The home of everything related to Twin Navion and Camair aircraft
Gay Hamilton holds his plaque from AvWeb, showing his participation in one of the EAA Air Races.
Photo courtesy of Trevor McTavish
Just one short week after meeting Frank Ochoa in Washington, I traveled to California on another business trip. Naturally, I looked up the five Twin Navions registered in the state,
and arranged a meeting with Gay Hamilton, who lives in Tustin - about 15 minutes from my Anaheim hotel.
Gay happily met with me, and was excited to share his plane and rightfully so, its one of the best I've seen. Driving to Chino, on the outskirts of the greater Los Angeles area
provided Gay and I a good hour to talk about his plane, and for him to share its interesting story.
Before Gay, N716T was owned by his very good friend Jim Matheson, a man dedicated to everything Navion. "He thought the sun rose and set on those planes," explained Gay. Through
the years he'd owned several Navions and one Twin Navion and in 1988 he purchased both a single and twin. It was ferried from Indiana to Jim's home in Torrance, California. For two
years N716T rarely flew, mostly with Gay at the controls, and always using ferry permits (Jim never kept it in annual). It was then moved to an airpark property in Arizona, where it
sat inside a hangar for another ten years.
In late 1997 Gay sold his Beech Bonanza, and his friend offered him the twin for free. Gay and his mechanic friend Fred Holsteen flew between Chino and Arizona several times before
they felt N716T was safe to fly. It took weeks but eventually N716T arrived in Chino. It took another 18 months, and tens of thousands of dollars before it was finally ready.
"Fred worked 10 to 16 hours a week on the plane," explained Gay. "He's now quite knowledgeable in Navions." Beneath three heavy coats of paint was a strong airframe with just a
little minor corrosion. The engines had all their hoses and wires changed and the magnetos rebuilt. What was most shocking was the discovery of charred fuel supply lines. They ran
so close to the exhaust that they became charred and brittle enough that Gay could snap them between his finger tips. The landing gear was removed and rebuilt and Gay fabricated a
new instrument panel with new avionics. The cabin interior was completely refinished.
Although they were the best of friends Gay had to admit that Jim never invested money to improve the plane's condition. In fact, on the first flight following the rebuild Jim asked,
"What happened to the vibration?" The answer was simple - the propellers had been balanced during their overhaul. The paperwork was another example of the plane's rough condition.
It took days to get everything organized.
Recently N716T has received coverage as a participant in the EAA's annual air race, a fact Gay is quite proud of. Now the Twin Navion isn't a fast plane, but Gay has flown in the
2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 races and has had some real adventures.
The 2003 air race measured 1,000 miles in length, and celebrated the 100th anniversary of manned powered flight. The route began a short distance from Kittyhawk, North Carolina.
Most of the 82 participants were high speed experimentals or homebuilts. N716T was registered in a 'golden age' (pre-1950) category, which it won. The three others in the category
could have easily out performed the Navion but one dropped out for mechanical reasons, and the two others couldn't enter because of problems with their paperwork.
The racers passed over the Wright brother's monument and proceeded non-stop to Dayton, Ohio - a distance of 500 miles. The second leg then passed over Aurora, Illinois - another 500
miles. The contestants landed in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin before arriving as a group in Oshkosh.
In the following years Gay has assumed the role of 'support plane,' carrying a mechanic and aiding competitors suffering from mechanical problems.
It was after the 2003 air race that Gay experienced one of his most memorable and deadly flying experiences. As he approached the Tulsa, Okalahoma airport in the early afternoon he
noticed several large thunder cells to the west of the airport (the cloud cover was so thick the sunlight was blocked), and as the control tower cleared him to land, they issued a
5D and 7D windshear warning.
Having lost friends to wind shear Gay kept an extra 100 feet of altitude, and an extra 15 to 20 knots of airspeed. All of a sudden he lost both "in a nanosecond." He recovered with
just enough altitude to cushion the landing. If that wasn't enough, as he rolled down the runway a bolt of lightning he described as being about 18 inches wide struck a runway
light off the right wing. A 737 airliner following behind him diverted to its alternate and two more returned to their gates at the terminal - nothing flew for the rest of the day.
Following a short photo session, Gay and I climbed aboard for a 10 minute flight over to El Monte. Having never been in California I was happy to enjoy the view from the right seat.
I'm glad I did, because as we flew between airports, Gay explained the conjested air traffic control areas of the Los Angeles area. With so many control areas I can see why Gay never
flies without his trusty GPS. Finding El Monte was another challenge for me, since the airport blends completely into the surrounding neighborhood. I spotted it when we were only
about 1-1/2 miles from crossing overhead.
Following a hamburger at the terminal's restaurant, we climbed back aboard for a beautiful flight back to Chino. The flight (although short) was perfectly smooth, and all the lights
in the Los Angeles area made for a beautiful sight. The GPS even announced a 10 knot tailwind.
I'd like to thank Gay for taking an evening and sharing his Twin Navion with me, and with all our visitors.
With the sun setting, Gay and I flew from Chino to El Monte for dinner.
Photo courtesy of Trevor McTavish