“I’m sorry to tell you this, but it’s all downhill from here. You’ll never fly in an airplane like this again.” Central Business Jets’s Jay Duckson was straight with me when I had the opportunity to fly in the unique and rare Howard 500 at this year's NBAA convention. Designed in the 1950s and ’60s, the aircraft is similar to the military surplus Lockheed Lodestars and Venturas that were readily available after World War II. Approximately 22 models were manufactured, but only two remain today. Both are owned by Tony Phillippi, founder and owner of Phillippi Equipment, and are based in Minneapolis. Phillippi is currently leasing block hours for the Howard 500 at the minimum amount of 100 flight hours.
Restoration of the Howard 500 I flew aboard took 100,000 labor hours to complete back in 2015. However, the aircraft still has all of the personal touches from its inception. Unlike most commercial jets, the Howard 500 features strategically spaced windows for optimal viewing; there’s even a window in the lavatory. With room for 12 passengers, the Howard features camel leather seats with pull-out tables and a royal blue divan on either side of the aisle. The combination of the royal blue curtains and matching carpet with the spacious windows and bright lighting gave the cabin a retro yet warm and welcoming feeling.
Once in the aircraft, I braced myself for the rough vibrations and loud revving I assumed an airplane this old would create, but the Howard 500 was steady and virtually soundproof. As we made our way up the taxiway, visitors from the NBAA convention static display raced up to the barriers separating us and quickly took out their phones to take pictures; it’s not every day you see an aircraft like this.
According to pilot Bill DaSilva, replacing worn-out Howard 500 parts is getting more difficult as time passes. Naturally many of the parts that make up this aircraft have been discontinued because they are not in demand. DaSilva, who has been flying the Howard 500 for 3.5 years, told AIN that parts should continue to be available for the “foreseeable future” because Phillippi will buy them in bulk wherever he finds them.
We smoothly took off from Henderson Executive Airport and started to motor over the diverse landscapes of Nevada. Flying around 300 mph at between 1,000 and 3,000 ft msl, we were able to clearly see the sunburnt grooves of the deserts and mirrored waters of Lake Mead. As we flew over the Hoover Dam, I wondered what the view looked like from the tiny window in the toilet. I asked Jay if the aircraft could fly any higher and he gave me a simple answer: “Yes, but why would you want to?”
We landed back at Henderson Airport, greeted by a new group of static visitors taking pictures. I realized that I felt incredibly safe the entire flight and that the aircraft reminded me of the cars built back in the day that were made to last. While the Howard 500 might visit certain airshows next year, there’s no beating the experience of flying in such an exceptional aircraft. I’m afraid Jay was right—I don’t think I’ll ever fly in an aircraft quite like this again.