MILLEDGEVILLE — For nearly 55 years, a Piper J-3 Cub airplane from 1946 has hung, untouched and unused, in the rafters of the All Crane & Hoist building across the river on Highway 22 in Baldwin County.
Many never dreamed it would ever fly again, but 25-year-old Matt Tisdale had a different vision.
Through the years, the historic aircraft had become a monument, reminding residents of Tisdale’s grandfather, Douglass Tisdale of Milledgeville. Several local friends and family members often reminisced about Douglass’ days in the airplane as it touched the skies of Milledgeville. Similar to his grandfather, Matt also developed a love for high altitudes. Tisdale’s love of flight led him on a journey to restore the classic airplane and have it soar through the sky once more.
“It took about a year and a half to complete. My logbook showed approximately 3,000 man hours I put in working on it,” said Tisdale as he described the extent of his dedication to the restoration project.
For Tisdale, it was more a pleasurable experience rather than an insufferable act of work. His love for aircrafts and flying has been with him since he was a child.
“When I was a kid, I used to chase after the birds when they were flying just to try and figure out the mechanics behind how they fly,” said the Athens resident.
At 13 years old, he began taking introductory flight lessons at the airport in Macon. After a few lessons, Tisdale was hooked. He reasoned, why would he pay other people to fly him when he could just fly himself? Finally, during his sophomore year at Clemson University, he earned his pilot’s license.
“I was in college when I decided to restore the Piper J-3 Cub. I was visiting family and I saw the plane I heard mentioned in stories about my grandfather,” he said. “I knew if my grandfather was still alive he’d like to see it in the air again.”
Tisdale was no stranger to restoration, but this was the first large-scale project he had ever launched.
“I had done similar things with old boats before, but there was a lot more work that went into the plane,” he said.
With his mind set, Tisdale decided to take some time off from college to restore the Piper J-3 Cub, the very same plane that his grandfather had flown.
“I estimated that I would be out for about a semester, but it turned out to be longer,” said Tisdale.
To completely restore the plane to its original working condition, Tisdale took a full school year, winter and spring semester, as well as one summer semester to achieve his goal.
Although he had to take time away from his studies to work on the aircraft, it did not deter him from completing his educational career. In fact, Tisdale used the plane to travel back to college to finish up his degree requirements.
“I finished it up in January and enrolled back in school. I flew the plane to Clemson, finished up the semester and flew back with a degree in mechanical engineering,” he said.
Matt had a lot of help from his family in the endeavor as well.
“I had lots of help from mom, Dianne Harper, who let me take over the garage and make it into a shop, which is now mostly yellow from all the paint overspray. My cousins, Harold Spivey, who retired from Delta overhaul department after 29 years, and his brother, Larry Spivey of Milledgeville, also pitched in a lot with their resources,” he said.
Tisdale is in the process of working on another Cub at his hangar in the Thomaston Airport, which he predicts will be completed and flying in the next six months, though none will be as special as the Piper J-3 Cub.
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