Retired mechanic keeps Sedalia flying

Monday, October 9, 2006

SEDALIA, Mo. -- Herb Piper runs his fingers over the cutout along the underside of a plane's wing. He has removed the fabric of the wing and has taken out a gas tank that must be replaced.

The wing, detached from the Taylor Craft single-engine plane, is stretched out on a workbench nearby. This is his current project.

"The real enjoyment is seeing them roll their plane out the door when you are done and hearing the engine get started. Just seeing them taxiing and lifting off, that's nice," he says in a soft-spoken and modest voice.

Piper owns Doraviation, an aircraft maintenance facility at the Sedalia Memorial Airport. He provides maintenance and inspection services for local fliers and those passing through the airport, which sees between 12,000 and 15,000 takeoffs and landings a year. Hangars at the airport house more that 20 aircraft.

The 66-year-old airframe and power plant mechanic and certified inspector opened his business in 1985 as a sideline. He began working there full time in December after retiring as an aircraft mechanic at the Max B. Swisher Airport in Warrensburg.

"The biggest part for me is inspections. I go over the plane from top to bottom. I look at the engine and the airframe and repair what needs it. I can do anything here but major engine overhauls," Piper said.

He provides service to between 35 and 40 aircraft a year.

"I help whoever comes in the door, but I have a lot of regulars," he said. "Some of the people here in town -- I even have a guy that comes in from Nebraska each year."

Piper, who is originally from Marshall, began working with engines as a young man, and became familiar with the airplane engine in the late 1950s and early 1960s while serving in the Air Force as an aircraft electrician.

He received his pilot's license in 1959. He worked at an auto dealership for a few years before returning to work in New Mexico as a civilian mechanic for the Air Force. In 1969, he returned to Marshall and ran an automobile machine shop for 15 years.

He opened the broad doors to the 3,000-square-foot hangar at Doraviation, which is named for his wife, Dora, during Missouri State Fair week in 1985. He smiles with pride as he marks the company's 21-year anniversary.

"I'll be here as long as people keep coming through the door," Piper said.

"He's a quality mechanic, and he's an asset for the airport. Herb is as good as they get," said Joe Kares, a 63-year-old private pilot from Sedalia. "He's also a very conscientious mechanic. You just don't have to worry about slipshod work or someone not fixing something that needs it. Herb knows what needs to be done and does it."

Kares, himself an airframe and power plant mechanic, does the bulk of the maintenance on the two planes he keeps at the airport. He said he relies on Piper's inspection authority to clear his planes for their yearly inspection. "Herb helps me out a lot with the Bonanza," Kares said.

The city-owned airport's manager, Chris Cox, called Piper a "skilled airplane mechanic."

"He really knows his stuff," Cox said. "Plus, Herb is just a great guy, you know, easy to get along with."

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