help him. George had made arrangements for the FAA
certification, and his friend Bill Duke, a master machinist,
was ready to machine final parts.
The finishing touch is a one-of-a-kind paint scheme
that draws attention to the airplane. This portion of the
project is all Chris, who admits that George would probably have gone with a more traditional presentation.
Chris was compelled to find something that was different
from any other aircraft. After sharing the plans for the
Firebolt with Greg Bruner, a local graphic designer and
shooter of classic cars and street rods, a design began to
take shape. The end result is the look that finishes N4GW
today. Every piece of the airplane was painted separately
and then assembled.
A Fitting Number
As a final tribute to George, Chris decided to register the
Firebolt as N4GW (for George Wheeler). The N number
was registered to a glider that had been substantially damaged in 1981. Chris began some detective work, and with
the help of California-based soaring organizations he was
able to narrow the search for the aircraft. After dozens of
phone calls, Chris dispatched his sister-in-law to inquire
about some leads in her area, and remarkably, she found
Denny Andrews, the owner of the damaged glider. Denny
agreed to relinquish the N number, and the FAA helped
Chris transfer the N4GW registration just a week before
the Firebolt was scheduled to make the trip to Wisconsin.
The full panel updates the Firebolt’s classic lines.
Test flights and break-in were conducted using some temporary parts, and the final assembly took place on the
Saturday before AirVenture 2007. Twenty-four hours later
Chris was en route to Oshkosh with his daughter, Sara.
Chris’ first trip to Oshkosh resulted in the Wheeler
Firebolt winning the Bronze Lindy in the Plans Champion Division. For most builders, that honor would be
an achievement to be proud of. For Chris, it was a far
cry from what he and George had set their sights on
all those years ago, and he vowed to return to seek the