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Vintage Navion planes descend on Statesboro for annual inspections

Annual inspections for nearly a dozen 1940s-era Navion aircraft are taking place at the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport. Russell Herrington, Portal resident, ER doc, and current President of the American Navion Society, shares his love of flight and history as a Navion owner.

This week the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport has the privilege of hosting nearly a dozen rare 1940s-era Navion aircraft for their annual inspections. This gathering has become an unexpected and much-loved tradition for the pilots and Navion enthusiasts who travel the country to meet up here, working on vintage airplanes and sharing their love of flight.

It all started when Portal resident and former local physician Dr. Russell Herrington, “Rusty” to his friends, fell in love with flight. He was only 13 when he co-piloted his first aircraft with his dad by his side.

A legacy of flight

Herrington remembers when his father, a businessman in Waycross, Georgia, would come home in the mornings after working overnight at his restaurant, and then spend the day teaching him and his brothers to fly. His father loved aviation, and he loved Navion airplanes.

Safe and sturdy planes with a storied history, the Navion were a key part of Herrington’s childhood and his early memories of his family.

“When we were kids and it was time to change seats in the plane, one of us would climb in the back and we would swap without landing,” Herrington remembers with a grin. Those early flying lessons with his father and brothers sparked something in him, and he wanted more.

“When I was 14, I would go to the Waycross airport and rent an airplane. As long as I could find someone licensed to go with me, I could go and fly,” Herrington shares.

Their father passed down his love of aviation—and his love of the Navion—to Russell and his three surviving brothers, each of whom are pilots. Three of them are now Navion owners, like their father, and Russell now serves as President of the American Navion Society.

What’s special about the Navion?

The Navion was the first civilian aircraft manufactured by North American Aviation, which is famous for producing legendary military aircraft like the P-51 Mustang fighter. Herrington explained that Navions have the same reliability, smooth and steady handling, and safety features of the much larger military planes, but with the advantage of being small and nimble.


The Navion’s combination of rugged utility, safety, and agility made it an ideal liaison plane during the Korean War. A “flying pickup truck” according to some, Navions were used by the Army to ferry everyone from military personnel to movie stars on U.S.O. tours. Marilyn Monroe and Danny Kaye are some of the Navion’s most famous passengers.

Thanks to its engine construction, the Navion can start up incredibly quickly, then take off in less than 300 feet of runway, perfect for getting in and out of small, rough airfields during the Korean War, and now a lot of fun for any pilot or passenger with a taste for adventure.

Each plane tells a story

Each plane has a story. Some are discovered in the barns of deceased owners and rescued, one was recovered and restored in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew (its blue paint line serves as a reminder of just how high the water was), and Herrington even recalled a story about one in California that sat in an empty lot for so long they repaved the area around it three times. “You could see where the plane was sitting on the ground several inches below the rest of the parking lot,” Herrington said.

Each of these planes has been stripped down, painstakingly restored, and often modified.

Herrington bought his first Navion in 2002 and has enjoyed maintaining and modifying it over the years. “All of these planes are heavily modified,” he referenced the four aircraft in the hangar.

Herrington's Navion, nicknamed the Millenium Falcon: the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy

“Everyone wants more power,” he laughed. He has upgraded his Navion, affectionately called the “Millennium Falcon, the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy” thanks to its junkyard motor. Herrington's modifications include adding a larger engine, glass canopy, painted edges, and beautifully mirrored aluminum panels that he stripped down and polished himself.

From Navion restoration and repairs to ER rescues

What’s most surprising about his Navion, though, is how far and how often he flies it: Herrington doesn’t just fix and fly planes, he is also a practicing emergency room doctor. He had a practice in Statesboro and volunteered as the Georgia Southern University team doctor for nearly 20 years. Now he works with the East Alabama Regional Hospital System, and his 1956 Navion is not just his pride and joy, it’s his commuter vehicle of choice.

“My airplane flies about 300 hours per year; the average Navion only flies about 50 hours each year,” Herrington shares. Flying his Navion can melt away the stress of working in the ER, and only the most severe weather precludes him from flying instead of driving to work. He loves the freedom he gains from having the ability to fly. He and his wife also enjoy the freedom to visit their grandchildren, who live in several states.

But beyond the practical benefits, Herrington’s motivations for devoting so much of his time and energy to helping others repair and even rebuild their aircraft—painstakingly, part-by-part—are the same as his motivations for helping others as a physician: "It's who I am."

Herrington sees both opportunities as a gift, and his faith and his origins in a family of “very bright people” have helped him pay it forward as a doctor for 40 years and as a pilot since his teens.

Learn more

The American Navion Society hosts an annual convention complete with Navion races, competitions, and aviation-related camaraderie. Learn more at American Navion Society and Southern Navion Air Group, or stop by the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport for more information