2022, Bobcat, Cessna, Landshut, T-50, UC-78
Air-Air,  Warbirds

The Bamboo Bomber – Cessna T-50 Bobcat

A Cessna AT-17 Bobcat is based in Landshut, Germany since the summer of 2022. Being in flying condition, it is a one-of-a-kind in Europe. Its transfer route from Iowa in the United States to Lower Bavaria led, amongst others, over the icy landscape of Greenland . I have met the Bobcat in the air and also talked with the two owners not only about the fascination of flying the “ Bamboo Bomber ”.

Almost 47 flight hours and a distance of 5,207 nautical miles (9,650 kilometers) are just two of the impressive numbers of the transfer flight from Algona in Iowa, USA to Landshut in Lower Bavaria.All done in a twin-engine Cessna Bobcat, built in 1943. The driving force behind this feat was Johann “Hansi” Harlander, air traffic controller at Munich Airport and member of the Flieger-Stadl e.V. in Landshut. Since July of this year he and his fellow pilot Stephan Konz are the proud owners of the only flying example of a T-50 in Europe.

Bought just by the look of it…

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Additionally to an aerobatic flying experience and countless hours in radial engine aircraft, Harlander also had the opportunity to fly the Dragon Rapide at the “Flying Museum” in Grossenhain. “It doesn’t get much more classic or historical,” he recalls, and with the required rating for twin-engine aircraft, the direction for the type of his own aircraft was clearly set. It should be classic, with two engines and, according to Harlander, “you should be able to get a few people in to go on trips with the family”. Eventually, the Cessna 310 caught his eye. With a rectangular vertical stabilizer and streamlined tanks at the wingtips, it was pretty much his idea of a classic design. “I really liked the look of the Cessna 310 and did some research. Where does she come from? What is the history of the machine? And that’s when I stumbled across the Sky King TV series,” Harlander explains of his initial research. Because similar to the team in the “Riptide” series and their Sikorsky S-58T repainted as “Screaming Mimi”, “Sky King” also had a flying main actor, a Cessna 310. Still filmed in black and white in the 1950s, Kirby Grant went hunting criminals with her as a flying cowboy. Increasingly fascinated by the Cessna and the TV series, however, Harlander discovered that Grant didn’t originally fly a Cessna 310 at all. In the first season of Sky King, a Bobcat was the hero of the skies.

However, this twin-engine Cessna was completely unknown to him: “I had never heard of it, and I probably felt the same way as those who are standing in front of one for the first time”. His interest was quickly aroused. The Cessna 310 disappeared from his wish list, but he couldn’t get rid of the idea of owning a Bobcat. “A few years ago I stumbled across one that was for sale,” he recalls. But she wasn’t to become his future Bobcat. He was talked out of it by his flight buddies, who had also seen the ad for sale. “You don’t want to saddle with such a project, it will be a lifetime’s work to make it airworthy again,” was just one of the milder comments he received about the machine at that time.

The Bobcat flies beautifully , harmoniously , just like a Cessna . It’s a comfortable plane to fly.

Still stuck with the Bobcat he found it to be a fascinating aircraft. Flight characteristics did not seemed the top priority for him because , according to Harlander, “this was yet another plane that I didn’t buy because I was allowed to fly it before and fell in love with its flying qualities.” Not quite a pig in a poke, but at least unfamiliar territory that he got involved in, because for Harlander one thing was clear: “ It will fly the way it will fly. And even if it doesn’t fly the way I imagine it to, then that’s how it is“. Looking back, however, he made the right choice. Because after having spend already quite some hours behind the controls, the Bobcat flies “beautifully , harmoniously , just like a Cessna . It’s a comfortable plane to fly. “

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Due to these flight characteristics, and despite its primary use by the military , the Bobcat still doesn’t qualify as a warbird in his eyes: “The Bobcat was a military trainer, originally designed as a small airliner to get people from one point to another. The military took advantage of the aircraft’s availability and simplicity. In these days the wanted to have a simple trainer on which to train crews on an aircraft with a retractable gear, dual engines, variable pitch propellers, and so on. Therefore it is a trainer, albeit a military trainer. Ultimately just like the Piper J3, only in the advanced role.”

