Overshadowed by Concorde where it sits, a Cessna 152 Aerobat occupies a spot in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum. One might wonder why a common little plane sits in such a hallowed hangar. After all, the Cessna 152 Aerobat, a mildly aerobatic version of the long-running Cessna 150/152 model, one of thousands built, was pretty commonplace, its sporty checkerboard paint scheme and skylight windows notwithstanding. There’s really nothing extraordinary about the plane, is there?
Owners would certainly disagree, and besides, N7557L is no ordinary bird. It was owned by a man who launched untold thousands of dreams of flight (including mine) with his gift for writing flight manuals and instructing. I visit N7557L every time I am at Udvar-Hazy in reverence of its history and its former owner, William K. Kershner.
Bill Kershner, a technical journalism graduate from Iowa State University, a former naval aviator and, later, corporate pilot, was a prolific aviation writer and an ardent educator who shared his knowledge and love for aviation with countless students throughout his long career. Kershner’s Student Pilot’s Flight Manual sold more than a million copies, including one copy that found its way into my hands at the age of 12. My cousin Terry, who flew L-23 Seminoles (better known Stateside as the Beechcraft Queen Air) in Vietnam, recognized that I had the flying bug and sent this gem to me in 1975. I pored over every page of it, my eyes riveted to Kershner’s well-crafted explanations of Bernoulli’s Principle, Venturi effect and L/D max, along with his whimsical illustrations and wry humor. This book opened the door to aviation for me. With the help of his wife, Betty, he wrote and illustrated the Student Pilot’s Flight Manual in 1960, and it is currently in its 11th edition.
He taught flying, too. In the late 1960s, Kershner created the Ace Aerobatic School at the Franklin County/Sewanee Airport, Tennessee. Over the next 30 years, Bill instructed numerous students in the basics of aerobatics and spin training, with a focus on upset training for instrument-rated pilots. In 1984, Bill bought N7557L for his school and used it as the basis of his illustrations for his newer flight manual.
After World War II, Cessna redesigned its 120/140 series aircraft with tricycle gear and an O-200 engine and designated it the 150 series. This series quickly became a flight school staple. Some 23,902 Cessna 150s and 7,593 Cessna 152s were built for a series total of 31,533. But only 1,483 of these were Aerobats. The 152 version was a spunky bird, featuring the ruggedly reliable Lycoming O-235 110-hp engine and a beefed-up structure to withstand +6g to -3g forces, perfect metrics for an aerobatic school. Bill loved the handling and spin characteristics of the plane.
Kershner became known as the “spin doctor,” conducting over 7,000 spins, of up to 21 turns, in the Aerobat, sometimes filming it adorned with ribbons or cones for analysis and instruction. Kershner has the unique distinction of being the only pilot who is a member of the International Aerobatic Club and Flight Instructors Halls of Fame.
At the time of his passing in January 2007, Kershner had documented more than 11,000 hours total military and civilian time in his logbook, with 4,300 hours as an instructor. In March of that year, Bill’s son, William C. Kershner, and grandson Jim flew “Orville” on its final journey from Sewanee, Tennessee, to Dulles Airport, Virginia.