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The Legendary Big 3: Exploring a Tailwheel Collection Set to be Auctioned in November 2023


The highly anticipated online aircraft auction in November 2023 is set to showcase a legendary tailwheel collection that has captured the imagination of aviation enthusiasts and collectors worldwide. This remarkable collection, known as “The Big 3,” features three iconic aircraft with rich histories and unique characteristics. The Bendix-winning C17R, Louise Thaden’s record-breaking aircraft, John Wayne’s meticulously restored D17S are the stars of this auction, and an experimental Howard DGA-15P that has been customized, offering a rare opportunity to own a piece of aviation history.

Register at Inquire on the website or by calling 254-735-5030.

Auction Dates:

November 8 – 15, 2023 | N67550 John Wayne D17S Staggerwing

November 14 – 21, 2023 | #81 (N15835) Louise Thadens C17R mid restoration

November 21 – 28, 2023 | N9381H Goldfinger DGA-15P customized

Aviation enthusiasts and collectors eagerly await the chance to participate in this auction, which provides a convenient online platform for bidding on these extraordinary aircraft. The allure of “The Big 3” lies not only in their historical significance but also in the craftsmanship and engineering that went into their creation. Each aircraft has its own story to tell, showcasing the evolution of tailwheel aircraft and the contributions made by notable figures in aviation history.

Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden accepting the Bendix trophy in 1936
Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden accepting the Bendix trophy in 1936

The Significance of the Bendix Cup

The Bendix Cup, a transcontinental air race held in the 1930s, holds great significance in the history of aviation. It was a prestigious event that pushed the boundaries of aviation technology and skill. The Bendix-winning C17R, one of the prized aircraft in “The Big 3” collection, played a crucial role in solidifying the reputation of the tailwheel design and showcasing its capabilities.

Louise Thaden, a pioneering aviator and the first woman to win a major air race, piloted the C17R to victory in the 1936 Bendix Cup race. This historic win not only highlighted Thaden’s exceptional piloting skills but also brought attention to the aircraft itself. The Bendix Cup victory demonstrated the potential of tailwheel aircraft to excel in long-distance flights, proving their maneuverability and stability.

An example that illustrates the significance of the Bendix Cup is the fierce competition that took place during the race. Pilots from across the country, including renowned aviators such as Roscoe Turner and Jackie Cochran, vied for the coveted title. The fact that the C17R emerged victorious among such formidable competition speaks volumes about its performance and the skill of its pilot, Louise Thaden.

When Thaden won the Bendix cup she quickly turned around and went on a national tour in this aircraft with Walter Beech. While just a big dog and pony show; this tour is a testament to the importance of a woman winning the Bendix in a production aircraft.

Current Condition of Louise Thaden’s Bendix-winning C17R

Preserving the historical integrity of Louise Thaden’s Bendix-winning C17R is of utmost importance to the collectors and curators of “The Big 3” collection. The restoration of this iconic aircraft, which played a pivotal role in the history of aviation, is mid-restoration.

#81 was found in a barn and identified as Loiuse Thadens plane and is validated with her original order paperwork available for viewing on AirSpace’s website. Restoration of the fuselage structure has been completed. All wood structure was repaired and reinforced with historically appropriate techniques. Any wood rot was replaced, the rest of the wood work was reinforced and sealed for longevity of its future life as a piece of living history. The metal tubing elements were sanded, repaired where needed, painted and sealed with epoxy.

The C17R’s wings, ailerons and tail structures were restored similarly to the fuselage. They have been recovered and are stored in a hangar properly, awaiting completion. The wings have an interesting feature that is little known, hidden flaps, the flaps descend from inside the main wing, reducing drag when not deployed, this feature has been properly restored within the work completed. There are a number of images available here to view the current restoration status.

This historic staggering also comes complete with its cockpit, windscreen with trademark Sherwin Williams blue paint chips and Wright 975 engine.

The original books that came with the aircraft including build documents and logbooks come with this aircraft.

