Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Airplanes, Fast Growing Grass and Rock Eating Poodles

It doesn't seem to matter whether the weather is naughty or nice, the grass does grow and - when it doesn't - the dog eats a big rock that gets stuck in her gut and that, in turn, eats into my flying budget  ... pfft ... if it weren't for that I'd just spend the money on dead dinosaurs and send them into the atmosphere. So that's my contribution to the effort to curb Global Warming and bring harmony to Mother Earth.

On the plus side, the airplane is gassed up and ready to fly and 8NC9 is dry and mowed. All that is needed is a couple of hours to commit lift.

I will only write this once: DO NOT LET YOUR DOG EAT ROCKS. Lest you think rock-eating dogs and airplanes do not go together, how much avgas can you buy for the money you have to spend on vets and pet hospital ICUs when your dog does manage to slip one in and get it stuck? It's painful for both the dog and the wallet.
She's back home after showering the vet with a cruise and gas for the Porsche but she's not 100% yet.

 Now to order the new wheel and spindle for the mower (I managed to break it on a hidden stump when I was zooming around on the tractor last week). Note to self: Do not zoom around on tractors while mowing. 

We are full of admonition today. Etc.

 Maybe the stars will align. Maybe I will fly tomorrow. Oh please. Oh please.


Friday, May 18, 2018

May is for Flying in the NC mountains!

I'm doing a little basking in the satisfaction that comes from introducing the CallAir Cadet to friends, old and new, who belong to the Experimental Aircraft Association and the Vintage Aircraft Association. In the January 2018 issue, the EAA magazine, Sport Aviation, had a nice mention in the section toward the back entitled "What our Members are Building/Restoring":
 Then, in the May/June issue of Vintage Airplane, the larger story of not only the restoration but the background of the design. It originated as the Interstate Cadet in 1939-40 which was used to train a lot of pilots through the Civilian Pilot Training Program before and during the World War II years.
 The CallAir Cadet is one of a kind - the only one produced by the Call Aircraft Company of Afton WY. You can dig back through the blog for my entries or, better yet, join the VAA and ask for the magazine.

We're flying regularly and enjoying springtime in the mountains. 
Y'all come.

Monday, April 30, 2018

What's more fun than a small town Air Fair??

Hooray! It's finally springtime in the mountains!
 ... and the fine folks at the Western NC Air Museum are busy serving breakfasts on the first Saturdays of the month and making big plans for the Air Fair coming up on the first weekend in June ...

 Our Air Fair is open to the public and always draws a good crowd. Volunteers give airplane rides and the kids love our very original "ornithopter", powered by a hit-and-miss farm engine. The pok-a-pok-a-pok-a sound is as entertaining as just about anything. The antique car crowd shows up, too.


Monday, March 12, 2018

Achieving temporary immortality

At last !  I am a pilot of distinction !  Having survived brushes with imminent demise, screwed up thises and thats, a couple of embarrassments (ok, more than a couple) and a few more unmentionables, I can now claim to be THE HIGHEST-TIME LIVING, ACTIVE CALLAIR S1 PILOT IN THE WORLD!  
Lest you think this is some trifle in the annals of aviation, please allow me to explain: I am the ONLY living, active CallAir S1 pilot in the world. The few became the fewest and, thankfully, I'm it. It's a status that is, if you pardon my allusion, perishable, as long as I can avoid being the "perishee".

It also happens to be that time of the year when the annual inspection is due. Many of my fellow aviators opine that airplanes are worn out more by unscrewing things and screwing them back in than by flying. The hours-flown total for the last year is quite low, partially because minor re-do items had to be re-done after the restoration, a little bit owing to weather and mostly because I do more talking than flying these days. Now that some of the kinks are being worked out I hope to do more flying this year.

The first grand plan is to wend my way South to the annual Sun-n-Fun Fly-in at Lakeland FL next month. I tried this last year and didn't make it because the airplane wasn't out of the shop. This year, the fly-in comes first and the shop second. I hope it works out.

