Thursday, December 08, 2016

50, now 75 Years Later

Some of my more ethereal friends over the years have placed great stock in the idea that we do not necessarily pass this  earthly plane once or even twice, more like a succession of times until we finally get "it" right. They seem pretty convinced; me, I don't know. I keep trying to get "it" right as I go this time around. That writ, I've found myself in some pretty interesting places in space-time.

There were glancing blows with the Great Beyond throughout my life, but a few stand out. 

In 1989, I happened to be The Expert (someone from out of town), flight training in Mexico. My students were very proficient pilots who had to log a few hours in the Gulfstream IV before receiving their Mexican type ratings on their licenses. One evening after toodling around to log some time, my first Mexican pilot in training, a fine fellow named Jose March, took me to a unique restaurant; a Polish establishment that was well known and later became even more so for catering Pope John Paul II's visits to Mexico. I like Polish food, having a Polish great-great-grandfather, so it was a treat to be there no matter who owned it.
The owner of the restaurant came around and chatted a bit, then the conversation got interesting; the owner learned we were pilots and revealed that he had flown during The War. He sent our waiter for a bottle of very good Polish vodka encased in a sleeve of ice and proceeded to tell us he would like to sit with us and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the day he was first shot down! I was stunned. The date was September 1, the day Poland was invaded to start World War II. We were face to face with a very special man.
Tadeusz Adam Podbereski, Flight Lieutenant, RAF
May 5, 1919 - May 14, 2006

Making his way to England, Podbereski was initially trained by the RAF on multi-engine airplanes, ostensibly to become a bomber pilot or navigator. The aircraft used was an Airspeed Ltd. AS-10 Oxford, designed by a company founded by a gent named Neville Shute Norway (later a writer of some renown under his pen name, Neville Shute. Possibly his most famous book was also a movie "On the Beach", an apocalyptic novel set, contemporarily, in the days of the cold war.) His Oxford training was apparently terminated after a really bad day in October, 1941, when he managed to damage an airplane on a night solo, landing just past midnight, then taxiing into a ditch just before midnight the same day. He transferred to single engine aircraft and was made a flight instructor.
Airspeed AS-10 Oxford

For his next adventure:
My translation of a Google translation of an entry in a Polish commemorative website: In the summer of 1942, as throughout the war, training at the Polish pilot primary school 16 (Polish) Service Flying Training School in Newton (UK) was going at full speed. On September 19, 1942, Tadeusz Podbereski was a flight instructor along with a student volunteer from the United States, Edmund (something). In flight, the wing of their airplane, a Master III (W8530), hit a tree and crashed on the White House Farm in the village of Colston Bassett, near Nottingham. The student was killed.  Podbereski survived, gravely injured. He was sent soon to East Grinstead and became one of the "guinea pigs".
Miles Master III
During our dinner (much of it liquid), I couldn't help but notice the diagonal scar across his face. Podbereski was one of the early subjects in the development of plastic surgery. The "guinea pigs" were a truly unique bunch of men, given wonderful support and special training to help them cope with, what were in the past, debilitating disfigurements. It must have worked; Podbereski survived at least three accidents/incidents during the war, emigrated to Canada where he became an engineer and participated in projects worldwide. On a fishing trip to Mexico he met and married a Mexican girl and moved to Mexico City. His restaurant, Mazurka, lives on as a testament to this truly remarkable man. (It's worth the trip, next time you're in Mexico City).

Moving right along

On September 15, 1990, I was on a Gulfstream trip to London and took the opportunity to visit the Battle of Britain Museum at RAF Hendon. The hall is filled with memorabilia, including a replica of the blackout board from The White Hart pub, signed by pilots based at Biggin Hill Aerodrome, quite possibly the busiest fighter base during the Battle. 
The blackout board was put over the windows of The White Hart at night - a practice all over England during the War. Group Captain Dickie Grice came up with the idea of signing his name on the board and told the landlady, Mrs. Preston (pictured above at a reunion after the War), "Don't let any but my men sign it." The board became an unofficial memorial when faces ceased to appear at the pub. It's now at the RAF Museum at Shoreham.

