20 Years Coming

Parked next to the brown arch Michael and Shawn Roach’s Skybolt drew endless attention.

For all those laboring on their builds and thinking it will never come together we present Michael and Shawn Roach’s Skybolt. Although completed 20 years ago in 2001 by original builder Bill Hill for owner John Watt the Skybolt has mainly been hidden in a hangar in Banning, California.

That’s because Watt was actually flying the Skybolt to AirVenture two decades ago but turned around because things didn’t quite feel right. Shortly thereafter Watt died and the airplane sat.

A showpiece cruiser, the Roach Skybolt’s color palate and scheme is simultaneously contemporary and ’90’s vintage. Our grab shot photography does it no justice.

But now Michael and Shawn have completed Watt’s trip, winging the Skybolt from its new home in Atlanta, Georgia to Oshkosh for the first time. That they were fulfilling Watt’s journey was never off their mind, say the Roach’s.

The airplane is a fancy, interesting mix of new build and period-correct graphics, instrumentation and intent. While biplanes today typically aspire towards featherweight performance the Roach’s Skybolt is a big-block cruiser from the dreadnought school of design. It’s dripping with show plane details and cross-country features, including a 17-gallon belly tank for feeding the 370 hp Lycoming IO-540A2B.

Big engines in draggy airframes have an appetite, and the 17 gallon belly tank is a cross country bonus and harkens to inter-war fighters in the same situation. The tank can be removed in about 20 minutes.

Just coming off, “a two year annual” according to Michael, the Skybolt is both new and starting its maiden voyage under new hands. We’ll be watching the inevitable transformation as the Roaches transition from taking on Watt’s dream and making it their own. In the meantime the biplane’s presence got our camera’s attention this AirVenture.

Polished and rectangular in a major way, the Skybolt’s stainless exhaust makes a street rod-like statement.


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