Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Time do fly

In the month or so I've been off these pages there has been some progress on the CallAir Cadet restoration and some flying in the Woody's Pusher department. All good, all to be credited to my life enrichment account (except maybe for the CallAir thing - Malcolm sees more of the enrichment than I do at this point).

That was then (L); This is now (R)

The Cadet fuselage is back from being blasted, inspected and primed from stem to stern. The tubing looked great after nearly 50 years under the old covering. Most of the airport denizens remark that this is an airframe that is really overbuilt, and I agree. To survive training and off-airport landings you need a stout structure and this derivation of the Interstate Cadet has stout in spades. 

We've decided on a few tweaks here and there for purposes of safety such as provisions for shoulder harnesses that will bring the airplane up to today's standards.

With the CallAir's wings and tail feathers covered and ready for finishing and the fuselage work underway, what's a fellow to do but enjoy the year-round, open cockpit flying weather here in Florida ...

Woody and I flail the air regularly from the 3000 foot pool table that is Bob White Field, searching for burgers and Barbecue-du-jour amongst those wonderful aviation people who practice that secret art of porcine preparation. One need not go far - there are fly-ins aplenty in our part of paradise and the parking areas always have room for one more.

Come see us.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bob White Fly-In

It sure is nice when friends drop in for a little lunch and some chit-chat and it's especially nice to share a fly-in weekend with another airport just 35 miles away ... this past weekend was the annual Halloween fly-in breakfast at Flying W, home of the Flying FOOLZ (Florida Order Of Lightplane Zealots) and the Bob White Fly-in lunch at my home field in Zellwood.

The day couldn't have been nicer and the airplanes and people just kept coming. Pete confirmed we had 90 airplanes and about 200 people, but there could have been more (I had to leave a little early due to a nasty cold coming on and didn't want to spread it around). Here's a link to Joe Dunn's video:

This was just a small part of the lunch crowd ... Our airport owner, Pete Counsell, had plenty of hamburgers and hotdogs and fixings and belly washers and even desserts to make it a special gathering and, of course, there were the airplanes. 

When all is said and done, there's just no better way to spend a weekend than to be among birds of a feather on a perfect day for flying.

Monday, October 20, 2014


Pete beside her Civilian Pilot Training Program Taylorcraft, 1941

When I was about four or five, I learned my aunt, Margaret "Pete" Dowsett, had flown airplanes. This was momentous. There was (and still is) a little airport in my home town and at the time it had a rotating beacon that swept the sky outside my bedroom window nightly with green and white beams of light. The runway was flat, green grass and when I stood at the end it seemed a doorway to every place in the world beyond the mountains that surrounded on every side. My Aunt Pete could fly around the world! I stood in awe.

Born Margaret Joanna Seagle on September 11, 1912, she grew up on the family farm. In the 1930s she followed her younger sister, my mother, as a nursing student at St. Luke's Hospital in New York City and as a nanny to the children of their uncle, the parish priest of New York society's gateway to Heaven - Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church on the upper west side. While in New York, she made a number of friends through the church members. One of those friends was a socialite and member of the St. Stephen's elite named Ruth Nichols. 
Ruth Nichols beside the Lockheed Vega owned by Crosley Radio Corporation and used by her to set records for eastbound and westbound transcontinental flight (with stops), altitude records and speed records. She made a transatlantic solo attempt but crash landed at St. Johns, Newfoundland, breaking her back in five places. Several months later with the airplane rebuilt and herself in a steel corset she set a nonstop distance record for women, flying from Burbank CA to Louisville KY. Nichols became a director of the prestigious Long Island Aviation Country Club, a managing director of the Fairchild Aircraft Manufacturing Company and was inducted posthumously into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1992.

Ruth Nichols was often branded the "Flying Debutante" by the New York press and she hated it. This was a serious pilot. She was introduced to flying with a high school graduation present from her father, who was prominent in his own right as one of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders and a member of the New York Stock Exchange. The gift was an airplane ride with Eddie Stinson and, though sickened by Stinson's aerobatics, she was immediately bitten by the flying bug. She secretly took flying lessons while a student at Wellesly College and was one of the first two licensed female pilots in the U.S. Her resume is long and varied and readily available with an internet search but the part that intersected with my Aunt Pete was her enthusiasm for the useful employment of airplanes.

In 1939, Ruth organized Relief Wings, a civilian air ambulance service, and by the fall of 1941 had established centers in most states. Relief Wings was absorbed into the Civil Air Patrol when the United States entered World War II in December 1941. Pete was an early recruit and began her own flight training under the Civilian Pilot Training Program ... but first there was "the parade".

