Fit for the skies: Local man inspects, restores aircraft in Orange airport hangar

  • Michael Ascolese, of Athol, owner of Round Power Aviation, stands in his hangar at the Orange Municipal Airport in front of a 1955 Max Holste Broussard airplane which he is restoring for a customer. The airplane was flown in the Algerian war. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Michael Ascolese, of Athol, owner of Round Power Aviation, stands in his hangar at the Orange Municipal Airport in front of a 1955 Max Holste Broussard airplane which he is restoring for a customer. The airplane was flown in the Algerian war. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • A detail of a 1955 Max Holste Broussard airplane which was flown during the Algerian war. The airplane is being restored by Michael Ascolese, owner of Round Power Aviation, in a hangar at the Orange Municipal Airport. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • A detail of a 1955 Max Holste Broussard airplane which was flown during the Algerian war. The airplane is being restored by Michael Ascolese, owner of Round Power Aviation, in a hangar at the Orange Municipal Airport. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • A1947 Navion airplane in Michael Ascolese's hangar at the Orange Municipal Airport. Ascolese owns Round Power Aviation and restores vintage airplanes. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Michael Ascolese, of Athol, owner of Round Power Aviation stands with a 1947 Navion airplane in his hangar at the Orange Municipal Airport. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Michael Ascolese, of Athol, owner of Round Power Aviation stands with a 1950 Cessna 140 in his hangar at the Orange Municipal Airport. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Michael Ascolese, of Athol, owner of Round Power Aviation, stands in his hangar at the Orange Municipal Airport in front of the Pratt Whitney R985 engine of a 1955 Max Holste Broussard airplane which he is restoring for a customer. The airplane was flown in the Algerian war. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

Recorder Staff
Published: 11/4/2016 2:52:54 PM

Mike Ascolese does not run an aviation museum, though you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise. A 1955 Max Holste Broussard airplane commands attention in the center of a hangar and is kept company by four other aircraft, including a two-passenger 1946 Cessna 120.

Ascolese owns Round Power Aviation, operating out of the hangar he rents from Orange Municipal Airport. He spends his days inspecting and tinkering with planes to ensure the engineering marvels are fit for the skies. He specializes in round engines that come on Beech 18s, Stearmans and warbirds.

“The best enjoyment, whether I’m flying it or not, is watching aircraft take off, and everything works,” he says. “It’s kind of a lost art — working on the old stuff.”

The Broussard, with its 48-foot wingspan, can figuratively and literally smack you in the face with its presence in the hangar. The French-made aircraft, sporting a 985-cubic-inch Pratt & Whitney R95 engine, was modeled after an American and Canadian airplane. It was used by the French to transport military personnel, including paratroopers, during the Algerian War, which lasted from 1954 to 1962. Ascolese said the six-seater was also equipped with a camera for enemy observation.

The machine — six years older than Ascolese — practically drips with history. The cockpit carries a slight echo, and there are flight instruments in front of the pilot’s seat. There are a stack of engine instruments in the middle and radio controls to the right.

“It’s interesting to work on. What we’re doing to it now is checking the headliner (on the inside roof) and checking for corrosion,” he said over the buzz of a small aircraft outside, the October sun reflecting off the airport’s black tarmac. His business coexists with the airport as its own entity.

Ascolese, who also teaches at the National Aviation Academy’s New England campus in Bedford, said the plane was damaged in crashes — “mishaps” as he called them — during the war. The plane came with a French language instruction manual that was translated by a Haitian student Ascolese teaches. French is one of Haiti’s official languages.

The Broussard, type 1521, is jungle green in color, with a drip pan underneath its propeller. The body is dotted with marked plastic cups tied to it, and Ascolese explained that the cups hold screws needed to hold together each particular part of the aircraft. The words, “Le Broussard,” appear on a French flag painted on the plane’s tail. It sports the same engine as the plane Ascolese flew as a crop duster decades ago.

He said the Broussard belongs to John Aunins, a Plymouth residents who works in the medical profession.

The 1946 Cessna 120, Ascolese says, was used for training pilots and as a small personal aircraft, because it was economical to fly.

“It’s a really basic airplane,” he says, adding that it has an 85-horsepower engine.

Ascolese’s life has revolved around aircraft. He started rebuilding engines for Pratt & Whitney in 1969 and got his pilot’s license in 1971.

Working on aircraft that can be used as warplanes is a bit ironic for Ascolese, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Malta, a south European island nation that was the most heavily-bombed country during World War II.

Ascolese, 67, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. He grew up watching aircraft fly over the city. This ignited a fascination with aviation. After graduating from high school in Rosemead, Calif., he attended the Los Angeles Trade Technical College, where he earned an associate’s degree in aircraft mechanics.

Ascolese has bounced around the aviation industry, including a job with Spain-Air Crop Dusting, where he was tasked with designing, building and flying crop-dusting airplanes. He also acquired a great deal of knowledge of Boeing-Stearman biplanes, leading to his own FAA-approved repair station for aircraft with radial engines at Flabob Airport in Riverside, Calif. The repair station was called Round Power Aviation, which now operates out of that 70-by-80-foot hangar he has occupied in Orange for about three and a half years.

Ascolese, who moved to this area in 1990, travels the country extensively, repairing planes and engines. He recently spent two and a half weeks in Grand Junction, Colo., and has been in Delaware off and on since March to work on twin-engine aircraft used for mosquito control. He would be in Haiti now, if not for the Oct. 4 hurricane that has killed hundreds and left more than 1 million in need of food assistance.

To this day, Ascolese says, he gets a thrill hearing from clients about how well their planes are running.




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