Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Looking for ... what?

I decided it was time to pull myself out of the quagmire of the landbound and drove (!) over to the east coast of Fla to look at a Light-Sport airplane to replace the Bonanza (which isn't sold yet, but don't tell HER). These pictures are from Trade-a-Plane, a thrice-monthly paper that has been THE source for dreamers since the 1930s:
Long story short, I like it. Short story long, there are a couple of things about it that I'd like to change: There is a console that runs between the seats and flares out to meet the instrument panel. I wish the designers (who obviously were trying to make it more car-like) hadn't done that because it rubs against the outside of my knee to an uncomfortable extent.

The other thing is easily adjustable - when the heels of my size 12s are resting on the floorboard the balls of my feet are in contact with the brakes (rudder pedals these days are hinged so that the top part of the pedal is the brake pedal - each foot controls its respective brake. In the old days the brakes were heel pedals, making for an interesting ballet when landing). Maybe I'm just picky. This from a guy who used to drive English cars. Go figure.

So longer story than intended, shorter, I didn't buy it. Not that I wouldn't, I just didn't. Maybe the right airplane for me hasn't come along yet.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tick tock, tick tock

Time flies when you're having fun ... when you're not having fun, time goes by in ticks and tocks, and especially when you are waiting for the FAA medico to review your special issuance medical status. This is the fourth time I've had to rally forth with wings in hand to seek a release to take an FAA medical exam and it's not fun.

This week I had had enough.

Much as I hate to do it, the Bonanza is up for sale.

I moved the airplane to Ft Myers for my son to fly until it's either gone or he buys it.

The Clearwater hanger will be vacated at the end of the month (after all that waiting to finally get a good hangar!)

From now on, I'm flying as a Sport Pilot. No more of these unnecessary hassles with the FAA. I am the first to ground myself if the least little thing comes up - a cold, even - but the bureaucracy grinds on and must be fed.

The day will come - and quickly - when Mom and Dad want to fly to Grandma's for Christmas and there will be no pilots to fly them. The government has seen to that with their manipulation of circumstances that have jacked up the cost of flying to a point where civilian student starts are in the dumper and established pilots are hanging up their wings - and dreams. The military will fill pilot seats for awhile, but then what? These cycles have come and gone over the years, I know, but I really don't want it to come down to a robot flying an airplane with me in it ... even if they do say that nothing can possibly go wrong ... go wrong ... go wro

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Full Monty - Pilots bare all for the love of their airplanes

It started as simple fun. The Antique Airplane Club of Greater New York and their fair ladies get together on Wednesday evenings for wine and cheese and somebody said something about "Let's take our clothes off and sell calendars" and that got the ball rolling. Sort of. I actually made that up but it's not outside the realm of possibility.

And for the video of "The Making of..." go to:

Monday, June 21, 2010

There I was, flat on my back at 20,000 feet, Messerschmitts all around ….

… or at least that’s the way the stories begin. This is a Kinner story. Same drum roll, same breathless anticipation. One of my Bayport Aerodrome friends has a shirt that reads something like: “Living on the edge; Flying Kinner, Driving Jaguar”. You may get my drift.

Kinner engines were great engines in their day. Early versions – we call them “Beta Versions” today - began flying on Kinner airplanes in the early 1920s (Amelia Earhart’s first airplane was a Kinner). The company folded in the 1930s but the engines enjoyed a rebirth and served well during World War II, primarily on training airplanes. Alas, age is catching up with them. Parts and mechanics who work on Kinners are dwindling. The relative few still flying inspire an increasingly exclusive cadre of aficionados, much like Edsel owners. The main difference between Kinner and Edsel is the size of the story in the papers when one of them stops running.

The subject line in one of Bill’s emails caught my eye:

“first a vibration, then an explosion, then a forced landing, and then a big smile when i saw my cylinder head and exhaust pipe hanging from my shielded ignition wire”

Having pulled this particular prop through a few times during an “Armstrong” start, I was somewhat interested in what might follow in the email.