Ruth Nichols (L), unnamed nurse, and 29 year old "Pete" Seagle (R) 
Ruth, Pete and a nurse/student pilot took part in the New York Women's Parade down Fifth Avenue. The parade organizers first refused to grant a permit for an airplane on the back of a flatbed truck, but Ruth picked up the phone and called a family friend - the Mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia - and that was that. Speed's Flying Service removed the wings of the J-3 Cub to make the drive from Flushing, Long Island, into Manhattan and bolted them back on again once their place in the parade was reached.

In 1942, Pete was nursing in Massachusetts. Wartime rules prohibited civilian flying within 50 miles of the coast. The commute to the closest training field proved too much and Pete eventually had to give up her plans to fly. It was a reluctant decision but by no means the end of her love affair with flying.

Photo scans thanks to Granddaughter Christena

Kids do the darndest things. Fall of the year is a wonderful time to fly in the mountains of western North Carolina and it so happened that there was a fellow giving hot air balloon rides so for her 80th and 90th birthdays, Pete was once again in the air, enjoying the view.

So it happens that in the natural course of life we eventually come to the end of it. We don't know when; all we can hope for is that at the end we have given more than we received, loved well and been loved in return. I miss her hugs, miss holding her hand and cannot help but to feel a great loss, now that she is gone. On the other hand, I remember her quick smile, her gentle counsel, her loving tolerance of my shenanigans, and how she waved to me from her garden when I flew over her house so many times. 

Once, on a trip to a faraway place, I found myself in an internet cafe with a book beside me by Antoine de St. Exupery, a French pilot and writer par excellence who was also a friend of Charles and Anne Lindbergh; I was looking for more information on their relationship. Upon St. Ex's death during World War II, Anne Lindbergh wrote of her regrets to her husband. I found his handwritten reply: "Do you have so little faith that you would mourn someone who is dead?" I thought that harsh, writing to someone in mourning, but on reflection, and I have done so many times, it speaks to a greater truth and is a most appropriate remark.

With love,
Margaret Joanna Seagle Dowsett
September 11, 1912
October 13, 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Meanwhile, back at the airport ...

... it's a wonderful weld ...

Front and rear brackets and bracing for the Cleveland brake setup

Malcolm and my new best friend, the welder, turned focus on the CallAir airframe last weekend. The result is that the reinforcing brackets, brake platforms and other spots here and there that needed attention were masterfully installed and the fuselage is now ready for blasting and primer. This puts us more firmly on track for an April Fool's Day, 2015, rollout.

Malcolm applying the first fabric blanket ... this is when it gets exciting

On another front, Mal has been taping and prepping the wings for cover and has started the covering on one of the wings. There is no shortage of volunteers waiting to learn this valuable skill so I expect the shop will have a goodly share of visitors and onlookers in the weeks ahead.

Wing panel #1 and the old fabric standing by for reference

In the real world there are fly-ins to attend and the Woody's Pusher is ready and raring to go. Just this weekend, the Flying FOOLZ (Florida Order Of Lightplane Zealots) hosts their fall fly-in breakfast at the Flying W Air ranch at Bushnell FL. With over 3,100 feet of nice soft grass on the runway there's plenty of airplane parking and plenty of room for eating and visiting. It's a great group of people. Report to follow.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Go Placidly Amid the Noise and Haste ...

 These are the days of our lives ... not to be confused with the soap opera of the same name, though in some ways the pace of progress ("sands through the hourglass") keeps a fellow on the edge of his seat, waiting for something, ANYTHING to happen.

Here we are, nearly a year into the restoration of the CallAir Cadet, and I keep staring at the same stripped wings, the same bare airframe day after day, week after week. 

There is progress, however. The old door (on the left) had to be rebuilt and the new door (right) is being fitted to its rightful place. Malcolm is a very thoughtful fellow and suggested a shallow chart pocket be incorporated into the new door and that will be done. It's things like that in a cockpit that begs for storage space which lend a great deal of weight to the adage "haste makes waste", or in this case, "haste wastes an opportunity to make things just a wee bit better than they were before" and why I am not prone to champing at the bit to get this thing done NOW. 

The wood in the old window frames was pretty well shot, so Malcolm made new frames that allow more room for plexiglas area. Again, it's little things like that that keep me in a positive frame of mind as the calendar ticks off day after day. The fuel tank has been cleaned and is almost ready to go back into the fuselage (whenever THAT is ready). The whole is, indeed, the sum of its parts and Malcolm made sure I understood in the beginning that it would seem at times that no progress was being made. He was right.

One of these days, this old bird will come back to life and I, for one, will rejoice. In the meantime, 

... Woody and I ply the skyways of Central Florida in search of food, fun and frolic amid others who do the same. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

In the Company of Friends

They still come for me late at night, when the glass is nearly empty and I am alone in the dark with only my thoughts to keep me company. Their boisterous invitation to a smoky pub is irresistible and we pile into the back of a lorry for the trip to the nearest village. It is a retreat to another time, before the date of my birth, when young men laughed too loudly, drank too much to shake off the tension in their necks and shoulders while singing raucous, sometimes naughty songs. Local folk looked on, then quietly, sadly, looked away from faces that may not be back again. After closing time there was always a ten cent nightcap on the base to keep the chill of war away. A blessed sleep in the Nissen hut and the the next morning we set out again, to do nothing less than save the world.

