are said to still be extant, and it was a surprise to find this example at this out of the way airport. As you can see from the photos the Californian weather was not good to us, and we were rained on the whole time.

There was a line-up of two classics aircraft next to an open hanger. US-2B Tracker N7141D (ex Bu136636 of VT-28) and PV-2 Harpoon NL20PV.

We quickly walked in the rain towards the hangar where we could see a T-28 Trojan inside along with a table, chairs and a small office.

On closer inspection this was a museum. An old man popped out of the office, later found to be a lounge, and introduced himself as Duncan Miller. He was both surprised and ecstatic to find a group of people interested in his aircraft, and fussed around asking if we required a can of pop or some cake.

He then offered to open up the adjacent two hangars where another T-28 Trojan and a Vultee BT-13 Valiant was revealed.

Duncan then said he had other aircraft in hangars and he would show us if we could guess which aircraft he was going to show us next. He gave us clues, for instance "this was the only aircraft Winston Churchill gave back" and others - you could sense that he was really itching to show us his next aircraft.

He jumped into his truck as we walked down two rows of hangers to his next treasure. On opening the hangar he again asked us to guess what this aircraft was. No one knew, and not being able to contain himself any longer, he told us that it was a Stinson-Vultee V77.

Up to 500 of these aircraft were built and sent to the UK on a lend-lease agreement as Stinson Reliant I/II/III/IVs. Nobody knows for sure how many were actually sent overseas as many were left behind still in their crates.

According to Duncan his example was the only one that came back and survived, although he did divulge that 6 months ago he found out another was extant, so he probably couldn't tell his story anymore. Doing a quick search on the Internet I can find quite a few examples in the USA, so the type in itself isn't rare, but the circumstances probably are.

His example (NC1141) painted in Royal Navy colours as FK861 was immaculate, and you could clearly tell that it was Duncan's pride and joy.

He also used to have a DC3 parked next to the S-2 but this has since been donated to the Travis AFB museum, which we would visit later.

After this excitement we were herded back to the "lounge" where his friends were gathered in the overheated room talking aircraft. One of these guys had flown over 10,000 hours in the C-124 after flying F-100 Super Sabres in the Korean War - he was only in his 70's!

Duncan is a sprightly 86 years old and his hangar is splattered with memorabilia and relics from his life in aviation. It was an absolute joy to meet and listen to someone who started off his flying career barnstorming, and a shame that we had to push on because of a looming snow storm. I hope I can visit again in better weather sometime.

Before we left decided to have a whip-round to donate some money to his museum - Duncan steadfastly refused to take the money, and on hearing we were headed to Vegas said "make sure you don't use that money for gambling - use it for women".

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