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Group of volunteers working to recreate piece of Oregon's aviation history

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A group of Fort Vancouver volunteers are working to recreate a piece of Oregon's aviation history. They are building a specialized replica plane from the 1900's known for its significant ties to Portland's Rose Festival.   

In the early 1900's aviation fever hit the nation. America's flying pioneers made history with every trip across the sky.    

In 1912, one of those pioneers was Silas Christofferson. He brought Portland into the age of the airplane by performing a daring roof top stunt at the Rose Festival Parade. 

"It was my understanding there was 25 or 30 people on the roof and thousands of people on the ground all hoping for something spectacular," said volunteer Dennis Darby. 

Christofferson built a boxkite like plane called a Curtiss Pusher. He took it apart piece by piece, hoisted it up on top of the old Multnomah Hotel and put it back together again.   

His goal was to fly it off the roof during the Rose Festival, a feat that had never been done before. 

"He took 100 feet to lift off," said Darby. "It was pretty short flight to Pearson airfield, but it was the first flight to cross the Columbia and the first flight to land in Pearson. 

Back then, the entire concept of a person flying through the air was so new, huge crowds would turn out just to watch someone take off and land again.  

Now, a group of retired engineers, mechanics, wood workers and even physicians are rebuilding Christofferson's Curtiss Pusher Plane. 

"It's exciting," said volunteer Mike Daly. "It's always fun getting up and meeting a new challenge whatever it might be that day. We're making the replica plane as close as we can get it to the real thing, without any plans."

The process began inside a Fort Vancouver warehouse with support from Century Aviation. 

"Several of us have worked for the Pearson Air Museum as volunteers," said Daly. 

First the group assembled a tiny model, but now they're taking on the full-scale plane. 

"I think the challenge of just figuring out what to do is what I love the most," said Darby. "We've probably spent as much time talking about what to do as doing it."

The group said original blueprints are hard to come by and back then no plane was ever built exactly the same.  

"Without a doubt, the biggest challenge has been figuring out the wing covering, it's been a trial and error process," said Daly. 

Materials have also changed in a century's time, complicating matters even further for the group. 

"The cotton we get today we think is altered DNA wise, it doesn't shrink up as much, there's different characteristics," said Darby. 

Still they're determined to build it right. Which is why even tread on the plane's tires has got to go. 

"We're sanding it down," said Darby. "Back then planes did not have tread on them generally."

In the end, they hope to create something really special. 

"This is Portland and Vancouver and Pearson Airfield history, I think it's good people understand their history," said Darby. 

The group of volunteers say their Curtiss Pusher replica plane will eventually be on public display in time for the Rose Festival next June.

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