That’s the #5 (I think) cylinder hanging below the engine in the middle of a farmer’s field somewhere in eastern Pennsylvania.

Bill again: “This is the third time I had to bring this aeroplane home in a truck....this makes forced landing # 7 mAYBE i SHOULD TAKE UP A NEW HOBBY LIKE WATCHING TELEVISION.....Then when they find me dead they'll say at least he was bored to death.” Bill got a little excited there and started shouting … after a few of these I’d shout too.

Oh my. Should I snitch on Bill about the time his prop caught on fire or the time he landed on the only reasonable clearing to be had (a golf course)?? I dare not. When the Bird is back in the air, I want to be in it with him. I expect there will be some engine work on the calendar before that happens. Hopefully, it'll look more like this:

There are other Kinner stories to be told by those who fret behind them as they go across the clear blue with the distinctive sound of their exhaust. The engine turns relatively slowly in comparison to today’s piston aircraft engines … This video link is of a Kinner mounted on a test stand ... I just like the sound of it:

I have my preferences when starting the engine on Bill’s Bird … set the prop at the desired position (about the 8 o’clock position when facing toward the engine from the front), call for brakes and “contact” (switches on), then steadily pull the prop through while walking away and to the right from the engine … the magneto ignition is equipped with an “impulse” coupling that produces a snap of spark that starts the engine and the ignition will take the prop right out of your hand. I read that from a Richard Bach book and it works for me every time. Of course it helps to have an experienced hand like Bill at the throttle – he likes to keep his idle speed slow. Too fast an idle can get really exciting for the fellow who is hand-propping the engine.

I miss being around Bayport. Old airplanes and old engines fascinate me but those things can be bought and sold. What I really miss is the people who fly them and work on them and bring smiles to passengers and passers-by, young and old. That can’t be bought for any money.


Fly safe ….

For more about Bert Kinner, his airplanes and engines, take a look at:


Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Alex in Treasure Land

Imagine that you have been given a gift so wonderful and so magical that you could spend all your days in the pure enjoyment of it … then imagine that your gift brings enjoyment to other people, makes a difference in their lives, gives purpose and pleasure and (in some cases) direction. You love to share your gift and, in sharing, your gift becomes a gift to others.

Now let’s say that your gift is partly a talent – a talent for creating pictures on canvas or paper in oil paints or acrylics or pencil and you spent six years teaching art to high school students at Oak Ridge High School in Orlando, Florida. Your students loved you and when a local defense contractor ran a contest, you entered a rendering of the Space Shuttle that blew away all competition. The company thought so much of your work that they offered you a job doing something you really love to do – creating pictures on canvas or paper with oils or acrylics or pencil.

Now let’s say your gift is also partly a gift of flight which developed into a lifelong love of airplanes and especially antique airplanes and let’s say your name is Richard E. Thompson and you channeled some of your artistic skill into the mysteries of metalwork and woodwork that brought life to eight old airplanes and helped bring to life more than that. On top of an impressive resume of tangible accomplishment in the worlds of art and airplanes, Rick Thompson has a love of history and the love of a patriot for his Country.

Rick - Hiller Museum F24

This brings me to Rick’s discovery of a 1934 Fairchild Model 24 C8C in Soldotna, Alaska, where it had been stored as a project since 1995. Alaska is a good place to restore an airplane because it gets real dark and real cold during the long winter months, an ideal environment for a long-term airplane restoration (preferably indoors). There are also a lot of resourceful airplane people in Alaska who know how to make parts and put things back in working order. The Fairchild eventually became an impractical idea as a bush restoration and so in 2008 Rick was able to buy it after 21 years of service, then 53 years as a derelict.