The current owner has made the difficult decision of selling and allowing a new buyer to bring this 65% complete restoration to its historical glory at 100%. This historic aircraft is being sold at auction in November. Interested parties can request a viewing in person in Oklahoma.

John Wayne’s Meticulously Restored D17S

John Wayne, known for his iconic roles in Western films, he also starred in multiple wartime aviation films and was a pilot himself. His love for flying led him to own and pilot different aircraft throughout his life, including the D17S, which is part of “The Big 3” collection. This particular aircraft holds immense value due to its association with the legendary actor and the meticulous restoration it has undergone.

The restoration of John Wayne’s D17S was a labor of love, carried out by expert craftsmen who sought to preserve the aircraft’s original beauty and historical significance. Every aspect of the restoration was carefully considered. Exemplary upgrades such as a fuel selector to manage the 5 fuel tanks for both length of flight and weight and balance. A newer alternator has been installed for more consistent operation. Cleveland upgraded wheels and brakes. Electric fuel pump with high boost and low boost options. Gear motor maintenance and upgrades have been made, including adding new chains. The interior was renovated in 2021 with oyster white leather. The result is a stunning aircraft that pays homage to both John Wayne’s legacy and the golden age of aviation. Find more pictures and information on the AirSpace website here.

An example that showcases the level of detail in the restoration of the D17S is the recreation of its original interior. The craftsmen painstakingly researched and sourced period-appropriate fabrics, leathers, and finishes to recreate the luxurious and stylish cabin that John Wayne once enjoyed. The attention to detail extends to every aspect of the aircraft, ensuring that it remains a faithful representation of its original design.

An example that illustrates John Wayne’s connection to aviation is his involvement in the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). Wayne was a member of the EAA and regularly attended their annual fly-in event, known as EAA AirVenture. He even served as the grand marshal of the event in 1979, further solidifying his status as a respected figure in the aviation community.

Wayne’s dedication to aviation was not only evident in his ownership and piloting of aircraft but also in his support for various aviation-related causes. He used his influence and resources to promote aviation education and safety, leaving a lasting impact on the aviation community.

Owning John Wayne’s D17S not only provides a connection to the iconic actor but also allows enthusiasts to experience the thrill of flying in a meticulously restored classic aircraft. The D17S represents the epitome of vintage aviation, capturing the spirit of a bygone era and offering a unique opportunity to own a piece of Hollywood and aviation history.

The Unique Features of the Goldfinger Howard DGA-15P

Among “The Big 3” collection is the Howard DGA-15P, an aircraft renowned for for being a Damn Good Aircraft is now even better with an upgraded engine and aluminum skin. This particular aircraft stands out due to its tricked-out design and engineering innovations, making it a desirable addition to any aviation enthusiast’s collection. This particular aircraft was owned and flown by John Hewitt fron 1962 when he bought it until he commissioned Phillip Gomez and his team to reinvent his beloved DGA into a luxury flying machine.

What Mr. Gomez created under Mr. Hewitt’s guidance is nothing less than remarkable. The Goldfinger is a triumph of engineering and art. With an aluminum skin and impeccable metal work this airplane has been transformed. After adding the 550hp Lenoids MK 12500 power plant it rides like a rolls royce of the sky. Steady and powerful, with a comforted chest rumbling feel. The aircraft cruises over 200kts and consumes 20GPH from its 186 gallon fuel stores. 

The shocks are now gas shock for a smooth no-bounce landing. The interior fit and finish are similar quality to the exterior, top quality craftsmanship all around. A walnut dash with a mix of original steam gauges and modern Garmin GNS 530. The tan leather seats and matching cloth headliner are expertly installed in the two-place front seat, three-place back seat and small two-place jump seat in the “way back”.

To compliment the incredible craftsmanship Mr. Gomez devised secret buttons in the right side door. These secret buttons are the release for the luggage hatch (also jump seat) and 3 gas hatches.