"Home Run" by Robert Taylor

Peter Townsend, Don Blakeslee, Bud Mahurin, Bob Stanford Tuck, Bob Doe, Geoffrey Page, Tony Bartley and many, many more ... My friends are in books, some they wrote and some written about them, and they have been with me for over 60 years.

"Canadian Wing" by Robert Taylor
Johnnie Johnson leads over the Normandy beaches 6/6/44

The first book I bought with my own money was "Wing Leader", by Group Captain Johnnie Johnson, Royal Canadian Air Force (1915-2001). The county circulated a pamphlet as part of a reading program for seventh graders and we could pick a book from a selected list as our reading project for school. I don't remember the 'required' book I selected, but I do remember that we had an option to buy an additional book of our own choosing. It cost 50 cents and I talked my way into a job, of sorts, to earn the money from my mother. I still have it, next to tatters, but I pull it out every few years and re-read it, still much in awe of those wonderful fighter pilots who operated from bases in England during World War II.
"Bader's Bus Company" by Robert Taylor
Beautifully framed by Virginia Bader Fine Art Studio

"Reach for the Sky", Paul Brickhill's 1956 story of the legless legend, Douglas Bader (1910-1982), became an inspiration for countless amputees through the years and was the first book I checked out of the local library. It was Bader's indomitable spirit, first as a pilot, then later, as a POW, that fueled my own independent streak from an early age.

My most recent find is "Tumult in the Clouds" by James A. Goodson. "Goody", who died recently (May 2014) at 93, survived a torpedo attack that sank the ship evacuating him from England to become one of the leading RCAF/RAF/USAAF Aces in the European theatre; he was quite a character. The story of his crash landing behind enemy lines and how he managed to talk his way out of a summary execution by teaching an enemy officer to blow cigar smoke rings is a classic.

My old friends keep bringing new friends into the squadron and I enjoy their company as well . . . there are a lot of books and even more stories but, alas, the men are fading fast. Most, in fact, are already gone but thanks to resources like YouTube and others, we can see their faces, hear their words in their own voices and, of course, read their books. 

The artwork and books that surround me in my home library keep my old friends close, ready for a reunion visit whenever the luxury of time allows. They are always welcome.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Flying for the pure fun of it

I guess I always wanted to fly. A very early memory is the surprise I felt when we were driving to the Hendersonville (NC) Horse Show in the late 1940s or early 1950s and our route took us past the local airport. It was a grass runway then but had lights and a rotating beacon. I saw the beacon when we drove home after dark and spent many a night looking out my bedroom window as it swept across the sky. The steady repetition of green, white, green, white was a metronome of sorts that led me one fine day in 1971 to Bluegrass Field in Lexington KY and Bohmer Flying Service, where I took my primary instruction in the pilot's arts.

I digress (it's a genetic component in the Southern DNA - likely Irish - a simple story is subject to innumerable asides).

After my late start as a career aviator, through AVGAS and Jet-A, props and jets, junior-ness and senior-ness, I am free of OPS (other people's schedules) and fly when and where I want. 

The other day, Jack and I decided to take a long cross-country trip - almost 23 miles! - to visit friends at Hobby Hill Airport. Here is a video of our adventure, captured by my poor-man's GoPro - a pair of sunglasses with a built-in camera. The production quality is awful but we had fun.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Getting the hang of it ...

'Way back when, my first Flight Instructor (Tom - long since gone to his reward but not forgotten) helped me understand the proper pitch attitude for landing the Cessna 150 by having me sit in the pilot seat, then he'd push down the tail of the airplane while it sat quietly on the ramp and yell up to me, "See that? That's what you want to see over the nose when you touch down on the runway!" 

It took more than one time for this to sink in, but I "got it" one day in real time and from that point on my landings became acceptable more often than not. It was a milestone and I still remember the feeling.

Fast forward 43 years through a lot of different airplanes from J-3 Cubs to jets and here I am, sitting quietly on a grass runway and looking forward over the nose of the Woody's Pusher at the view I want to see when I touch down on the runway. Tom's patient words came back to me. ... Only thing is, there's not much nose to look over since I'm pretty close to hanging 10 on the front end of this thing.

There's nothing to see by looking from right to left, either.

My friend, George, once told me his ambition was to fly an airplane from in front of the engines (plural, as in more than one engine, specifically jet engines, an understandable ambition when a pilot is advancing in the trade). Woody has me flying not only in front of the engine (single, piston-popper) but most everything else as well. 

