A Tale of Four Princes

The word ‘rare’ is often applied to aircraft designs that are few in number—such as the Student Prince, an open-cockpit biplane briefly manufactured in Oregon.

The word 'rare' is defined as seldom occurring or uncommon. When used to describe airplanes, it is often applied to designs that are few in number—such as the Student Prince, an open-cockpit biplane briefly manufactured in Oregon in the late 1920s to early 1930s. The Student Prince was the first airplane to be commercially built and certified in Oregon—the second was the Van's Aircraft RV-12, built in Aurora, Oregon. Van's would begin turning out the 912is-powered SLSAs in 2009.

Fred Zimmerly with the first Student Prince. The Zimmerly brothers used the trainer in the mid 1930s. [Courtesy: Oregon Aviation Historical Society]

According to the late aviation historian Peter Bowers, the Adcox Student Prince began as a design by Basil Smith intended to be a two-seat, open-cockpit biplane and used as a trainer. The airplane was built by students at Adcox Trade School near Portland in 1929. According to Bowers, the airplane was built on contract for Jerry Wildman, a Portland-area pilot who financed the project.

The design was such a hit that Adcox decided to mass-produce the aircraft. A factory was built outside of Portland, on Swan Island along the Willamette River.

The Student Prince is not a terribly complicated design. The fuselage and tail surfaces are welded steel tubing, and the wings used wooden spars and wood-truss ribs at first. Pressed sheet aluminum was later used for the ribs. The fuel tank, fitted in the center section of the wing, holds approximately 22.5 gallons.

The powerplant of the aircraft varied. The one-off Adcox Student Prince had an 85 hp Cirrus Mk III, later a 90 hp Ace engine. The Kinner K-5 also became a popular choice. 

Unfortunately, the Great Depression was underway at the time of its inception, and the airplane market was soft to nonexistent—the lack of customers and flooding from winter rains closed the factory down.

“Less than six of the aircraft were produced and only three were certified. Number 101, 102, and 103. Those were the last three that were built before the economy tanked,” says Tim Talen, a pilot and aircraft restorer from Springfield, Oregon. Talen, the founder of the Oregon Aviation Historical Society, has been restoring vintage aircraft since the 1970s, “taking them from basket case to award winners,” he says. Talen owns Student Prince No. 101: “The prototype for the certified airplanes,” says Talen. “The Student Prince was the first certified production airplane built in Oregon.”

Student Prince No. 101

Talen had heard stories about a Student Prince in the Pacific Northwest, and he went looking for it. He learned about Skeeter Carlson, a vintage aviation pilot with a Student Prince in Spokane. Skeeter told him he had another Student Prince that was a basket case and asked Talen if he would be interested in a trade.

“A few years later, I had a Fleet airplane and I asked, ‘How about trading the Fleet for the SP?’” says Talen. Unfortunately, the airplane was without an engine. “I was trading for a complete airplane and engine, but no, Skeeter said just the airframe, so I had to go out and find my own engine. I got a Kinner.”

Missing parts are often part of the challenge when restoring a vintage aircraft, says Talen, and the restorer often finds themself searching for an airplane of the same make and model to take measurements.

A Student Prince was operated by Bert and Fred Zimmerly, who opened a flying service in 1934 in Lewiston, Idaho, according to a story in the April 1941 issue of FLYING.The brothers used the airplane as a trainer while they developed their commercial opera-tions serving the community along with a seven-placeZenith. The pair moved operations to Clarkston in1938. Turns out, this was Student Prince No. 101.

Charlie Brown, Serial No. 102

Now, Student Prince No. 102 certainly belongs to Charlie Brown of Sandpoint, Idaho. Brown, an octogenarian pilot and aviation mechanic, estimates he’s restored around 23 aircraft. He also acquired his Student Prince from Skeeter Carlson. It was one of many projects left unfinished after Carlson's death.

“He had a lot of airplanes," said Brown. "He bought [the Student Prince] in 1947. He had taken it apart some 35 years ago so he could recover it, and basically it didn’t happen. After Skeeter died, his family wanted to get rid of the airplane stuff and I found it in his barn. I acquired it in 2016—it was about 90 percent there. It took about four years to restore it.”

Brown notes it had the original seats. “The seats are Naugahyde and tall and narrow, and it’s stamped on them they were made on Swan Island near Portland, Oregon.” According to Brown the instrument panel is basic, “A tachometer, a compass, airspeed, oil pressure and temperature, and that's pretty much it.” He notes his airplane sports a 145 hp Warner, more powerful than the other Student Princes.

