The Spoto/Mendieta Rose Parrakeet

It's amazing, sometimes, how so many lives can be touched by a single airplane. The first link
in one such chain of events was forged in the early 1930s when a then-young Jack Rose of the
Chicago area designed the Rose Parrakeet (and added an additional "r" in the name for reasons
lost to memory).

Spoto/Mendieta Rose Parrakeet

A small, open cockpit biplane, the Parrakeet was originally powered by a converted four-cylinder, inline Henderson motorcycle engine, but a switch was made to the Continental A-40 when that powerplant became available.

Once the airplane was performing to his satisfaction, Rose hired a young engineer to do the structural analysis necessary for certification, and after several years of effort and frustration with government officials, he finally obtained a Group 2 (#2-514) approval on August 28, 1935.

Although popular with pilots, only a few Parrakeets were built in the remaining years of the 1930s, and the endeavor came entirely to a halt when Rose switched over to subcontracting after the start of World War II. After the war, Foster Hannaford, Jr. of the Rockford, IL area worked out some sort of deal with Jack Rose to manufacture the Parrakeet under license, but it came to an acrimonious end when Rose discovered that Hannaford had applied for certification of an 85 h.p. development of the design called the Hannaford Bee. In the 1940s and early 1950s several modified Parrakeets were used as airshow planes, but were largely overshadowed by the big, noisy 450 Stearmans that came into vogue at the time.

In the 1960s Doug Rhinehart of Farmington, NM put the Parrakeet back in the public spotlight, competing in the aerobatic competitions staged by the Antique Airplane Association at Ottumwa, Iowa and performing in air shows around the country. Convinced that a market still existed for the tiny sportplane, Rhinehart managed to obtain the rights to the design from Jack Rose and began work on a batch of five airframes. The new version had a number of upgrades, the most significant of which was the replacement of the 40 h.p. Continental A-40 with a 100 h.p. Continental O-200. Unfortunately, however, Doug would not have the opportunity to complete all the Parrakeets. He would die in the 1970s in the crash of his Luscombe 8A after hitting powerlines- the too often unseen adversary of all pilots.

One of those unfinished airframes, Serial Number 510, was ultimately purchased by Monte Miller of Aqua Dulce, CA, who did a considerable amount of work on it, but never completed the project. A few years ago, he offered the project for sale... which began the process of linking the Parrakeet to the lives of several additional- and notable- aviation enthusiasts. Remo Galeazzi is a name that will ring a familiar bell if you have been around the sport aviation scene for very long. It was Remo and his friend and mentor, Jim Smith, both of Petaluma, California, who built two stunning Marquart Chargers, each of which would win Grand Champion awards at Oshkosh- Jim's in 1982 and Remo's in 1987. Subsequently, Remo would team with his cousin, Ted Babbini, to restore Ted's ex-Tex Rankin Ryan STA and Fleet I, both proving to be superb examples of the restorer's art and award winners many times over.

JoAnne Spoto, who was employed by one of the prestigious winerys in California's famed Sonoma Valley area, was a young and very enthusiastic pilot who frequently dropped in on Ted Babbini and Remo Galeazzi at the Schellville airport to check on the progress of their restorations. "We became very fond of her," Remo recalls, "and we came to consider her a part of our family. She had a Cherokee, but one day she saw a picture of a Parrakeet and it just totally captured her imagination. Thereafter, she just had to have one, but, of course, they were no longer commercially available."

About that time, however, Monte Miller began advertising his Parrakeet project, and when JoAnne heard about it, she asked Remo to accompany her to Southern California to look it over. "Before we looked at it, I told her that if it looked worthwhile, I'd just nod my head. If not, I'd not do anything. Monte took us in the house and showed us what he had and it really looked good, truly first class. I nodded my head and JoAnne pulled her checkbook out so fast it almost broke her arm! She was quite an intelligent person and had this enthusiasm and esprit that caused everyone to love her."

With the project home in northern California, work began immediately to complete the Parrakeet. JoAnne bought the material and Remo and several other Schellville pilot/restorers agreed to do the work, just for the fun of it and for the enjoyment of seeing JoAnne's increasing excitement. Tragically, however, about a year into the project JoAnne learned she had leukemia, and would succumb to the disease in September of 1998.

"I still had about a year's work left at that point. The airplane wasn't worth much at that stage so I decided to finish it, both in JoAnne's memory and to help her family. I had become friends with her parents who lived in Chicago- just the salt of the earth- and I wanted them to have something to sell or at least have some options for doing something else with it." You should know that Remo, himself, is in the same salt of the earth category. His caring and generous gesture in behalf of JoAnne's parents was just the sort of thing those who know him expected of Remo.