Looking through a coffee table book in that vicinity, an arm appeared next to my shoulder and at the end of that arm a finger pointed to a picture on the page. "You're looking at a picture of me!" the voice said. I turned and stood face to face with a man who introduced himself as Tony Bartley. I was stunned again. This made twice in just over a year that I could celebrate a 50th anniversary with men who, in their youth, had been my childhood heroes.
Anthony Bartley flew in 92 Squadron (Spitfires) during the Battle of Britain, then other postings. Coincidentally, I've just finished a book by a 92 Squadron mate, Geoffrey Wellum ("First Light") in which he mentions Bartley prominently. After the War, Bartley took a stint with Vickers-Armstrong as a test pilot and salesman, then turned to Hollywood. He was married, first, to the actress Deborah Kerr until 1958, then remarried another lady in the 1960s. He began writing and producing screenplays and films at the time he married Kerr. Bartley died in 2001 but left me with a brilliant memory of our sandwiches together at RAF Hendon on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

Another day another anniversary

December 7, 1991. The 50th Anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 
 I was based in Honolulu flying a G-IV, ironically, for a Japanese company. I made more than one trip to the USS Arizona Memorial while we lived in Hawaii - one of those a few days before the anniversary with my old pilot friend, Carlos, who was there on a layover with United Air Lines. You can take a virtual tour online but nothing can replace being there; seeing a post card written by a sailor from the Arizona and posted while he enjoyed a night on the town on December 6th (postmarked on the 8th when he was already dead) touched me with a keen poignancy that still gives me pause.

50, now 75 years on for the anniversaries of momentous events that have shaped my life

I was born between VE Day and VJ Day, 1945. My parents must have been optimistic in the fall of 1944 that the world would enjoy peace once again. Alas, people keep making the same mistakes over and over and we keep getting tangled up in wars. Maybe, if there is a next time around for me, we as a human race might learn something about how to live together. In the meantime, I hope there are a few who will stand up for what's right and good and noble so a future kid will have heroes like Podbereski and Bartley and their sort to look up to.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The End Of November 2016 CallAir Progress Report

What do you call a deer with no eyes?
     No eye deer

What do you call a dead deer with no eyes?
     Still no eye deer

When do you think you might get the CallAir out of the restoration shop?
     See above

The shirts are ready.
The hats are ready.
I found a hangar.

All I need is an airplane. C'mon guys.

Monday, October 17, 2016

It's October, 2016, and Here's the Latest on the CallAir Cadet

The frost hasn't quite made it to the pumpkin patch this third year of the CallAir restoration, but Malcolm and crew from Southern Aircraft Support in Zellwood FL are just about to organize a bumper crop of parts into a real live airplane!
 The engine has been installed and the sheet metal guru has formed and fitted the new cowlings - all that's needed are fasteners, prep work and paint.

The new 7.00x6 tires are mounted and ready. I had 6.00x6s on before and decided that I couldn't always count on nice smooth grass runways like Zellwood. That extra bit of diameter could make a difference in the real world of chuckholes and moguls.
Here's a look at the left wing, all painted up in its Federal Yellow color coat. Mr. Call liked yellow airplanes - they're easier to see in the air and easier to find when they're not.
 All in all, good progress. It won't be ready in time for the fall fly-in at Zellwood on the 29th but, as Malcolm says, it's getting closer.

Fall's colors are rapidly developing in the NC mountains - a perfect time for flying in my part of the world.
A reminder of my former life

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Irland's Cub

For once I'm not a day late.
Click on the pics to see them full size
Irland has this wonderful Wag-Aero Cubby that was previously owned by another friend, Richard. The thing is, Irland has a full stable of airplanes and so decided to sell this one. We've been talking around this for a couple of months and now it's come to decision time. Last Saturday I got a chance to fly it - my first taste of a Cub in a couple of years and I'm just wishing it had been available before now.

 Clean? You could eat off any part of it. Richard is a very meticulous guy and kept it beautifully - Irland knows Cubs and it's in tip-top shape. The fuel system includes a mixture control for reasons to follow ...