The airplane didn’t look anything like the picture above (of a restored C8C at the Hiller Museum in San Carlos CA) when Rick found it. It was, in that coded parlance of optimists, a “basket case” … bits and pieces collected for the purpose of reassembly but, for Rick and his historian’s sensitivity, the airplane has a story; once owned by a timber company in Idaho and used to keep tabs on the many and various lumber camps that were its domain. One of the airplane’s duties involved the transportation of the payroll to the camps. The workers were paid in gold, so a special compartment was built into the floor of the airplane to carry the payroll – more about this later. A freak windstorm caught the airplane on the ground and flipped it on it back, crushing the rudder, rudder post and doing significant damage to the right wing. It hasn’t flown since 1955. Its journey to Alaska was via one Ed “Skeeter” Carlson of Spokane, WA, who had once flown the airplane and who bought the wreck from the timber company in 1960. Skeeter and the man from Alaska, Frank Hinrikson ... Both very well known and highly skilled in aircraft restoration ... got busy on other projects and did not have time to begin restoration on the C8C. Rick found an opportunity to exercise his talents and skills and so a deal was struck, the parts catalogued, containerized and shipped by sea and train and land to Zellwood, Florida, where it was unloaded, re-catalogued and laid out for further evaluation in preparation for restoration.

Rick doesn’t live all that close to Zellwood and the 60+ mile, hour + drive each way became a drag on the project. Enter friends – always welcome but especially so when it comes to a multi-year commitment to bring life back to an old airplane. Some space was found closer to home, so the Fairchild was loaded on a flatbed truck, parts were gathered and moved to the neighborhood of dreams – Orlando (home of Disney World, Universal Studios, swampland salesmen and alligators, reptilian and human). Dreams are made and discarded minute by minute in this environment but as a Floridian Rick has seen enough of schemes to know which are real and which aren’t. The Fairchild is real and taking shape piece by restored or rebuilt piece.

Rick Thompson 001a

If you are going to rebuild a 1934 Fairchild 24 C8C, you find very quickly there is a LOT of woodwork to be done. It probably helps to meet someone at a family funeral who turns out to be a cousin who also happens to make violins in his spare time! Enter Tim Bandy – cousin, new friend and violinmaker – and you now have a couple of artisans at play.


Oh, and while you’re at it, it REALLY HELPS A LOT if you have a wonderful wife and partner - Rose - who happens to have an artist’s hands and skills with needle and thread and fabrics (and who is interested – really interested – in her husband’s aviation affliction). She also makes a great lunch. From left to right, Tim, Rose and Rick take a minute’s break to pose for history. Rick’s sons, Scott and John, were also there when I visited. This is truly a family affair. Adding to the picture, Tim and Rick had heard the same story from their respective sides of the family – that they are distant cousins of none other than Amelia Earhart. Yes friends, this is a real story.

Rick Thompson 003a Enter my best friend of over 50 years, David Tooker, shown above inspecting the woodwork, who met Rick when they were teaching at Oak Ridge. David’s father owned the Silver Springs (Fla) Air Park from the fifties to the seventies. I pedaled my ’57 Schwinn six miles to hang around there in the low-raftered building, listening to pilots talk about their wartime and peacetime flying experiences. Every now and then if I hung around long enough, they’d let me get them a beer from the refrigerator or wash their airplanes. David introduced Rick and me at the Sun-n-Fun Fly-In at Lakeland several years ago but it was a glancing blow and it wasn’t until yesterday’s visit that I knew much about Rick. David had been telling me about the Fairchild project but hadn’t seen it for himself. We thought the airplane was still at Zellwood (a PERFECT reason to fly the Bonanza) but as it turned out, the airplane had been moved last year to Orlando, an easy drive for both of us.

Rick Thompson 008a There is a lot of new wood in Rick’s airplane and a fair amount of old wood, considering the age and itinerary of the parts and pieces. Rick strives to keep the airplane as original as possible, so if a part can be reconditioned, it is. The steel tube frame (which Rose glass bead blasted) is finished with 2-part epoxy. Only one small section of lower tubing had to be replaced due to having burst from water freezing – overall, the metal is in remarkably good shape.

