Howard Aero was a firm formed by Durrell Unger “Dee” Howard in San Antonio, Texas, to remanufacture and convert obsolescent Lockheed 18 Lodestar into plush, high-performance executive transports. It produced three types of aircraft, the third of which was almost an entirely new design. Despite comparing favorably in certain respects with the new turboprop light transports and other options available to executives, the Howard series never became a major player in the executive transport game. One community that did favor Howards, especially the 350, was the drug-smuggling community, which appreciated their performance and load-carrying capacity. These activities were, of course, not conducive to the long-term survival of the aircraft and accordingly there are not a large number of Howards left today.
The Howard 250 was basically a stock Lodestar with standard engines but with the fuselage reworked for comfortable accommodations for a smaller number of passengers, generally about 12. Visually, the fully developed Howards are easily distinguished from Lodestars by the long, panoramic cabin windows and extended pointed noses. Some 250s were built with tricycle landing gear rather than the Lodestar’s standard taildragger configuration. The 250 grew gradually out of the practice of overhauling, maintaining and progressively modifying Lodestars, so at the margin it is difficult to determine which is which and there is no definitive count of the number of 250s produced.
Originally Lodestar serial 2519, this aircraft was photographed at Chino, California in 1991. It was reportedly scrapped a few years later.
Formerly Lodestar 2597, this Howard was dressed in fanciful U.S. Army colors and campaigned as a warbird by Bill Harrison of Tulsa, Oklahoma in the 1990s. Today it is reported to be located in Georgia.
Some Howards were converted to tricycle landing gear. One of the survivors is N177L at Planes of Fame in Chino, California. I have never seen this machine move under its own power but it looks as if it could. It used to be Lodestar serial 2178.
The Howard 350 was a Lodestar upgraded with much more powerful, 2500-hp engines from a Douglas DC-6, with four-bladed propellers with DC-7 blades, giving a great increase in performance. Approximately 55 of these aircraft were converted.
The Howard 500 was a substantially new aircraft with a newly built fuselage, although similar in appearance to the Lodestar’s, with wings from a Lockheed Ventura bomber and landing gear from a Lockheed PV-2 bomber. It had the same uprated engines and propellers as the 350. The design first flew in September 1959. They seated 10 to 14 in great comfort with impressive performance. The aircraft was not a commercial success, and only 17 examples were built.
The Howard 500 pictured here, N500HP, is part of the Golden Wings Flying Museum in Anoka County, Minnesota. It is extensively restored to pristine 1960s condition. It is one of two surviving 500s, both of which are airworthy and belong to the same owner.