Once, on a whim, Richard decided to fly his Cub to see the Pacific Ocean so he installed a supplemental fuel tank in the wing, enlisted a fellow enthusiast and launched forthwith on a great adventure. The mixture control enabled them to ask the most power available from the Continental A-65 as they crossed the high ground that stands between the east and west coasts.

The Cubby is an experimental airplane, built from plans. An improvement, many would agree, over the standard production Piper Cub is the use of a trim tab on the elevator rather than a jackscrew-adjustable stabilizer trim system.
All in all, a very nice airplane and one I'd love to own. If the CallAir weren't so close to completion, I'd buy it. Whoever does will have a good one.
Ain''t nothin better

Monday, September 12, 2016

Triple Tree !

When you need an aviation boost, go somewhere that lives and breathes it and the people are friendly, the skies clear, and the runways are like a golf course.

Bring a tent - you can stay up late that way and you don't have to drive to some cushy, air-conditioned place with color TV. This is only a fraction of the campers - there were many RVs, pop-ups and motor homes.

Click on the pictures to get a full size view
I only took pictures at one end of the field ... to get a full picture of this wonderful place and their noble mission, go to:

For me, the best part is catching up with old friends and making new ones ... Chuck was there with his Interstate Cadet, Jack drove up from Florida as did Gary and Dick, denizens of Hobby Hill airport, near Weirsdale.

Chuck's Cadet cowling - I'm doing comparisons

 The Cadet, me, Jack and Chuck

 Three happy guys ... The day was perfect.

 The City of Monroe NC sponsors this C-46 ... crew are all current or former airline pilots

If ever a fellow needed incentive to get his airplane in the air, this is it. Find a fly-in near you or, better yet, organize one. There's nothing like it to relight the spark.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

My Friend Bob

First off, my friends are pretty far-flung since I've lived in more than a few places but distance doesn't diminish the pleasure of their company, however long the interval between visits. 

So it was that I planned a trip to Bayport Aerodrome on Long Island to celebrate my friend, Bob's, 90th birthday. Certain my airplane would be finished with its restoration by then, I planned to leave for New York in mid-August to rendezvous at the Sheep Shagger Baa with native New Zealanders Stu and Craig during the Antique Airplane Club of Greater New York fly-in and pig roast, and stay over for the merriment of Bob's birthday on September 1. All this in the year 2017.

Oops. Bob's 90th was THIS year - 2016. Apparently the math skills of a theatre major aren't up to the job. So the party had to go on without me.

Now meet Bob through the photographs of Michael DeMita and Annemarie Bain

That fellow on the right end of the back row is Bob. The airplane is his Stearman, which he still flies regularly.

In addition to his regular duties of Commanding Officer of the Royal Vulgarian Flying Corps, a NATO force, Bob mows the grass around the Bayport Aerodrome Society hangars.

Bob was a Navy brat, later a Navy man and joined the fleet aboard the USS Monterey, CV(L) 26, toward the end of World War II. The Monterey was caught in Halsey's typhoon in 1944 and steamed to Bremerton WA for a refit before rejoining the fleet. Former President Gerald Ford, then LT Ford, saw Bob coming and managed some orders to get himself off the ship. Actually, that's not true, but Ford went ashore in any case and Bob went aboard.

Bob saw combat in the waning days of the War, endured kamikaze attacks, celebrated the end of it and returned home. Eventually he landed as an executive at Purolator and Ford Motor Company before retiring to the peace and tranquility of Long Island and the Bayport Aerodrome. He always participates in Memorial Day and Veterans' Day flights over the Calverton National Cemetery.

Kids of all ages, grandkids, old friends and new friends have enjoyed those lazy afternoon flights with Bob in his beloved Stearman, including one mathematically-challenged blog writer.