Europe’s sole airworthy Bobcat

Irrespective of this, the Bobcat is now in olive green and gray in Landshut, because two years after his first attempt he finally got hold of one,. “there was another one advertised, this time in a fantastic condition. However, the owner only sold it under the premise that it should be kept in this condition. As a wooden airplane it was not suitable for the previous owner, but again it was his grandfather’s world. So the Bobcat was like part of their family. The laborious construction had cost the whole family around seven years. Everyone helped to get the plane into the state it is in now, ” Harlander said , outlining the machine’s recent history. Agreement was quickly reached on the sale, and as the new owners, Konz and Harlander already knew what was coming up next: a ferry flight to Germany. Shipment in a container, as it is commonly done with other vintage, or historic aircraft from that era, was not possible with the Bobcat. “A special feature of the Bobcat is the one-piece wing, ” explains Harlander . Both wing spars go from one wing end to the other , the front one of the two even prominently passes through the cabin behind the two pilot seats. So the airplane could not be disassembled to fit into a container.

Other than the wooden wings, the Bobcat is a mixed construction. The two engine nacelles are attached to welded steel engine mounts, that are set on the front spar. Also the fuselage is a tubular steel construction with fabric covering. “The tailplane , on the other hand, again is made entirely of wood, as is the fin. And the entire outer paneling, everything that is shaped, is made out of wood“ , says Harlander, still impressed by this design and handcrafted work from the 1930s, also as “sheet metal was only used on the cowlings and the engine nacelles“.

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The machine finally arrived at the Flieger-Stadl in Landshut and is nowadays flown regularly. It won’t be for 50 or even 100 hours a year, which can be considered a god number for an average vintage aircraft. One reason for that being the twin-engine Bobcat is a rather thirsty airplane. But on the other hand, Harlander does not want to risk any damage due to the aircraft standing to long on ground, and also the pilots have to stay current. And as a one of its kind in Europe, the Bobcat will certainly arouse interest for one or the other event. Harlander and the other pilots of the club clearly like to show the aircraft to the public. They all take the position that “the aircraft don’t belong locked away somewhere or in a museum, where you can look at them hanging from the ceiling. But you should rather be able to experience them and we will be happy to show them off for that “. However, they do not plan “to just sit in the Bobcat every free minute during the summer season and fly from one event to another. Because that would be unfair to the other club aircraft”. However, if it fits, they will be happy to accommodate any request requests.

You can’t keep a DC-3 alive on your own, because it gets too complex. And that’s the beauty of this Bobcat.

But after this exciting year, it is time for the winter break, and time to thoroughly service the “Bamboo Bomber” in the Hangar 69 at Landshut . There, too, the extremely pragmatic and simple structure of the Bobcat once again shows its advantages. „In terms of maintenance“, the Bobcat for Harlander, „just about doable as a one- or two-man show“. Other, more complex aircraft would not have been an option for him , because ultimately it is also a leisure activity, which at one point of time will reach its limit, not only due to the necessary budget, but also due to an increasing effort. “You can’t keep a DC-3 alive on your own, because it gets too complex. And that’s the beauty of this Bobcat. Yes, it has two engines, retractable landing gear and is a bit larger, but otherwise it is not much more technical than, for example, a Bücker Jungmeister . And, she’s the only flying one in Europe.“

The history of N60453 – Cessna T-50 C/N 5199

This Cessna T-50 with construction number 5199 was built in 1943 as a UC-78. According to available documentation, it was however not delivered to the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) in October 1943, but to the US Navy. As a JRC-1, it received the tail number 64475. As one of more than 4,600 Bobcats produced, it was used as a light transport and liaison aircraft in the late war years.

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After the end of the war, she was sold on August 20, 1945 to her first civilian owner, Richard Benson, in Hamilton, New York. Back then, the Bobcat received the civil registration N60453, which is still valid today, on September 24, 1945. Under Benson, who was in these days also well known as a stunt pilot, it served in the originally intended use of the Cessna T-50. Until 1956, N60453 served as a training aircraft and mini airliner in the New York area.

Through 1975 it had various owners, relocating to Connecticut and back to the New York area. In 1978 she moved to Kentucky and in 1979 finally to Iowa. In April 1988 she was sold to Elmer Steier, her penultimate owner. He completely overhauled the aircraft from 1989 to 1995 and it remained in the family’s possession there until the sale to Germany in 2022. Finally, in June of the same year, the transfer flight to Germany took place. Since then, it is gracing the skies of Bavaria and neighbouring regions.

Cessna T-50 Bobcat N60453 Photo Gallery

Note: Europe’s sole Cessna T-50 Bobcat is based at Landshut in the collection of the Flieger-Stadl e.V.. I’d like to express my gratitude to the team for making this photo flight possible!

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