Dave in South Carolina made up a custom aerosol can of paint for my rudder/brake pedals and I hope to have them reinstalled when the weather turns warmer later this week. 

No flying today. The wind is howling outside and the temps took a dive this morning - today just happens to be the 25th anniversary of the "Blizzard of '93" in the North Carolina mountains, a date that will live forever around here. I must sound like a really old fogey when I spin that yarn to my grandchildren but I don't care - I used to listen to the old timers when I was that age and still remember some of their tales. The older I get, the more I appreciate them and wish I could turn back the clock. If I could, I'd make more of an effort to listen and remember.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Springtime Flying - Getting Ready

At about this time of the year there is a stir in hangars across the country. Engines that have been sitting quietly are running up, heating the oil so it'll drain more quickly to make room for fresh oil; wood props are being re-torqued; pulleys and pedals are lubricated and flexed; cable tensions, safety wires, cotter pins, all checked. It's the gradual wake-up for spring flying and it's a sure sign that there are pancakes and barbecue and eggs and grits and bacon at little airports within 100 miles of wherever you are (unless you are in someplace where elbow room is 100 miles or more).

If you've found a place on the web called "Social Flight", you've found a good place to look for flying goings-on. The Western North Carolina Air Museum breakfasts on the first Saturday of the month are found there (the first one this year -2018- will be in April) but other local happenings aren't - you just have to know somebody who knows somebody who knows. 

Mornings in the North Carolina mountains can be misty, rainy, wet, icy or beautiful when it comes to flying weather. My go-to page for up to date weather has been the government's page, but there are others. I'm old school and like to read prog charts but that's not everyone's cup of java.

Long story short, there is flying to be done and fun to be had doing it and if you don't get out there and do some of it you might just as well take up - ulp - tiddledywinks.

Be the old man

Jamie Beckett is a very good aviation journalist. His article in this morning's news feed reminded me of a kid I knew, only it was 6 miles to the airport, not two. The pilots sat around a low table in a small room with low ceilings and open rafters, the smoke from the fireplace that never seemed to draw quite right ever present. Sometimes they'd let me get them a beer from the fridge in back while they pulled their old cards on the table; Air Transport Command, this squadron, that squadron, etc. The broken props on the wall, shirttails with names and dates for student pilots who had made their first solo flight, big green charts, a combat boot hanging from a rafter next to a stuffed owl ... these were the icons of my first exposure to the magic of aviation that eventually blossomed into a career. Those kids at the airport fence, they're the ones who will fly into the future. Hand one a broom.

From General Aviation News:


The kid’s pace slowed as the tree line fell behind, the green grass of the airport coming into view. Pedaling slower while steering the bike off the main thoroughfare and onto the little used service road, the kid’s eyes scanned the grounds.

Beyond the chain link fence, the Do Not Enter signs, and the undeveloped buffer that lay between the rest of the world and the runway, there were rows of hangars.

Some of the hangars were small. Just big enough to fit a single airplane inside. A few of the doors of these smaller hangars stood open, their tenants milling about nearby as they rolled aircraft in, or out, or washed a layer of earthbound grime or formerly airborne insects off the painted surfaces.

Another kid, not much older than the one on the bike, wiped a chromed propeller blade with a bright yellow cloth. An adult, maybe the lucky kid’s father or grandfather, wiped the opposing blade with a similar looking piece of fabric.

The kid envied that youthful counterpart, even if he was doing a required chore. He was touching an airplane. A real airplane. One that flies and everything.

Just 100 yards or so down the road the hangars grew. They got taller, wider, and deeper. Whopper big airplanes sat inside waiting for action. Some were near the front of the hangar, the sun glinting off their brightly colored skins. Others were farther into the cavern, partially disassembled. Engines poked out from their mounts, their covers removed, their dull metal naked to the world, clearly visible even to the curious eye of a bicycle riding 12 year old.

The kid could barely see what sort of treasures were hidden in the shadows at the back of those big hangars. But he dare not stop. The fence was high. The Do Not Enter signs were plentiful. There were people in those hangars. Men and women, young and old. They’d turn an intruder into the authorities for sure.

