The story of how a World War II airplane got to Canton starts like an episode of the popular TV show, “American Pickers.”
In 1941, the U.S. Army Air Corps ordered four airplanes from AERONCA (Aeronautical Corporation of America) to evaluate as liaison and training aircraft. Only four of this model (designated YO-58) were made and delivered to the U.S. Army in Louisiana. Two-seaters, these airplanes consist of a tubular metal frame covered with cloth and weigh only 825 pounds. Used and evaluated in war games, two of the airplanes had crosses painted on them to designate them as the opposing team. After the games, many of these airplanes were ordered and put into service around the world during WWII.
Today, only two of these original four YO-58 warbirds have survived. One of them recently was purchased by Canton resident and Navy veteran Buck Benton. He brought this piece of history home to Cherokee County to begin the hard work of restoration. The only other surviving YO-58 is owned by Gene Oshrin of Southhampton, New York.
Benton held a longtime dream of owning an AERONCA, so acquiring the holy grail of warbirds in 2017 had to be well worth the wait. About the history of this airplane, Benton said, “After the war ended, historical records show that my plane went to the U.S. Navy Gun Factory Flying Club in Maryland, and then later was owned for decades by NASA employee Vestor Bowers. Bowers flew the airplane to his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, after his retirement.
“In 1977, he disassembled the plane to begin a rebuild, but never got around to completing the job. Mr. Bowers passed away, leaving the YO-58 in a barn in pieces.”
The Bowers family put the airplane up for sale in December 2017, but the understandable emotional attachment and memories of flying with their dad made the price way too high. Benton’s love of history and desire to own an important piece of it caused him to persist.
“During negotiations, I thought it was important to convince the Bowers family members not to sell this precious piece of history in parts,” said Benton. “After six weeks of haggling, a fair price was finally agreed upon. My 17-year-old daughter and I drove to Greenville, South Carolina, loaded the airplane on a trailer, and brought it home to Canton.”
I asked Benton about his own military history. He said, “I was part of the last group of men drafted in 1969. My uncle’s next door neighbor was a Navy recruiter. I went directly into the Navy. I was enlisted as a hospital corpsman, rescue swimmer, and aircrew member who rose to the rank of senior chief petty officer. I was then commissioned as an officer, rising to lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Medical Service Corps.”
After serving in Naval hospitals across the USA, Spain and Japan, including USMC aviation and ground units, he came to the Naval Air Station in Atlanta in 1987 and served as officer in charge of the U.S. Navy Medical Clinic until retirement in 1991. Benton transitioned from active military duty to become the CEO of several hospitals across the southeast. He presently serves as executive vice president of Potomac Healthcare, a service-disabled veteran-owned small business performing work with the Special Operating Forces for the past six years. A very busy man, restoration of the YO-58 will take Benton some time.
“The ultimate goal is to get this warbird restored to its original glory and fly all the way to Middleton, Ohio, where the National AERONCA Association holds their biannual convention in 2020,” said Benton. “And, maybe even take off from my property here on the Etowah River.”
As we celebrate and honor all of our amazing veterans this month, cheer on Buck Benton as he works to make even more history happen right here in Cherokee County!
Side note from Buck Benton: “If any airplane A&P IEs are interested in assisting in this restoration, they are more than welcome to contact me at AeroncaYO58@yahoo.com.”
– Susan Browning Schulz, a Bible teacher, author, wife, and mom of three grown children.