How much does Bill Pratt love airplanes? Enough to spend nine years building one knowing only others would get to fly it. Now, everyone can enjoy it without leaving the ground.
Pratt's replica of the famous British World War II fighter plane, the Spitfire, is on display at the Southern Heritage Air Foundation Museum in Tallulah, Louisiana, which features airplanes from that era.
This Spitfire is a little more than half the size of the fighter plane credited with saving Great Britain before the U.S. entered the war. The single-seat fighter aircraft helped fight off the German air force, discouraging Adolf Hitler from invading.
Unlike the Spitfires that served in the war, Pratt's is built almost entirely from wood.
The 86-year-old longtime Hammond resident said he bought blueprints for the plane in the 1970s from England. The replica was designed for amateur craftsmen by John Isaacs, who worked during the war for the company that made the Spitfire.
"As far as I know, that's the only flying example in the United States," Pratt said.
A native of California, Pratt worked for the Federal Aviation Administration, ending his career in New Orleans, the hometown of his wife, the late Myrle Forsyth Pratt. Years ago, he built a Turner T-40 airplane for his own use, then sold it.
He built his Spitfire in the garage of his Hammond home.
"The wing was 23 feet long, so I built it diagonally in my garage, and built the rest of it (there), also," Pratt said. "Then, I trucked it out to the airport and assembled it out there.
"A lot of people are building kit airplanes now," he said. "Some are all metal and some are composite construction. Not too many people are building wooden aircraft now. That was a lot more popular back in the '70s. Modern construction methods have kind of moved on."
Wooden aircraft are definitely a throwback; the combat Spitfire itself was a metal aircraft. But wood was the material of choice for military planes in World War II and continued to be used into the 1930s.
Pratt built the framework for his plane from Sitka spruce and the covering out of mahogany plywood either 1/8th- or 1/16th-inch thick. He obtained the material from aircraft supply houses.
"You can't go to Home Depot," he said.
Pratt did the vast majority of the work himself, getting help for some of the most strenuous manual labor, such as installing the Jabiru 3300 engine, a six-cylinder, 210-horsepower power plant that gives the Spitfire replica a 135 mph cruising speed and 200 mph top speed.
After completing the airplane in 2014, two friends who were pilots each flew it.
Pratt said he doesn't regret not adding features to make it look more like an actual warplane.
"Somebody suggested I mount some dummy machine guns on the wings, but I figured I didn't need to spend my time doing that," he said. "I just needed to get it flying."
This article is written by George Morris from The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.