Rick Thompson 004a The spruce stringers are finished with 4 coats of 2-part epoxy varnish and provide aerodynamic and aesthetic contour to the slab-sided steel tube frame.

Rick Thompson 032a

Each stringer was produced in one piece from 1”X 7” X 22’ spruce boards, routed to shape matching the 1934 samples found in the airframe. Each was then catalogued and notes were made about the position of knots or other imperfections so that when a stringer was selected for installation, its eventual position on the airplane was predetermined. Such is the level of intense planning and preparation that goes into Rick’s restoration.

Rick Thompson 005a

There are a lot of brass nails and straight slotted screws that go into an antique airplane that is largely made of wood!

Rick Thompson 006a

The fore and aft stringer bulkheads are faced with oak to provide additional strength.

Rick Thompson 007a

Entertainment is provided by a vintage Philco AM-Shortwave radio. The clock hands didn’t move while I was there – time stood still.

Rick Thompson 020a

… Rick relies on his quite workable iMac for pictures and handwritten notes on kraft paper.

Rick Thompson 046a

Remember the “gold box” that the timber company built into the floor of the airplane for the payroll? Skeeter asked Rick if he was going to keep the gold box under the 3rd seat and, of course, he did. The early F-24s were originally 3-place airplanes; as is this model. Later models with larger engines were 4-place airplanes.

Rick Thompson 038a

While cleaning the oil tank, Rick found this cap and cleaned it up … all ready for 3 gallons of Gargoyle Mobil Oil to keep the 145 horsepower Warner Super Scarab purring along.

Rick Thompson 030a

I didn’t want to leave Rick’s corner of the world but David and I had eaten their food and distracted him, Rose, Tim, Scott and John long enough. It was a pleasure to meet them all and to be introduced to “Amelia”, as the Fairchild is to be named.

A few notes of interest:

The first owner of the Fairchild was the father of astronaut and U.S. Senator from Utah, Jake Garn. Jake’s first airplane ride could have easily been in this airplane!

Rick’s other restoration projects included a Ryan PT-22 (winner of “Best Primary Trainer” trophy at the first Sun-n-Fun Fly-In … a North American AT-6 (winner of “Best Trainer” at Sun-n-Fun) , Aeronca Champ and Chief … a DeHavilland Tiger Moth (“Best Primary Trainer” at Sun-n-Fun), a DH 100 Vampire jet, and a highly polished 1946 Cessna 140!

Some of Rick’s paintings can be seen at

More on the Fairchild 24 can be found at:

Fly safe …



Thursday, May 13, 2010

Flying on a different scale ...

What better thing to do on a beautiful spring day than take a ride to Triple Tree Aerodrome at Woodruff, South Carolina, for the Joe Nall model airplane meet? Campers, motor homes, airplane trailers of all description, size and length make this journey every year - it's truly the premier meet for model enthusiasts from all over the world.

Once you drive down the tree-lined serpentine driveway and reach the parking areas, it's a short walk to the first of (on my day there) four flight lines: Show Central where most of the really giant scale models show their stuff, The floatplane lake just down the hill, the 3-D area where the really radical dudes and dudettes make airplanes do things that airplanes can't do, and the all-electric area.

The runways are all grass. By grass, I mean like a huge putting green grass. You can see in the picture above where the good stuff starts and it just goes and goes. Come fall when the full-size airplanes arrive for the Triple Tree Fly-In, there had better be some really good landings to keep this beautiful surface intact!

Looking north from Show Central, the lines of airplanes consisted of aerobatic machines for the most part ...

...Looking South from Show Central, there were airplanes as far as the eye could see, all beside that immaculately manicured runway ...

Even Harry was there with his Champ!

This FlyBaby pilot is catching up on some rest after a very long cross-country ...

Further down the line you can catch a glimpse of the floatplane lake and more and more airplanes. By the time we got there over 800 pilots had signed up to fly at the event!

