South Shore man flies high in restored aircraft |

South Shore man flies high in restored aircraft

As a kid, Jim Tait built model planes. As an adult, he’s restoring a 1943 Stinson Reliant World War II plane parked in a garage at the Lake Tahoe Airport.

A retired Los Angeles dentist, Tait has cosmetically restored the same type of plane as well as a 1943 Air Force jeep.

“I searched all around the country for this thing,” Tait said with a hand on the olive green skeleton.

There are little more than 100 Stinson Reliant’s existing right now, according to Tait. He found his 500 miles south of Lake Tahoe, in the Southern California town of La Verne, and bought it in 1999 for $29,000 from a guy who had it for 40 years.

The plane was brought up in pieces on two trailers up Highway 50. When the parts were delivered to Tait’s airplane hangar, he dismantled the machine, cleaned every section, replaced every bolt, washer and cotter pin.

A man who has previously seen the inner workings of countless mouths in the worst conditions, Tait called the cleaning process the “filthiest job I ever had.”

Now the plane is together. Soon the main parts will be disassembled again so 75 cubic yards of fabric can cover the plane, readying it for future paint and flight.

To the touch, the craft has the smooth but grainy feel of 12-hour-old stubble. It was originally built at the Stinson factory in Wayne, Mich., in May 1944.

Transported by rail to Coimbatore, India, the plane was used by Britain’s Royal Navy in World War II. After paying it’s patriotic duty, the Stinson was sent back to the United States, where it was bounced around among numerous private buyers and sellers.

The price was reduced throughout the years until it was sold for a dollar in 1958 and again in 1965.

Tait will wait until the plane is nearly complete to install a round 300 horsepower engine on the front. It will allow the plane to soar at about 330 mph.

Tait said he works on the machine for seven months a year for about 30 hours a week. A classical rock station provides Tait with music from Ritchie Valens and Gordon Lightfoot. When stumped, the retired dentist who dabbled in mechanical engineering looks at plans of the plane found on microfilm from the Smithsonian Institution.

He expects the finished project to be ready by late summer next year.

“As a kid I built model airplanes,” he said. “I have no desire for jets and modern stuff. I always like the old planes.”

— Contact William Ferchland at

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