Chuck Wentworth runs Antique Aero where he restores, maintains, and builds WWI fighters. Antique Aero is the home of a private collection of these amazing planes. It isn’t a museum and I was very fortunate to be able to visit it and talk with Mr. Wentworth.
Chuck Wentworth grew up near air force bases but his first flight wasn’t until he was 25 when he decided he wanted to take a lesson and that started it. It took some time for him to solo because he had a job and a family to support.
“My father wouldn’t have anything to do with flying but my mom loved to fly in a Piper Cub. She’d click the window open and let the door down. We’d fly over my brother’s ranch and she’d holler at him! My grandmother worked on gliders at Condor field.”
“I went to the Reno air races in 1968 and I thought, boy that aerobatics looked like fun. A lady named Margaret Ritchey was up there flying a ‘Stevens Acro’ so I did a little checking and found that thing had a wooden wing! I said ‘I can build that!’ I’d grown up as a carpenter. I can build a wooden wing! So I built myself an airplane and the Stevens Acro ended up being one of the premier aerobatic airplanes – the Extra.”
“When I was learning to fly, my instructor was a WWII instructor who made me do spins and really unusual attitudes. So I was comfortable doing aerobatics. I competed for a while and did airshows."
“I’d built my airplane and kind of proved myself to my peers because I could go out and be competitive with it in the airshow world. Then one day, we were sitting around talking saying we need to do something and someone said something about a Fokker Triplane and the thought was born. We built a Fokker Triplane.” And things kind of took off from there!
1916 Nieuport model 17
Fokker D VII
The collection of planes at his hangers is a private collection called the “Aeroplane Collection” and Chuck maintains it for the owner. “I’m really fortunate because I get to build these airplanes and fly them. My client enjoys the fact that the planes are built as close as practical to the original specs. We do a couple of changes like modern seat belts, modern nuts and bolts and where steel tubing is called for we use 4130 instead of mild steel tubing. We use equivalent sizes but better material that’s available. The performance is identical to original. The airplane weighs the same and they have the original engines. We’re really fortunate. We have airplanes with 80 LeRohnes, The Nieuport 11 has an 80 LeRohne, the Sopwith Tabloid and Sopwith Pup have 80 LeRohnes. We have a 100 Gnome in the Fokker Eindecker which may be the only one flying with the correct engine. And then we have 110 LeRohnes in the Fokker D6, D8, and the DR1. Our Nieuport 17 and 24 both have 110 LeRohnes, which are the correct engines for those airplanes. I keep the machinist pretty busy with the parts!”
Right now we have six Sopwith flying, one of which is an original Camel with a 130 hp Clerget engine which is correct for the Camel. It is a Sopwith built one, instead of one of Sopwith’s subcontractors and we believe it is the only one in existence. In the shop right now under construction is a 1917-1918 Sopwith Snipe, which is the last Sopwith fighter of the war.
"About 20 years ago my client and I picked up a Corsair project. It’s probably in my opinion one of the great WWII airplanes. It has the looks that are just fantastic and I’m really fortunate to get to fly in the Navy legacy program where I get to fly in formation with F-18 Hornets."
Chuck Wentworth, me, and the Sopwith Snipe
(My dad was amazed at the beautiful craftsmanship)
“I have a fantastic life and job. I’m very fortunate to have this and I love coming to work. I like the sense of accomplishment and the creativity involved in problem solving.”
Chuck was really nice to meet with me because we just kind of dropped in on him on our way home from a vacation in Santa Barbara.
Also, special thanks to my dad who helped me a lot with the interview. Usually I try to have a bunch of questions ready before I meet these cool guys. But I didn't for this one with Chuck.