When Charles Kirkner took in the sight of the black-and-yellow winged beauty in front of him it was like seeing "an old friend" again.
Kirkner, 97, of Warminster, one of more than 100 people in attendance Saturday for the official unveiling of the Delaware Valley Historical Aircraft Association's newest addition - a circa 1931 PA-8 Mailwing - recalled his first meeting with the 81-year-old rarity.
"I've seen it fly," said Kirkner, a North Carolina native and World War II veteran of the Army. "This plane flew over delivering the mail. I used to look forward to seeing it every night."
On Saturday, once the orange-and-white tarp was pulled away, Kirkner could once again see the aircraft, one of two like it remaining in the world.
The PA-8 was donated to the Harold F. Pitcairn Wings of Freedom Museum following the death of its previous owner, Stephen Pitcairn. Harold F. "Rick" Pitcairn II, the executor of Stephen Pitcairn's estate, told Patch that he reviewed RFPs from a half dozen different aviation museums, but chose the Horsham-based museum as the plane's final destination for several reasons.
Chief among them was the family's wish to "keep it close where as many people as possible can see it," he said.
Rick Pitcairn's grandfather, the Bryn Athyn native and aviator who died before he was born - and for whom he is named - built the aircraft a stone's throw away from where it is currently housed: on a portion of the now-shuttered Willow Grove air base.
He said the Pitcairn family is not sad about losing a family heirloom. In fact, he said it's just the "opposite."
"These things happen. Life goes on," Rick Pitcairn said. "It's happy that we're able to shine a light on my grandfather's work."
That is precisely the intent behind the Wings of Freedom Museum and the purpose of its opening back in 2001. The addition of the PA-8 Mailwing is the first Pitcairn in its collection and something museum volunteers worked toward for a while.
DVHAA President Ron Nelson, who, because of a family emergency was unable to attend Saturday, told Patch previously that the museum has now set its sights on acquiring a Pitcairn Autogiro.
But, on Saturday, the photos, claps and fanfare were directed toward the homecoming of the shiny Mailwing, an "old friend" to folks awaiting mail some 70 years ago.
"There is no greater honor for this museum," DVHAA Executive Director John Rehfuss said during a brief introduction.