Over refreshments at the Wednesday wine and cheese gathering, you might learn what makes the wheels of the Ford go 'round or delve into the mysteries of horsepower lost in an automotive drive train. You may also learn the intricacies of rib stitching fabric on an airplane wing or patching a heat exchanger shroud on a Piper Cub. In any case, there is no shortage of knowledge or variants thereof to be found at Bob's hangar.
Happy Birthday, my friend.  And many, many more.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Carlton Builds my Wall Hanger Prop

First off, I'm something of a packrat, but get special inspiration when I see something potentially interesting just lying around. Jeff had these unairworthy, red-tagged prop blades off a Baron or Bonanza over in the corner of the maintenance hangar and gave them to me, probably glad to get rid of the clutter. All maintenance hangars are staffed by packrats (you never know ...) but sometimes Mrs. Packrat has to see some cleanup progress and so that was that.

As usually happens, things like this sit around for awhile, waiting for the little grey cell filaments to light up and when they do you have to have the right people in the right place at the right time.

Enter Carlton Hawkins, master machinist, airplane builder and all around great guy. Carlton knows how to do stuff.

My idea was to join the 2 prop blades to display as a wall hanger in my barn/workshop. Doing what I really didn't know how to do, I routed out a couple of sockets in the opposite sides of a block of wood but couldn't figure out how to secure the blades. When I took my idea to Carlton, he immediately came up with a better solution: Shrink fit the flanges of the blades inside a steel cylinder, much the same as old car engine flywheels are fitted to crankshafts, among other things. Brilliant. All we had to do was find a steel cylinder that would fit around the prop flanges and so on and so on, far beyond my skill or imagination.

Carlton is, among other things, a superb scrounger. He found a hydraulic cylinder at a junk yard for $5. The outer diameter was five inches and the inner diameter was four inches. He needed a few thousandths less than 4 1/2 inches inner diameter so he simply milled off what he had to. THAT was something to see, precision work at its best. When steel cylinders are heated, they expand. When prop flanges are chilled in ice water, they contract a little, much the same as aircraft builders chill their rivets when bonding metals. As the heated cylinder cools, it contracts; as the prop flange warms, it expands, making the fit very, very firm indeed.

So here we go. Carlton has already fitted one blade in the cylinder. Fitting the second blade is more a two-man job since so many things have to happen at the same time. My job is to hold the second blade in a bucket of ice water until the steel cylinder is heated, then jerk it out, dry it off, line up the indexed pitch markings so the prop won't look out of whack on the wall, and slide the cold blade into the hot sleeve. Simple. Until then, I just have to stay out of the way.

 I'm not real good at staying completely out of the way...

 When the cylinder was cherry-red, Carlton secured the torches and had me position the prop blade a couple of inches above. He stood by with a mallet and a block of wood in case the fit needed a little persuasion. It didn't.

 Everything came together just as he planned, and within a few seconds, the blade was firmly secure.

A little welding to attach a back plate to secure the prop to the wall, a couple of roll pins for insurance and presto, that's how you make a nice wall hanger. Simple, see?

Thanks, Carlton. You're the best.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Progress on the CallAir Cadet - August 2016

What a handsome sight! The rebuilt instruments have been mounted in the CallAir Cadet and the panel installed. You might wonder at the vacant space on the right side - it leaves a sightline for a modern GPS.

Looking at the installation from a further perspective, the controls for fuel shutoff, mixture, and cabin heat are grouped on the lower left side so either the front seat pilot or a rear seat instructor can operate them

 Firewall penetrations have been mapped and made.

The airplane is as close to new as a Cadet can be made.

Landing gear legs were once covered but Malcolm felt they needed to be re-done and those are in silver now, awaiting the base coat of white, then yellow. At that point they can be mounted to the fuselage and we will be "on the gear".

One more step on the way.

Go Fly. Fly Safe.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Big News! The CallAir is Closer and Closer

The CallAir restoration is a happening thing!

 And all this time, I thought Malcolm was just stringing me along... take a look at the workmanship on this airplane:
There's still some distance to go before it's finished, but overall I am very pleased with the work. This one-of-a-kind, pre-production example from CallAir is a unique part of the Interstate lineage.

 That eyebrow fairing bridges the gap between the wings and is formed to the upper edge of the windscreen - it's a complicated piece

Once again, I am really encouraged with this latest batch of pictures. It has been a long time coming, but I'm hopeful the airplane will be back in the air before very long.

Fly Safe