The Parrakeet airframe as purchased by JoAnne Spoto had the structural upgrades made by Doug Rhinehart to accommodate the Continental O-200: beefier wing struts, two sets of roll wires, thicker wing spars, and a number of other minor modifications. An engine mount specifically for the O-200 was, of course, included. As might be expected of a Grand Champion builder/restorer, there would be a number of custom touches- Remo touches- to make the Parrakeet a better and better looking airplane. For starters, he did not like the simplistic turtledeck structure because it allowed the fabric to pull in the stringers between the widely-spaced bulkheads. This "starving" or bowing in offended Remo's aesthetic sensibilities, causing him to add a couple of additional lightweight bulkheads to keep the stringers nice and straight. Likewise, the very small tubes used to form the leading edges of the horizontal stabilizer tend to scallop under the tension of ever-tautening fabric, so Remo braced the tubes to prevent such "ugliness." (Remo, you must realize, considers airplanes to be an art form of the highest order, and he simply can't stand imperfections such as those just described.)

In standard form, the Parrakeet's ailerons have a significant gap, which is normally sealed with a strip of fabric tape. In time the tape tends to get wrinkled and begins to shed dope, so that was another "ugly" feature that had to go. Remo faired in the aileron gap to eliminate the need for wrinkle-prone tape, and, apparently, made the ailerons more smoothly responsive in the process. Other Remo touches included his trademark faired hinges for the tail's control surfaces, all instantly recognizable by those who have admired his Charger and the vintage aircraft he has helped restore.

Not as obvious were other mods such as aluminum leading edges for the ailerons, a wing walk, and removable side panels. For safety's sake, new Cleveland wheels and brakes and Scott master cylinders were installed. The original Parrakeets were intended to be operated off grass runways, and generally into the wind, so compensation had to be made for today's paved runways and frequent crosswinds.

As noted, Remo had help on the project. "When JoAnne decided to go ahead with the project, there were three or four of us, most notably Harry Munsen, who would pitch in and do the work. Jim Williams, for instance, a very good friend of our EAA Chapter 124 and of all of us, did the instrument panel, and Don Carter started the cowling. Unfortunately, Jim and Don experienced some health problems along the way, so I ended up doing the bulk of the work- but I didn't mind. To me, that was just playing."

One phase of the project turned out to be less than the normal amount of fun, however. Remo covered the fuselage with Ceconite, and as has been his practice for years, applied two fill coats of nitrate dope. That was followed by a coat of butyrate, and... "It just curdled! You could see every brush stroke of the nitrate under it. I called the manufacturer, but they claimed they had not changed the dope formula. Well, I know they did, because I've been using butyrate over nitrate for years and haven't had such a problem. I stripped the fuselage, did it all over again- and the same thing happened. I ended up covering and doping the fuselage three times before I finally got an acceptable finish. It could have turned out better, but there was just some sort of incompatibility, some adverse chemical reaction between the nitrate and butyrate dopes I used, but I still don't know what it was. I later told Al Kelch about it- he was in plastics before he retired- and he said he never used nitrate on his airplanes, just butyrate. I tried it on the Parrakeet's tail surfaces and it worked beautifully. There's also a fellow at Schellville who recovered two of his 450 Stearmans using only butyrate dope and they have held up perfectly well. All this puts me in a real quandry. I'm an EAA Technical Counselor and people ask me how to do things like fabric work. Now I don't know what to tell them. Conventional wisdom has always been to start with nitrate to take advantage of its supposedly superior adhesive qualities, then finish with butyrate. But now I know of examples of all-butyrate use that work well. It's a lot less work, so I sure wish someone could give me a definitive answer on whether nitrate is really necessary.

"The colors and trim scheme are exactly as JoAnne had wanted them to be. The fuselage and the leading edges of the wings are Forest Green, and the rest, the wings and tail surfaces, are Daytona White. Gold pin stripes separate the two colors. The finish is hand-rubbed."

Once the major airframe work was completed, Remo concentrated on such things as fairing the landing gear struts with balsa and fabric tape and completing the engine cowling. He ended up redesigning the cowling, incorporating lift-up panels for easy access to the Continental. That made it necessary for the exhaust stacks to extend straight down, but that just made it easier for him to fit a carb heat muff of his own design, which has subsequently proven to be quite effective.

When finally complete, the Parrakeet was found to have an empty weight of 632 pounds. "That's a lot more than the original A-40 powered Parrakeets weighed," Remo says, "but most of it is the result of using the heavier O-200. Back in the beginning of the project we figured that JoAnne would need a starter because she was just a little girl and it is hard to get someone else to hand prop an airplane today. Initially, we installed just a B&C lightweight starter and a battery that could provide two or three starts between recharging. I installed it on the cross brace tubes aft of the seat, with a latch to make it easy to remove and replace. Ultimately, however, we did install a little B&C 17 amp alternator.

"Harry Munsen and I ran the weight and balance- Harry was the engineer- and we kept moving things around until the CG came right out on the button. We were really happy about that.