Brown’s Student Prince is orange, which is a creative choice, he says. “I have seen some original 1930s pictures of the Student Prince and I think they were all silver back then,” he said, adding that it is difficult to tell since the images are in black and white.

During the restoration, Brown, like Talen, sought out a fully intact Student Prince for reference—that Student Prince No. 103, belongs to Summer Martell of Port Townsend, Washington.

Charlie Brown chose orange and yellow for his Student Prince. He believes the original color was silver. [Courtesy: Summer Martell]

Summer Martell, Student Prince No. 103

Summer Martell is a 15,000-hour ATP-rated corporate pilot and designated pilot examiner from Port Townsend, Washington. According to Martell, her airplane was the last one the factory finished before it shut down. She's been flying the airplane since her teen years—it belonged to her father, who was known as “Flyin’ Bryan.”

Martell’s parents were divorced and she was living with her mother in Palmer, Alaska, when her father was learning to fly. He started in tricycle gear airplanes but soon made the transition to tailwheel.

“He saw the Student Prince in a hangar at an airport, and he said it smiled at him, and he knew he had to have it,” she says. Her father sent her photographs of himself next to his newly acquired Student Prince, and it wasn’t long before Summer joined her father in Washington and started taking flying lessons in the antique open-cockpit biplane, which her father christened “Lady Summer.”

Father and daughter would spend the summers barnstorming. Summer’s job was to haul cans of gas, and collect the money while her dad gave rides.

When she was 16, she learned to hand-prop the airplane to get it started as it doesn’t have an electrical system or starter. Martell learned to fly in the Student Prince, soloing at 16. A year later, after her father’s untimely and non-aviation-related death, she inherited the airplane.

She put herself to work as a modern-day barnstormer as she built her hours and became a professional pilot. There’s still nothing she loves more than giving rides at airshows and fly-ins.

When other Student Prince owners need information on a part, it’s Martell’s aircraft that is photographed and measured. 

“It underwent a complete restoration in 2009,” she says, adding that she learned to buy and hoard Kinnerparts whenever she could. Recently, she added a Kinnerstarter to the airplane. 

“I’ve been hand-propping that plane since I was 16. The convenience and safety a starter will add outweighs the nostalgia of hand propping,” she explained.

Martell flies the airplane about 50 hours a year, mostly in the summer.

“My father used to tell me that flying was my inheritance. His words proved to be prophetic, and the Student Prince has been the key to that kingdom. It has affected, influenced, and shaped my life more than anything or anyone. When it comes to the two of us, I will always be the student, and it will forever be my Prince.”

Summer Martell commutes in her Student Prince to give check rides, here at Piece County/ Thun Field. [Credit: Marcus Butler]

Adcox Special Student Prince

The Adcox Special Student Prince sits at the fuel pump decades ago. [Courtesy: Oregon Aviation Historical Society]

The rarest of the rare, the Adcox Special Student Prince N10471, also resides in Washington state, owned by Keith Dyson, an AP/IA and commercial pilot. Aviation runs in the family, as it was Dyson’s father Hank who found the Adcox parked at the Kennewick, Washington, airport in 1957.

“It had been modified by having the original American Cirrus engine removed and replaced by a Kinner B-5 that had swallowed a valve,” says Dyson. “Dad trucked it home, removed the Kinner and replaced it with a Continental W670, which it still has. It was given a full restoration—back in the air in the early 1960s.”

It was in that airplane that Keith Dyson, age four, took his first airplane ride. “The event forever hooked me into the world of aviation,” he says. “Dad kept the airplane until 1968 when he traded it for building materials and construction equipment to build a very large home on the family homestead near Eatonville, Washington, but he always kept track of where the Adcox traveled. During his final year with United Airlines in 1988, he used part of his retirement to purchase the airplane back, and it has been back in the family ever since."

The senior Dyson flew west in 2012, leaving his son to care for the antique. 

“I am currently putting N10471 back together following rebuilding new floorboards. Fortunately for me, the Adcox has not required another full-on restoration, and I’ve not had to deal with anything other than routine maintenance.”

The best part of being the caretaker of the Adcox Student Prince—because no one really ever owns an antique airplanes, they are simply caretakers—says Dyson, is “knowing I’m working on a piece of history that has been touched by so many extremely talented people that loved antique open cockpit biplanes. I plan to hold onto this great old bird as long as I can. 

"I was so incredibly fortunate this great airplane chose me!

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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