The kid kept pedaling. Slowly, but never wavering. Forward progress was imperative. This was no place to give the appearance of being a thief, or a terrorist, or the kind of kid who might climb a fence when nobody was looking. Nothing good could come from that. Curiosity killed the cat, after all.

Over the summer the kid’s route stayed the same. Two miles from the house to the airport. Two miles home again. Every day. Sometimes twice.

The sights and sounds of the airport and the flying machines in those hangars stuck with the kid. Flying became a constant preoccupation. Overnight the kid’s dreams were populated with those exact same airplanes, coming from the very same hangars on the daily route.

A hangar at a Wisconsin airport. (Photo by Larrcy Stencel).

Throwing caution to the wind on the very next visit, the bike slowed, stopped, and fell over into the soft grass beside the service road. Seeing no police cars or military vehicles nearby, one foot inched toward the fence, then another, then a full step. Suddenly the kid’s face was pressed to the fence’s galvanized steel links. They were sharp and poked young cheeks.

Pulling back a fraction of an inch, the hangars seemed to call out, inviting a curious kid sporting a head full of dreams inside.

The big hangar where the mechanics were busy mending and maintaining machinery caught the eye. At least five airplanes were visible. Some were big. The kid surmised there must be lots of seats inside. Others were small. Very small. But they must be easier to fly, the kid thought. Maybe that’s where you start. Maybe I could fly one of those…someday…maybe…

From out of the shadows in the back of the hangar came an old man. A really old man. The kid guessed he was 50 if he was a day. In one hand he held a cup. Probably coffee. Old people drink coffee. In the other a grease-soaked rag. He spotted the kid. The kid froze. The old man raised the rag and gestured with it. The kid ran. Back to the bike. Back to the service road. Two miles home. No looking back.

The kid didn’t go back the next day, or the next. But the lure of the airport, the hangars, the flying machines, and the sounds they all made was too much to ignore, even if it did mean he might get arrested for trespassing. Even if they did haul kids off to the pokey and call their parents at work to let them know what hoodlums they were raising. The airport called out and the kid answered.

The bike stopped again, fell in the grass where it had before, and the kid carefully walked up to the fence.

The sky was a perfect blue without even a hint of a cloud. July was in full swing. It was hot, even at mid-morning. The kid squinted. The sun was directly behind the big hangar, just clearing the roofline. The kid could barely see, but the sounds of the mechanics were familiar, both soothing and exciting at the same time.

“Hey, kid!” a voice boomed out. It was close. Startled, the kid squinted harder, peeking in between tightly closed fingers. “What’s your name?” the old man came into view, no more than three steps away. He was on the opposite side of the fence, but close. The kid shuddered but remained silent.

“Kid,” the old man repeated. “What’s your name?”

“Morgan,” the kid replied with knees and voice exhibiting equal unsteadiness.

“You come by here almost every day. Sometimes twice. Maybe more, I don’t know.”

“Uh huh,” said the kid, still shaken.

“You got family here?”

“No, sir.”


“No, sir.”

The old man took a sip of coffee from his mug. They were so close the kid could smell it. He looked back over his shoulder at the hangar and the activity inside. The kid thought about taking the opportunity to run, but if caught that would only make things worse.

“You know how to use a broom?” the old man asked.

The kid looked back, confused.

“A broom,” the old man repeated himself. “Do you know how to use a broom?”

“Uh, yeah,” the kid said. “I guess so.”

“Wanna make $5?”

The kid’s mind locked up. This must be a trick question.

“My helper couldn’t come in today. Sick. I could use someone who can help wash planes and sweep up. Pays $5.”

“Yes, sir,” the kid beamed.

“C’mon, there’s a gate just over here. I’ll let you in.”

And so it begins…as it has for over 100 years, as it still can.