"Walt Bowe was chosen as the test pilot for the airplane. He's bright and he's quick and we had a lot of confidence in him. Walt was the one who found the ad for the Parrakeet project and told JoAnne about it, so it was appropriate for him to make the first flight." (Walt Bowe was also at Merced 2000, where we interviewed Remo and Carlene Mendieta for this article. The test flight, which lasted about 30 minutes, went well, he said. "It was an honor to have been chosen by these guys to make the first flight.")

The modernized Rhinehart version of the Parrakeet, with the custom touches added by Remo Galeazzi and friends, is an interesting mixture of the new and old. Having been designed nearly 70 years ago, the airplane can be expected to have, and indeed, does have its idiosyncrasies, Remo points out.

"The aileron differential, for example, is just the opposite of today's common practice. On modern aircraft, they go up a lot more that they go down to avoid creating so much adverse yaw. On the Parrakeet they go up only 17 degrees, but go way down. You have to use a lot of rudder to make coordinated turns, but that's the way most old airplanes fly. It's just part of the experience of flying like they did in the 1920s and 1930s.

"Wing incidence is another thing. On modern biplanes like the Marquart Charger, you have a lot less incidence on the top wing than the bottom so you get a nice, soft stall. The Parrakeet has three and a half degrees of incidence in both the top and bottom wings, and, as a result, it stalls pretty aggressively. The incidence in the bottom wing is fixed, but you can move the top one a bit. With the additional power of the O-200, I thought the incidence of the top wing should be reduced somewhat, so I got it down to three degrees. That probably helped some, but it still drops right out at the stall. Again, it's just part of flying an old airplane."

The first propeller used on the airplane proved to have too much pitch, which limited static rpm to 2,000 turns instead of the 2,300 the O-200 should rev to in order to produce normal take-off power. A second prop was built for the project by a former employee of the old Ole Fahlin propeller company and it worked like a charm, Remo says. With over twice the power of the original Continental A-40 powered versions, the airplane can force its draggy, open cockpit airframe up over 100 mph, but cruise is normally 10 mph or so less. The limitation is the fuel capacity of 14 gallons. That was quite adequate for an A-40 powered airplane, but limits endurance to about two hours if the O-200 is run very hard. It's no problem when just flying around locally, but cross country jaunts to fly-ins require a prudent accounting of power settings and time aloft.

Quite naturally, the first flight of Parrakeet N63950 was an emotional experience for all the Schellville folks, particularly so since JoAnne's parents were on hand for the occasion. The little lady who dreamed of soaring aloft in her Forest Green, gold and white Parrakeet was very much a presence that day in the hearts and minds of everyone. Tears were shed, and no one was nor had reason to be ashamed of them. For a while, JoAnne's parents had considered placing the Parrakeet in a museum, but by the time of the first flight, another life had begun being affected by the tiny biplane... and a new direction in its still short existence was being charted.

Carlene Mendieta... Dr. Carlene Mendieta, to be more formal- she's a periodontist... was learning to fly in a J-3 Cub at the Schellville airport during the latter stages of the construction of the Parrakeet, and as Remo recalls... "She fell in love with the airplane, with the same enthusiasm JoAnne had. She'd come over to the hangar where I was working and just sit there and look at it. One day she asked me if I thought she could buy it. I said I would talk to JoAnne's parents and see what they would say, and, indeed, when they came out for the first flight, they met her, obviously liked her and made arrangements to sell her the airplane. She's flying it now and is doing a very good job. She's just crazy about the Parrakeet, and all of us who knew JoAnne and now have met Carlene are so pleased that it is in her hands- and still based at Schellville where we can continue to see it fly."

Carlene Mendieta grew up in Winnemucca, Nevada and worked for a time for a dentist who was a pilot and the owner of a Cub. "Whenever we didn't have patients, we'd often go out and fly in his Cub and I loved it. I later moved to San Francisco to go to dental school and did a specialty program at the University of California Medical Center to become a periodontist. I now live in the East Bay area and know an oral surgeon who flies out of Schellville, and when he learned I liked to fly, he asked if I had any interest in taking lessons. I said, 'Yes, if I could learn in a Cub.' As it turned out, he knew of a gentleman at Schellville who owned a Cub and gave lessons in it- so I signed on, started learning to fly, bought my own Cub and soloed it. Now I'm partners with Walt Bowe on Ted Babbini's Ryan STA (Ted died recently and the Ryan was sold) and I've soloed it, also. It's fun just being around all these great people at the Schellville airport who are so encouraging. I flew Don Carter's Bucker... and I never knew JoAnne Spoto, but I knew of the airplane and what was going on with that. I just thought it was so beautiful, and I would go to the airport and just sit and admire it. One day Remo said, 'Why don't you get in and see if you fit in the airplane.' I got in... and the rest is history, I guess."

Carlene is really getting into the vintage aircraft scene. At the time we met her at the Merced, CA Fly-in in early June, she had just bought an Alexander Eaglerock similar to the one hanging in the United terminal at Denver, and was preparing to launch an expedition to Brewster, Kansas to pick it up and truck it home to California.