Since the 50 hours to gain the experimental certification after restoration was flown off the aircraft has been flown just a few times with a total of only about 90 hours.

You can see build documents and logs on the AirSpace website here. Some build documents are posted but there is a substantial amount of additional information, including pictures documenting ever step of the restoration process.

The Online Aircraft Auction: When and How to Participate

The online aircraft auction featuring “The Big 3” collection is scheduled to take place in November 2023. 

November 8 – 15, 2023 | N67550 John Wayne D17S Staggerwing

November 14 – 21, 2023 | #81 (N15835) Louise Thadens C17R mid restoration

November 21 – 28, 2023 | N9381H Goldfinger DGA-15P customized

Interested buyers are encouraged to contact AirSpace Auctions at their website or call 254-735-5030. 

This highly anticipated event provides aviation enthusiasts and collectors from around the world with the opportunity to bid on these legendary aircraft from the comfort of their own homes.

The convenience and accessibility of online aircraft auctions make them an ideal platform for collectors to buy and sell airplanes. These auctions offer a level playing field for aviators and seasoned collectors. The online format eliminates the need for physical presence at an auction house, making it easier for aviators and collectors to view the extensive documentation and research their auction online.

Arranging a Viewing of the Big 3 Collection

Registered bidders are able to arrange a viewing of “The Big 3” tailwheel collection. However, the availability and specific arrangements for viewing must be confirmed with AirSpace Auctions. To participate in the online aircraft auction, interested buyers must register at The auction will be conducted in real-time, allowing participants to place bids on their desired aircraft. 

Viewing the tailwheel collection before the auction provides a unique opportunity to inspect the aircraft in person and appreciate their historical significance. It allows potential buyers to assess the condition, craftsmanship, and authenticity of the aircraft they are interested in acquiring. Registered bidders will be welcome to view these exemplary aircraft in advance of their auctions in Oklahoma City.


“The Big 3” tailwheel collection is a rare and remarkable assembly of iconic aircraft that have left an indelible mark on aviation history. Each aircraft in this collection holds immense historical significance, representing the achievements of notable figures such as Louise Thaden and John Wayne. The upcoming online aircraft auction in November 2023 provides an unparalleled opportunity for aviation enthusiasts and collectors to own a piece of this rich heritage.

These aircraft are a lot of fun to look at and learn about but not everyone wants to own them. For this reason, AirSpace Auctions carries a wide variety of aircraft on rotating online auctions. Explore their website to find your next aircraft. The ultimate goal is to get the right aircraft into your hangar.

From the Bendix-winning C17R to Louise Thaden’s record-breaking aircraft and John Wayne’s meticulously restored D17S, “The Big 3” collection showcases the evolution of tailwheel aircraft and the passion of those who have dedicated themselves to preserving their legacy. The intricate craftsmanship, engineering innovations, and historical context of these aircraft make them highly sought-after pieces among aviation enthusiasts.

As the online auction approaches, anticipation grows, and participants eagerly await the chance to bid on these legendary aircraft. The convenience and accessibility of online bidding open doors for collectors from around the world to engage in the excitement of the auction. It is an event that celebrates the rich history of aviation while providing an opportunity for enthusiasts to own a piece of the past.

In conclusion, the auctioning of “The Big 3” tailwheel collection represents a rare and extraordinary moment for aviation enthusiasts and collectors. The legacy of these iconic aircraft will continue to inspire and captivate future generations, ensuring that the spirit of aviation history lives on.

The online aircraft auction featuring “The Big 3” collection is scheduled to take place in November 2023. 

November 8 – 15, 2023 | N67550 John Wayne D17S Staggerwing

November 14 – 21, 2023 | #81 (N15835) Louise Thadens C17R mid restoration

November 21 – 28, 2023 | N9381H Goldfinger DGA-15P customized

Interested buyers are encouraged to contact AirSpace Auctions at their website or call 254-735-5030. 

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