On April 11, 1947, N3102N rolled off the assembly line at the Cessna factory in Wichita, Kansas. That means my little yellow Cessna 120 celebrates her 69th birthday today.
Introduced in 1946, the C120 was one of many light airplanes that emerged the post WW2 boom. At that time, companies like Cessna and Piper were transition from building planes for the military to building them for all of the returning pilots and aspiring pilots who they hoped would make for a strong consumer aviation market.
Between 1946 and 1951, 7,664 C120s and C140s were built (The original C140 was the deluxe model that sported small flaps), although the C120 was discontinued in 1949.
With a base price of $2,695, the Cessna 120 was an affordable and easy-to-handle two-seater airplane that appealed to many general aviation pilots and flight schools. Although the price has certainly risen with inflation, the C120 still remains one of the most economical and easy-to-fly tailwheel airplanes available today.
It has a published cruise speed of around 105 mph, a range of about 450 miles, and a useful load of just over 400 lbs with full fuel. That means a pair of 150 lb people can fly with about 100 lbs of room for luggage or gear. For a plane of that size, weight and price, those are pretty decent specs.
I first bought N3102N in May of 2011. Looking at the FAA registration history, I’m the 27th owner of this particular Cessna 120. She had her first logged flight on April 14, and the first person to own the plane was a man named R. G. Fuelberth, who bought her to use as a trainer in his flight school in Wayne, Nebraska. He purchased the plane one week after she rolled off the line and kept her for nearly eight years.
While doing research on former owners, I actually tracked down and spoke with R.G.’s son on the phone a couple of years ago. He didn’t specifically remember this C120, but he confirmed that his father indeed ran a flight school in at the airport in Wayne, NE. He told me that “dad had lots of airplanes out there at school…”
The plane stayed with a few different owners in Nebraska until 1961, when she was sold again and made her way west, out to California. In 1968, two months after I was born, N3102N was purchased by two gentlemen for $1,000, and used for two years in the Flying Macs Flying Club in San Mateo, CA.
In 1970, N3102N was bought by a dentist in San Francisco. How do I know he was a dentist? Simple- I googled his name and saw that the address listed on the FAA registry was still current. The Google listing even had a phone number. Unfortunately, it’s not in service anymore, but I did track down and speak with his daughter for a few minutes this week.
Apparently, after owning this C120, the dentist went on to buy a float plane. Interestingly enough, the daughter spent some time here in Anchorage in the 70s and took flying lessons at Merrill Field.
In 1989, N3102N left California and adventurously made her way north to her current home in Alaska. She lived at a number of different airports during the her middle years in Anchorage, Chugaik, Wasilla and even Bethel before ending up in an insurance hanger at Wolf Lake airport after excessive wind had damaged one of her wing struts.
That’s where a mechanic named Mario Maccarone found the plane in early 2011. Mario installed a replacement wing, rebuilt the interior and gave this happy little yellow bird a brand new life. He put N3102N up for sale Alaska’s List website, which is where I found her. After one test flight, I knew that she was the one for me. I bought her that May and the next year, made her an even more capable bush plane by adding the 26″ Alaskan Bushwheel tundra tires.Currently, N3102N has over 5,700 logged flying hours on the airframe. She received a replacement engine in 1962, had a complete engine overhaul in 1989, and has received a number of small modifications over the years. I know this because I have all of the log books that date back to 1947. It’s pretty amazing to be able to view the complete history of this little airplane and see all of the entries, flight times and signatures by 69 years worth of owners and mechanics.
She also has a couple of sisters, N3101N and N3103N. Oh-three-November, a C140, crashed in 1982 but was repaired and still lives on in Laurens, Iowa. Unfortunately Oh-one-November crashed in Cordele, GA and experienced substantial damage. Sadly, the pilot died in the accident. Before the crash, I’d actually communicated with the pilot on the International C120/140 website forum, so it was quite sad to read about his passing.
I like to think that I’ve put N3102N to good use during the past 5 years. It’s been an amazing experience owning this plane, and she’s been very good to me. I have about 300 hours in her and between all of the gravel bars, aerial photography missions, backcountry strips, and fun getaways, she and I have been through a lot together. She’s helped me see parts of Alaska I’d otherwise never get to see, and she’s taught me a lot about flying.
The whole aviation thing has added a giant new dimension to my photography. I absolutely love shooting aerials and I feel that they’re some of the my best images to date. Here’s a recent aerial of the Chugach Mountains that we made together earlier this spring. You can read the entire post about this particular flight here, see more aerial photos I’ve shot, and you can also read about some of the other adventures we’ve had together, like this one.
So, please join me in wishing my little yellow Cessna a very happy 69th birthday. I’m so fond of her and look forward to many more awesome bush flying adventures with her in the coming years. In fact, I gave her a nice birthday present this month, I got her featured on the cover of the Alaska Airmen’s Association journal, The Transponder. I’m also going to celebrate by giving her a fresh quart of oil and taking her flying this afternoon.
By the way, if you ever make it up to Anchorage, and I’m around, don’t be afraid to look me up because it’s not very hard to convince me to take along a new passenger. 🙂