Flying time machine: Mike Bradford flies in his antique 1938 Navy N3N |

Flying time machine: Mike Bradford flies in his antique 1938 Navy N3N

Dan Thrift
Photos by Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Mike Bradford is a time traveler.

Seated in his 1938 Navy N3N, Bradford returns to the Golden Age of flying.

“I always wanted an antique plane, the open cockpit, it’s a romantic thing for me,” said Bradford as the door opened at his Minden Airport hanger.

Designed and built by the Navy Aircraft Factory, the N3N was the primary training plane for potential pilots going into World War II. Dubbed the “Yellow Peril” because of their yellow-orange paint, the plane was the first step in off-the-ground training for aviation cadets. If a trainee couldn’t solo with a certain period of time he was deemed in “peril” of not continuing his training.

The NAF built 816 N3N’s and is the last bi-plane to see service with the United States.

Bradford began his quest for an antique plane years ago and with much research.

“After looking at my options, the N3N was the best built plane of its time,” added Bradford. “It was designed to be sturdy, easy to work on and durable.”

In the early 1990’s he came across an N3N, but would basically have to rebuild the entire plane. While he admires the dedication and skill to restore an antique, it would take years to rebuild.

“I wanted to fly,” said Bradford.

Through his continued research Bradford, CEO and owner of Lakeside Inn and Casino at Stateline, came across another N3N at the Yanks Museum in Chino, Calif. The plane had been fully restored in 1991 and placed in the museum for five years.

“It was like a brand new plane from 1938,” Bradford said. “It only had 15 hours of flight.”

After two years of work, and a lot of help from friends and experts, repairing oil leaks, electrical shorts and tuning, the plane was ready to fly.

” I needed to maintain the museum quality of the plane, so many of the parts had to be custom designed. I replaced the old drum brakes with discs and added a transponder for safety, otherwise it’s like it was in 1938,” Bradford said with a beaming smile.

While it was frustrating at times, he considered the job fun, ” knowing this plane inside and out, not just flying it, increases the satisfaction,” said Bradford.

Getting the plane into flying condition was just part of the job, learning to fly it was another. An accomplished pilot for 33 years and sail plane pilot Bradford has logged 3,300 hours in the air, but needed some training, though he was never in “peril.”

He sought out pilots with similar aircraft for help.

“These planes, with the two seats, high profile and the amount of force created by the engine makes them different to fly, and because you can’t see what’s directly in front of you. I had to learn to reference the horizon at the peripherals instead of looking straight ahead,” Bradford said. “It (has) made me a better pilot overall.”

So if you happen to be in the Carson Valley at Lake Tahoe on a clear day and see a yellow bi-plane overhead, it’s just Bradford in his time machine heading back to the Golden Age of flying.

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