Gifted Warbird Restorer Flies West

Dave Hansen’s quiet contribution to aviation should not go unnoticed.

Dave Hansen
Dave Hansen, a remarkably gifted aircraft restorer, passed away following a long battle with cancer.Walsh Photography

One of the country’s foremost warbird restorers passed away last week in Heber City, Utah, after a long battle with cancer. The reason you might never have heard of Dave Hansen is because, despite his talents, he was exceptionally humble. He was described by his friends as a remarkably gifted aircraft restorer who would do anything to help others.

“I’ve been around aviation all of my life and I don’t know anybody as knowledgeable as Dave,” said Paul Boyer, a former American Airlines captain and former Air Force pilot who has owned several certified and experimental GA airplane types.

The love of aircraft restoration and flying was spurred by a friend who took Hansen for a ride in a Smyth Sidewinder in the mid 1980s. The friend encouraged Hansen to build his own kit airplane. Hansen started by buying an Van’s RV-4 tail section, which he claims to have completed in a week. With a newfound passion, Hansen put the RV-4 together in four years despite a heavy travel schedule at his job selling metal hardness testers. In the same short time period, he achieved his pilot’s certificate.

The passion for aviation became so strong that he chose a major pay cut to start working as a mechanic and learning more about aircraft restorations. His talents grew and soon he was working on warbirds. Hansen recalled a Bearcat that he worked on for three years. “It was so exciting to see the engine start for the first time at 2 in the morning,” he said.

Eventually, while working at Sanders Aeronautics, Hansen was also allowed to fly the historical birds he had restored. “Who actually is able to get in an airplane, start it up and go fly, especially when you’re talking about a Seafury or an SX300 or a Marchetti?” he marveled.

While he loved flying, Hansen’s passion was chiefly in the restoration process. “I love being able to take a bare bones plane and make it into something special,” he said. In 2007 he took on a massive project for himself – a PV-2 Harpoon named Attu Warrior. “If you’re going to go stupid, go stupid big and do it quick to limit the remorse,” he said.

Hansen poured his heart into the airplane. But it was a bigger challenge than he expected. He said the airplane is made up of “very obscure stuff,” unique to the Harpoon. But who better to restore this historical beast than Hanson? He was able to gain access to the only flying Harpoon at the time and reconstructed any unique parts that were damaged. In the end, he created a stunning restoration of the Harpoon, inside an out. Once completed, the PV-2 flew to the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico in the first year, after which Hansen found out he had a severe form of cancer putting the project to an abrupt halt.

Despite purchasing the airplane and pouring thousands of hours of work into restoring the Harpoon, Hanson did not consider it his own. “This aircraft really belongs to those who sacrificed to build it, fly and fight in it, and now to the families of the crews of all the aircraft just like it,” he said in his blog about the airplane [].

And while airplanes were his passion, the people involved with aviation were special to him. “It’s just a neat neighborhood. The people you meet are for the most part great, great people. As long as they see that you have a genuine passion for what you’re doing they’ll do anything they can to feed that passion because they suffer from the same malady and unfortunately we’re not looking for a cure. I’m looking for a cure for something else, but not for that,” Hansen said. Despite a valiant battle, unfortunately there was no cure for his cancer.