Oshkosh, Wisconsin is the headquarters of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Every summer it hosts the world’s largest airshow, an event that marks the pilgrimage of thousands of pilots from every state in the country (and a few continents).
During that week, over 10,000 airplanes can been seen parked within the 1400-acre airport. Some planes are contemporary, some are futuristic, and some are known as “vintage”, “antique”, or “historical”.
Many are there to be judged on their appearance, rarity, and accuracy. For aircraft once used in the military, for example, the official EAA Judging Standards Manual lists a goal to “preserve, in original flying condition, aircraft of our military heritage… with judges giving credit whenever possible for restoration details that were present on Warbird aircraft in military service.”
They go on to list examples like bomb racks, guns, gun sights, operational turrets, original cockpit configurations, radio gear.
Jim Busha happens to own one of these military warbirds. It’s a small, two-seater known as an L-5 Stinson, also known as the “flying Jeep”. Its purpose was for Liaison (the L in L-5), which included observation of military movements, courier and communication, and even evacuation of casualties.
On its own, Jim’s L-5 looks like it just rolled out from a 1943 factory, but he didn’t stop there. He turned to eBay to find accurate accessories that would have been in the cockpit when it was used by American forces in Italy.
“That's the real curse of getting something like this airplane,” he said. “Some parts came with it but others didn’t. I wanted to have that period look, so I searched eBay for "WWII militaria" and found all kinds of things… smoke grenades, a battalion map from 1944 Italy, lollipop microphones…”
When asked how he knew what to look for on eBay, he said one important source was the plane’s original maintenance manual. In it were hand-drawn items and accessories shown in their original positions.
“I’m surprised every time I go to eBay,” he said. “Searching for World War II militaria is pretty vague, so I refine my searches. But sometimes I don’t because it’s fun to look what generally comes up. There have been many nights on my iPad scrolling through and saying ‘that's pretty cool...’"
Even though he has a large plastic bin full of authentic period-accurate items acquired from eBay, there’s always more to get. In his sights next are binoculars, a flare pistol, a life preserver known as a ‘Mae West’, perhaps even a parachute.
“Thankfully I don’t have the ambulance version of the L-5 or I'd never be done finding items to put in it!” he said. “It amazes me that this stuff is still out there. The airplanes are the airplanes, but to really display it period-correct, you need eBay to make it happen.”
At Oshkosh during judging, Jim was away from the airplane, but he later heard from someone who was standing within earshot and heard the judges say that all the correct period stuff was there: survival manual, musset bag, a map case and holder for an Italian road map, even a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes tucked into the space between the instrument panel and the windshield.
The L-5 was actually one of a handful of others there, but it was Jim’s that won “Best L-5”.
Jim credited a few colleagues with helping him restore his L-5 to such accuracy, but for the finishing touches, he said he couldn’t have done it without eBay. The prices he found for the items were fair, he said, and had no issues with people he bought from. He called his transactions “safe and legitimate” with some items arriving sooner than expected, all packaged nicely.
“I want to thank eBay for giving people an outlet to showcase their hidden treasures, and I’m glad that people aren’t just throwing these kinds of things away. Really it’s a great way to preserve history.”
Congratulations on the beautiful restoration and award, Jim… and thanks for sharing your version of perfect!