The real "gotcha" is that most students who are flying tricycle gear airplanes with all those visual cues don't hold a nose-high pitch attitude high enough; my situation is somewhat reversed: I wasn't holding a nose-almost-level pitch attitude almost-level enough, resulting in first contact of the runway by the tailwheel. I've improved my technique quite a bit over the months and improved my chances for landing at least three-point by installing larger tires. Today, thankfully, my landings are again acceptable more often than not and I might be able to keep doing the aviating thing without having to stop to fix a broken tailwheel.

Old dogs can learn new tricks. (Keeps life interesting - and fun). Nowadays, having etched the pitch attitude for landing in my psyche, I just fly Woody to the runway to a half (maybe 3/8) of an inch, allowing the grass to gently brush against and spin up the tires, and just let it drop in from there.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In theory ...

... it shouldn't make any difference whether the mass up front is made mostly of metal or flesh and bone (Alex)  as long as the airplane is within weight and CG  limits. However, and for whatever reason, I get the feeling Woody doesn't like crosswinds. 

True, there is a lot of sail area with the high fuel tank and also true, there is a decided difference when the thrust line is way up high instead of along the localizer and glideslope of the fuselage, all of which contribute their bit to the generally squirrelly crosswind characteristics during takeoff and landing. A third factor (and probably the most prominent one) is that I sit in front of the mains so I feel the swings and sways a lot more. I sat in front of the mains in the jet, but it was a tricycle gear airplane. A more appropriate comparison would be an airplane with a tailwheel, like a B-17 or a C-46/47. 

Swings and sways aside, I was having trouble achieving liftoff at what I thought should be a reasonable airspeed so I decided to increase the main tire size from 6.00x6 to 8.50x6 in order to get a little more three-point angle of attack. 

The new tires are great and jacking the mains up 2-1/2 inches helps a lot with the three-point AOA ... that's the good news. So far, there's no bad news to go with it. The airplane has to fly off three-point, or nearly three-point - there's no such thing as a "rotation". If you try, you'll drag the tailwheel and increase the takeoff roll. (I remember an after-action story from the memory bank about this.) Landings are the same; every landing has to be nearly a wheel landing or the tailwheel makes first contact. 

The new tires lowered liftoff and touchdown speed by almost 8 mph. That's a lot but still not near where I'd like them to be. I could try vortex generators along the leading edge but a given airfoil can only do so much and I believe I've done all I can short of a major tweak to the angle of incidence of the wing - maybe I could hand crank an adjustable wing angle of incidence a la F-8 Crusader. 

Slats, flaps, hook and an adjustable wing AOI ... THAT would get some attention at $100 hamburger events. Wes, if you're up there reading along, I'd sure like to have you back with us so you could chime in on this.

John drove with a trailer full of goodies to Woodruff SC this month for a few days of model airplane flying - I happened to be not far away and would have met him there for breakfast on my way back home, but I decided to get a very early start and I know how John feels about being rousted out of the sack. That event is held at Triple Tree, a private airport that belongs to a fellow named Pat Hartness. The runway is like a pool table and landscaping more like a very nice golf course, albeit one with a restored WWII control tower and a private collection of beautiful vintage airplanes.

Pat holds a full-scale fly in every September, which I would very much like to attend with the CallAir this year if it's ready.

While the CallAir is under the knife, I'm having a ball with Woody and he's becoming pretty well known around the local fly-in circuit.

Fly safe ... 

Friday, May 02, 2014

May, 2014, Seven Months into the Callair

The thing about restoring an airplane is that unless you have an idea of what the process entails, you're likely to think somewhere along the way that it sure looks like an awful mess. Something like watching someone else get a haircut. Have you ever wondered why the barber never has your chair facing the mirror? That's why.

Lots of pictures ... first, a starting weight, then many, many shots of how things went together before ...

How does it go? The head bone connected to the neck bone ... 
etc ...

etc ...

etc ...

By the time an airplane has reached its 62nd birthday it's likely to have picked up a few warts, bruises, and patches.

Peeling back the layers ...

one layer at a time ...

... and the neck bone connected to the shoulder bone ...

Some builder techniques provoke certain questions, usually beginning with "why...?"

The old braking system was right out of Rube Goldberg (or Massey Ferguson) ...

a major goal is FAA approval of a modern brake system that will have continued support.

To be sure, there are repairs and updates required throughout.

I tried to preserve the dirt dauber nest over the tachometer for posterity but it turned to sand in my hands. No telling how old that was ...

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones ...

Even the most seemingly useless pictures can come in handy later when you're trying to figure out where and how and sometimes why things were done the way they were.

Then a few parts are readied for re-cover and ...
color charts are consulted ...
To take us back to Afton WY in 1952, when it all began.