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Grimes Flying Lab

Grimes Flying Lab Foundation's restored Beech 18 lighting system test bed, pictures outside its hangar/museum at Grimes Airport in Urbana, Ohio.  Photo Credit: Timothy Gaffney

Grimes Flying Lab

The airplane has a total of 48 external lights installed, including these in the wingtip pod. Photo Credit: Timothy Gaffney

Grimes Flying Lab

...and these on the fuselage. Photo Credit: Timothy Gaffney

The Grimes Flying Lab, an airplane that played a key role in the development of aviation lighting systems will appear at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2009. The highly modified Twin Beechcraft D18 will be displayed on AeroShell Square, EAA's central showcase for the annual aviation event. July 27-August 2.

The Grimes Flying Lab was one of the airplanes used by Grimes Manufacturing Company of Urbana, Ohio, to test aviation lighting systems under actual flight conditions. Company founder Warren Grimes, known as "Father of the Aircraft Lighting Industry," developed the lighting systems for the Ford Tri-Motor in 1925 and formed his company in 1933. He was also the inventor of the familiar red, green, and white navigation lights found on the wing tips and tails of aircraft and developed other aircraft fixtures, including landing, instrumental, and interior lights.

The airplane, originally a C-45F built during World War II, was one of 900 Beech airplanes that were remanufactured for the U.S. Air Force several years after the war. It emerged as a "new" (zero-time) C-45H in 1953, then was sold to Dortronics, Inc, of St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1960 bearing the same civil registration number as today - N8640E.

After incurring substantial damage in a 1963 wheels-up landing accident, the airplane was acquired by Grimes in 1964 and turned into a flying laboratory to evaluate new aircraft lighting systems in all sorts of weather and visibility conditions. It was also used for aircraft lighting demonstrations in cooperation with aircraft manufacturers, airlines, the FAA, military engineers, and others.

A total of 108 Grimes lights (48 exterior, 6 interior and 54 instrument post lights) are installed on the airplane. Multiple exterior lighting systems can be selectively energized in flight to provide immediate comparison under prevailing weather conditions. Used extensively through the 1970s and early 1980s, N8640E also made numerous public demonstrations, including spectacular night flights during Urbana's Fourth of July celebrations, and several air shows, including the Paris Air Show in 1975.

The aircraft suffered significant damage in a July 1986 accident in Tremont City, Ohio. It was sold a year later and ferried to Red Stewart Airport in Waynesville, Ohio, where the engines were removed and the airframe was literally put out to pasture.

It sat dormant for more than 12 years before Honeywell, which had acquired Grimes from AlliedSignal Aerospace in 1999, re-purchased the neglected airframe in December 1999 and moved it to Grimes Field for restoration. In 2003 the Grimes Flying Lab Foundation was formed to do the restoration, and foundation volunteers contributed thousands of hours over the next five years. The airplane flew again on January 4, 2008, at Urbana Airport.

 

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