From the Hangar Floor: Replicating Steve Wittman’s Buster

From the Hangar Floor: Replicating Steve Wittman’s Buster

Being located in Oshkosh, EAA Chapter 252 has always had a strong connection to aviation great Steve Wittman. It is only fitting, then, for Chapter 252 to have the opportunity to build a replica of Wittman and Bill Brennand’s Buster racer for the EAA Aviation Museum.

The build project was put into motion when an old friend of Wittman’s named Dave Broadfoot donated Buster’s original wings to EAA in 2015. Chapter 252 is currently working on welding together the replica’s fuselage and the wings have been coated with Poly-Brush, but it took climbing over a uniquely challenging hurdle to get to this point: Buster wasn’t built from a set of plans.

In fact, Buster is a direct descendent of and shares the same airframe as Wittman’s Chief Oshkosh race plane, but the two bear little resemblance.

“Steve Wittman started with some wood two-by-fours on the floor, and he would build his planes by beginning to cut the tubing and welding it up,” said Jim Casper, Chapter 252’s historian. “When it got done, there’s your plane.”

Wittman originally built Chief Oshkosh in the 1930s and flew it in races until it crashed in 1938. He was unable to salvage the airplane in time for the 1939 racing season, and shortly after that air racing was put on hold as attention was focused on World War II efforts. Following the war, Wittman teamed up with Brennand to rebuild Chief Oshkosh originally for some fun personal flying, and then for the new Goodyear trophy race standards.

This involved removing the airplane’s large four-cylinder Menasco engine and replacing it with an 85-hp Continental, and building a larger, safer set of wings for an airplane with a minimum weight of 500 pounds. These changes resulted in a drastically different looking machine, and Wittman and Brennand named this new airplane Buster.

In 1947, Brennand flew Buster in its first Goodyear trophy competition, taking first place. Wittman and Brennand tinkered with their design during the off season for the next two years, taking first place again in the 1949 Goodyear races. This model of Buster is what Chapter 252 is now working to replicate. The original airplane with the modifications it featured during its last race in 1954 now hangs in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

“Each part is unique, and Buster was done in several areas in a very unique way that is not normal for the average little aircraft of that size that was built in those years and later,” Jim said, comparing uncovering details about the aircraft’s structure to an archeological dig. “So that’s been an adventure and it’s drawn out the project for us.”

 Luckily, the chapter has been able to receive firsthand guidance from Brennand, who still lives in the area and has a sharp memory. The aim is to make this build as close to the original as possible, but Jim said the chapter is doing one big thing differently.

“It’s at our chapter hangar here on a table, the way you normally do a fuselage — not the way Steve did it, just throwing stuff on the floor and working on it from there,” he said with a laugh. “It’s got a bunch of chocks that hold the tubes in the right position getting it ready to be welded.”

Once the build is complete, the Buster replica will be hung in the racing aircraft section of EAA’s museum and pay homage to some of Brennand’s accomplishments.

“There is very little of anything to do with Bill Brennand in the museum,” Jim said. “This would be a chance to have something of his in the museum. He had a storied career flying and racing, and he rebuilt a Stinson Tri-Motor and had it here at convention for a string of years. I always tell people if our chapter wasn’t named the Steve Wittman chapter, it would probably be the Bill Brennand chapter.”

Follow updates on Buster’s build at www.eaa252.org.

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Megan, EAA 1171719, is EAA’s staff writer, regularly contributing to both print and digital publications. She’s an aspiring pilot, a passionate aviation enthusiast, and an avid learner of just about everything. E-mail Megan at mesau@eaa.org.