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Rick Livingston of Hamilton stands next to his 1943 vintage Staggerwing Beech airplane that he plans to display Saturday at the annual Airport Heritage Days celebration at the Ravalli County Airport.

PERRY BACKUS/Ravalli Republic

HAMILTON – The Staggerwing Beech was considered the Learjet of its day.

It was a high-dollar airplane favored by the rich and famous for cross-country jaunts and forays across the border.

Rick Livingston was 14 years old when he saw his first Staggerwing.

He decided right then he wanted one of those some day.

After a career fighting fires as a helicopter pilot and business owner, Livingston found one of the twin-winged airplanes in 2006 that had been battered a bit by high winds and was in need of some restoration.

“I’ve always known that I would not be able to afford one unless I was ready to build it,” he said.

He took on the restoration project, and thousands of hours of loving labor later Livingston is the proud owner of a very special piece of history.

On Saturday, Livingston will share his love of history and aviation with folks who make the trip to the Ravalli County Airport to celebrate Airport Heritage Days.

“I’ll probably try to fly it Saturday morning,” Livingston said. “I’ll buzz it around a bit.”

The bright red Staggerwing will be just one of several historic aircraft that visitors to the airport will be able to enjoy and learn about at the annual event that gets underway at 7 a.m. with a pancake breakfast. The cost for that is $5 for adults and $3 for kids 12 and younger.

“We hope a lot of people will come down and take a look around the airport and see what we have to offer,” said Dave Hedditch, chair of the county’s airport board.

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The World War II-vintage Corsair is scheduled to make a return visit from Kalispell on Saturday.

Hedditch said the fighter plane’s arrival last year created quite a stir.

“He did a flyover above the town of Hamilton last year,” Hedditch said. “People just started streaming from town to the airport afterward. They were all very impressed by what they saw.”

Hedditch – a Vietnam-era jet fighter pilot – was right there with them.

“It was exciting to see,” he said. “It raised the hair on the back of my neck when he first came in. It was awesome.“

Hedditch requested another flyover Saturday morning.

Visitors will also have a chance to take a closeup view of an amphibious Seabee aircraft that is based out of Stevensville.

“It’s an older aircraft,” Hedditch said. “There aren’t too many of them left. It’s been completely rebuilt and has a Corvette (automobile) engine in it.”

And then there’s the Travel Air – a 1930s-vintage passenger plane complete with wicker seats and a bathroom.

While all that history will be interesting for the adult folk, young people will be excited to sign in for a chance to fly with members of the Stevensville shapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association pilots through the free Young Eagle Flights for Kids program.

The signups for the free flights for kids ages 8 to 17 will start at 9 a.m. The actual flights will happen Sunday starting at 9. If too many kids sign up, Hedditch said the flights might be extended to the next week to accommodate the overflow.

“They will get about a 15-minute flight around town,” he said. “It gives kids an initiation to flying. You never know where it might lead.”

As far as Hedditch can remember, he was about 3 years old when he decided he wanted to fly.

His first flight came in high school when he went to the airport and found someone to take him up into the sky. Back then, there wasn’t a program like this.

“It gave me an opportunity to get airborne,” he said. “That was all I needed.”

For those more interested in keeping their feet on the ground, Saturday’s event also features radio-controlled airplanes, a spot landing contest and a vintage auto show.

Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at 363-3300 or at pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

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Northwest Montana Reporter

Northwest Montana Reporter at the Missoulian