Be the old man, even if you’re not one. You’ll feel good about it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

I Just Love Airplane History

I just love reading history and, particularly, history of airplanes and airplane people. Turn me loose at the computer with a snowy day and a cup of coffee and I can be lost for hours.

Today's foray into the past began with yesterday's arrival of the last volumes needed to fill my collection of Joseph P. Juptner's "U.S. Civil Aircraft Series", a comprehensive nine-volume set of hardback books that lists all the airplanes granted a U.S. type certificate from when it all started to 1948, when the system was changed. It took Juptner 19 years to put it all together, and it stands as THE authoritative reference source for aviation historians.
As with most all my forays into the past, one search morphs into many searches and I find myself completely immersed in the history of all things aviation. For example, issues of Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering magazine published a broad array of articles having to do with aircraft design, in such depth that this theatre major's eyes glazed over after a short while ... but the subjects were interesting, nonetheless. Early dirigible theory, airfoils, variable camber wings, inflatable wings, powerplants, etc ... all interesting in their quaint sort of way. From the ads, there were a lot of companies that wanted in on the action. I'll throw out a few ads to whet your appetite (click on them to make them bigger) ...
The development of this new aviation technology is a lot like the technology revolution we see today ... many supporting technologies that make the original idea work and work better - in stages. Think both hardware and software in today's world; hardware and more hardware yesterday, but some of the ads are real eye-openers. Do a little digging of your own and look for yourself at the changes in how information was transferred - the faces of instruments, for example, to help pilots and mechanics make sense of the whole thing.

 Some of the ads get a little fanciful. Maybe the makers of Wright engines and Zenith carburetors saw this new aviation thing through the eyes of the grandmothers of the Village People.

One theme that everybody seemed to agree on was that for airplanes and aviating to take off, the public had to accept that it was more than a stunt, that it might someday be reliable.

There's nothing like a manly man with a tool of some kind in his hand to make us all feel better. 

This crate might get off the ground, after all.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Creative thinking for a winter flyer

Most of my posts over the last 5 years have been about my CallAir Cadet 90 (nee Interstate Cadet) and the Call family who built it. They were entrepreneurs who happened to also be airplane people who started from scratch to design and build their own brand of flying machines in Afton WY in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

The Call Aircraft Company brand was dubbed "CallAir" at some point and started out with a low wing, strut braced design that had remarkable performance in the high (6,000'+MSL) Wyoming terrain. Production was on hold during World War II but started up again toward the end of the conflict and really began in earnest once parts and supplies became available.

The A-2 was powered by a Lycoming O-290 of 125HP. One write-up said it would take off in 800 feet at Afton's elevation, climb at 500 feet per minute and fly 500 miles. Local pilots loved it and the design's popularity spread. Most were sold in the western states. It's written that the first flight was in December of 1941 and one account said it was from snow skis. The Calls knew the need for skis and came up with an easy-on, easy-off set of clamps and bungees for their own brand of skis that were produced during and after the War. It was a design that allowed an airplane to be rolled on or lifted on.
Lifted, with appreciation, from

An unforeseen market crisis hit the small airplane manufacturers particularly hard when the double-whammy of oversupply and under-demand took hold in 1947. All of a sudden, the flood of cheap military surplus airplanes and an economic slump overwhelmed the industry. Being smart business people first, the Calls kept their doors open by promoting and producing their "Snowcar". It was a big hit with mail carriers, forestry/wildlife managers and emergency services. It was also marketed as a recreational vehicle, the forerunner of today's snowmobiles, using aircraft engines and propellers for power. The Snowcar could also be equipped with optional wheels for ease in rolling on and off those CallAir skis, though the lack of a reversing propeller made it impractical for highway use.
Barlow Call at right, extolling the virtues of the CallAir Snowcar

An undertaking like the Call Aircraft Company had to involve some pretty special people to take hold in a little town over 100 miles from any other town of any size and far, far away from other centers of aviation manufacturing. The Calls were certainly in touch with their customers and were creative when it came to keeping their employees at work. Today's aircraft manufacturers at Afton owe a debt to these resourceful people for getting the whole thing started.