I really like some of the paint schemes - these builders and finishers use a variety of methods, the most popular being actual paint and vinyl appliques.

Both of the above are painted ... the quality of finish work is just remarkable.

Take this L-4 for example ... from the miniature AN cowling clips ...

... to the ribstitching, this airplane was very nicely done and the attention to detail astonishing.

Stu was there in the Cub, of course ... though I can't say I'm all that fond of the trim paint he's put on the tail. Makes it go faster, I guess ... the radical elevator throw is just perfect for practicing his English Bunts.

Son John took this picture of me behind a B-36 just like my cousin-uncle Claude used to fly. Colonel Claude just flew west and it was almost like having him there. This model flew during the midday show and sounded just great.

The featured attraction at the midday show was this 20' wingspan B-29, complete with a Bell X-1 ... and, yes, they drop the X-1 and, yes, it does have a rocket motor which they fire off and, yes, it does climb like a bat out of hell ... The B-29 is a magnificent piece of work.

Cory even showed up with his Spacewalker (although he's made it into a Spacewalker I)

This "razorback" P-47 was a real performer!

Colonel cousin-uncle Claude taxis by on his way for takeoff ...

There is a night show as well ... this airplane is outlined in tiny LED lights - pretty visible even in the bright midday sun.

When Fritts decided to call it a day, so did I ... what a fantastic day at the Joe Nall. For a lot more info and a lot more pictures, videos, etc. try googling Joe Nall model airplane or:

The next event is the Western North Carolina Air Fair, June 5-6, 2010. Be there or be square.

Fly safe!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Towbar Rig

This "invention" is born of necessity. Actually it's not much of an invention at all, since there are many towbars out there that could do the job. It's just that they are either part, or some or none of the things I wanted. All the thing had to do was make it easier for me to push the Bonanza slightly uphill and over a door track to get it back in the hangar.

The little units that have a gas or electric motor mounted on a single wheel with forks that clamp onto the front axle are really nice but they are expensive! The reason they are expensive is that they're for moving AIRPLANES. Any thing that has AIRPLANE attached to it is expensive. What I did was scrounge up a riding lawnmower ($325 on Craig's List) some adapters from a friend for my axle ($60), a hitch socket from Harbor Freight ($12.95), and thin-wall steel square tubing ($180, including welding). It comes out to about 1/3 the cost of a purpose-built AIRPLANE towmotor AND I can always earn a couple of extra bucks for flying by mowing grass!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Taking the "ail" out of "aileron" and other good stuff

First, let's take a look at a little airport that can, and does.

Williston, Florida, is a little town located southwest of Gainesville and northwest of Ocala. They have lots of nice, rolling land there which is great for growing crops, cattle, horses and families. They also have an airport, left over from World War II when the government paved a lot of Florida for training bases and antisubmarine patrols. X60 is the identifier.

The city fathers and mothers decided that the airport would be great for growing pine trees and today the renewable pine tree stands pay a handsome dividend for the city. Fortunately, the city Fs and Ms also decided to keep the runways and have improved upon the airport mightily over the past year. New hangars, a new FBO building with all the bells and whistles, a good maintenance shop and a terrific interior shop are all located on the property. I had the interior of my Bonanza done there last year and also had new windows installed by the maintenance shop.

All the improvements will be showcased on March 27, 2010, at the Williston Airport Fly Festival. Click on the picture to get a larger, more readable copy.

I had an opportunity to stop in on my way from home base to North Carolina last week and lo and behold the new airport restaurant is open! While the city owned FBO pumped some fairly priced fuel (3.89 on March 19th), I had some breakfast ....

Carol Bibby (picture below) has a real gem of a place ... they're open for breakfast and lunch every day from 6am-4pm and Friday night they stay open for dinner until 9pm. It's about 200 feet from the FBO, so it's an easy stroll and if the weather is right and you're so inclined you can eat under the outside cover and watch airplanes or spin yarns or whatever.

Here's that picture of Carol. I told her my vast readership would make her famous.


