Each year the National Aviation Heritage Invitational (NAHI) brings together some of America’s best aircraft restorations. The 15th NAHI competition was held September 11-15, 2013, at Stead Field in Reno, Nev. The competition takes place during the National Championship Air Races, so spectators can enjoy the high-flying action while also admiring the aircraft on hand for judging. There was a lot to choose from this year, including a Howard 500, 1926 Travel Air 4000, 1935 Lockheed 10E Electra, 1949 Piper PA-16 Clipper on floats and 1953 Cessna 195B.
What do the judges look for in an award-winning aircraft? “For me it’s authenticity,” said judge Taigh Ramey, proprietor of Vintage Aircraft in Stockton, Calif., “but there are a total of 70 points on the judging sheet for NAHI.” He elaborated: “NAHI judges can award a maximum of 10 points in each of the following categories: overall, wings and tail, fuselage, flight deck, engine/ prop, landing gear and documentation. The nice thing about NAHI is that all the aircraft are on an even playing field. Other venues give difficulty points for more complex aircraft that make it nearly impossible for an L-Bird, or the like, to make it to the top. Not so at Reno, where even a Twin Beech has the ability to win over a Spitfire or other similar exotic aircraft.”
Among those on hand to present the trophies were National Aviation Hall of Fame enshrinees Dick Rutan, Clarence E. “Bud” Anderson, Robert “Hoot” Gibson, Herb Kelleher, R.A. Bob Hoover, Clay Lacy and Sean D. Tucker. Matt Walker took top honors, winning the Neil A. Armstrong Aviation Heritage Trophy for his 1946 Beechcraft D-18S. Walker’s highly polished Twin Beech was accurately detailed and mostly original, down to its factory-installed de-icing equipment.
Other winners included Jeff and Kim Powschwatta from Kent, Wash., who took the Orville and Wilbur Wright Trophy for best antique with their 1942 Interstate S-1A. In the Classic category, Damon Duree of Oakland, Calif., was recognized with the Paul E. Garber Trophy for his 1949 Aeronca 11CC Super Chief restoration.
The best military aircraft award, the Henry “Hap” Arnold Trophy, went to John Sessions of Mukilteo, Wash., for his restored Mk. IXE Spitfire in Czech air force markings, and Joe Duke of Jacksonville Beach, Fla., took home both the Howard Hughes Trophy for large aircraft and the People’s Choice award for his 1954 Grumman G-111 Albatross.