When I bought the Bonanza, the right aileron was warped. I knew it at the time ... the airplane flew well enough with it like that but it was a condition I wanted to fix down the road. I began looking around for a replacement last year and finally settled on a rebuilt part through a company I had done business with in the past - Select Airparts of Weyers Cave VA. Select is proof positive of the notion that if you do good work and treat people fairly you can succeed in business even from the boondocks. Long story short, Jay shipped my replacement and Jeff painted and installed it and now I have an airplane that is more stable and a tick or three faster due to drag elimination.

One thing fixed, a few more to go ...

I'm finally in a hangar at my home base of Clearwater Airpark (FL). The hangar is one of the "old ones" that the city relocated from the other side of the field when they found out that golf courses are more popular with politicians than airports. We have golf balls bouncing on the runway all the time (grrrr), but God bless rust - that's the glue that binds these tin boxes together. Long story short - the maintenance on these hangers is nonexistent so the hangar tenants do what we can to try to keep all the parts in alignment. Any attempt to refurbish is promptly rebuffed but we soldier on, fixing here, patching there. On the plus side, it's a great place for hanging out with other dispossessed souls, tinkering with flying machines, etc, and as a side benefit it keeps the airplane out of the Florida sun and wind, which we get a lot of here by the Gulf coast.

One bugaboo I have is that the interior walls of these "T" hangars don't go all the way to the roof, leaving quite a space at the top open for carrying paint overspray, dust, motes of rust, etc from one neighbor to another. A lot of the tenants have closed off these openings in years gone by - mine hasn't been updated, so I'm in the process of doing that, painting the metal walls and eventually will seal the old asphalt floor. The city actually gave me 10 gallons of sealer but a neighbor who has refurbed three of these hangars says that won't go far. (So that's my first rant in a long time and I feel better now.)


The apron to my new/old hangar slopes a little so that I have to enlist help when pushing the airplane in by hand. There had to be a better way, so I channeled my farmer friend Leland from North Carolina and began cogitating upon the problem and possible solutions thereto. I knew I wanted a towmotor of some kind but the pretty ones cost about 1500 smackers by the time they arrive in Florida with shipping and all. One of the fellows at the Table of Knowledge in Clearwater suggested a riding lawnmower for propulsion and a listing on Craigslist filled that bill ... then I began looking around at towbars. The kind I decided on goes for about $260 from two companies so another suggestion took me over to a steel fabrication shop a couple of blocks from my hangar and I had them weld up my towbar for me. My neighbor, Ron, precision-drilled for the adjusting pins and retaining bolts and we hooked everything up last week -- worked like a charm. My total investment is about a third the cost of the high-priced rig. Pictures may follow.

So that's the story of a great little airport, ailing ailerons, hungover hangars and airplane pushers and pullers so I'm signing off for this month. It's time to dust off the airplane and do a little FLYING!!!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dope(s) and Fabric

First on this month's list is Bill's new-old Comanche! Hot diggety! We flew together one day last week and enjoyed it a lot. This is a great machine! Bill has plans for paint and some other goodies which will make it even better. Congratulations!

Bill and Stu picked the best day in a couple of weeks to fly from Fla to New York. At 7,500 feet most of the way the air was smooth as glass.

Bill, Stu and Gino ready to launch the Comanche for the trip to New York.

Next, I signed up for a refresher course in fabric covering at Orlando (where all the snowbirds like to go in February) and it was COLD and WET the first day - like to have frozen in that unheated hangar on Saturday ... it was a little warmer on Sunday. The turnout was good (16 for the fabric workshop) and we got some very good hands-on instruction. Bob's hangar was a great place to learn too, but my last and only lesson was several years ago and I forget stuff like ribstitching and tapes and things like that.

The workshops are put on by EAA through ... the courses are varied and many and taught by excellent instructors.

I finally got the Bonanza in a hangar at CLW and will have some fun fixing the space up the way I want it.

Fly safe!