Around the Airport

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Excuse Me for Understanding

I'm not sure it gets any better than this.
It’s amazing how things tend to pop up at the most coincidental times.  Discussing the beauty of a hand built flying machine as simple, beautiful and free, had me on a roll.  There in the heat of highlighting its greater potential meaning arose ADD.  Out the other side popped a video trailer.  Wanna ride a bike?
Watching the trailer come to life, I was amazed how closely it shared the words I had written just a few moments before.

Aviation: The Invisible Highway (Trailer #1) from Aviation: The Invisible Highway on Vimeo.

“Flying has become ordinary.  Sometimes it’s even hard to see what’s right in front of us. When airplanes were invented their purpose was simple”.  Then the trailer went horribly wrong, “To take us farther as faster”.   Unfortunately, that simply is not true, and to be clear, there’s no way I would have written that.  Of course, since the video is heavily weighted toward modern commercial aviation, what should I expect?
This is exactly the subject I had just been writing about when someone offered me this well financed example.   Flying has become ordinary.  Even those involved have forgotten how great it can be because they have forgotten what it was about. When airplanes were invented, their purpose was simple; to set us free.
Humans were not striving to go farther and faster.  They wanted to fly like the birds.  To be free from the chains of mankind and gravity were goals worthy of any cost.  People of the day were connected to their surroundings, conscious of their burdens.  Birds were above it all.  Further and faster is the effect, not the cause
Sadly though, today even our groups don’t understand that.  They know organization, hierarchies, and fund raising.  And although I certainly am no enemy of funds, I realize there is a point the purpose loses out to the process.  This is where the danger lies.
When the person shuffling the cups doesn’t know where the ball is, or even what it looks like, an orb of a different color can be slipped easily into place.  And this is what we’re experiencing.  Our groups no longer understand what aviation was that made it great.  They only see what it is today and view it through the eyes of those who contribute the most.
Believing fully they understand, the vintage lines and layouts of a biplane are what they use to explain its appeal; a Pietnpol’s disconnect from today is the thing that makes it special.  Unfortunately, again, the causes are invisible; they see only the effects.
It is not the lines and multi-plane layout that draws a person to a biplane.  No, like the subtle scent of a woman or the disguised intelligence of someone you find strangely attractive, it is that which only the mind can see, its formulas a mystery but always correct, which make it truly desirable.
When you set your eyes on a beautiful thing like this Pietenpol, you see the straightness of lines interrupted by the roundness of tires and that foot well glistening like a diamond stud on a turtle.  At the surface it may not fit the modern ideas of beauty, but the gemstone archway reveals something deeper to those who feel.
The engine isn’t faired; its complexity lies exposed. Metal is bent not shaped. Creature comforts are flagrantly absent.
Yet, the mind sees these points and it knows.  It is a machine worthy of passion.
Beyond the reach of the eyes lie years’ worth of labor.  A warm human hand has touched every piece, felt every grain.  Materials for them have been sourced, parts discovered, and some quite possibly invented.  Cold and without feeling, each piece viewed is inanimate.  Yet, all of them are embedded with the heartbeat of creation and memories of those who helped.
Cockpit combing hides are laced with care.  Not discarded in vain but reused, they offer another living creature protection.  Nothing in this machine is wasted.  Each part is appreciated.  The cost of everything is known.
Perhaps though it is the landing gear which offers the greatest insight to what aviation was.  Providing little in the way of shock absorption, legs made of wood and strengthened with cord, provide just enough support to get you where you yearn to be - free of Earth and the burdens of life, up there with the birds.
Wheels are for the surface.  Time and complexity added there would be wasted.  The goal is to fly.  See the wings, they required attention and shaping.  The gear not so much.  Even in action they tell the story.
Accelerating slowly across that field, the jolts from the surface resonate on your backside; Earth translates as harsh.  The faster you roll the worse it gets.  And then, in an instant, your soul is set free on wing.  Everything is better.  The air smells different, you’re view of the world changes, those burdens are left behind.
Turning and soaring as a bird, literally feeling the clouds on your face, is an experience monks take decades to discover.  It mesmerizes the soul.  It's that feeling right before you fall asleep, when you agree to give in and forget the days troubles; the calmness of rest in a moment of awareness.   Then bump, BANG, jolt, you have returned to ground.  The Earth translates as harsh, unbendable.  It was all worth it.  Your mind was right.  That polished arch footwell was a gateway to something special; a thing earned not given.  Freedom
Today’s aviation doesn’t see this, feel it, or have the desire to know.  And perhaps then it is no mystery why that is the reaction young people give aviation.  They are reflecting the world they’re shown, repeating what they’re taught, and missing life in the process.
After planes were invented, farther and faster ruled the day.






*Brian T, if you're listening.  I think your message would resonate better, and be correct, if it said, Screen 1 - When airplanes were invented, their purpose was simple, Screen 2 - FREEDOM,  Screen 3 - That freedom would take us further and faster, Screen 4 - Than we ever thought imaginable.   And one last thing, Big Fish is one of my all time favorite movies.

Monday, July 28, 2014

View a Stream of Photos from Oshkosh at NORDO News

Want to see a conglomeration of photos people are posting online from Oshkosh? That's easy, just click here.  If you go to the NORDO News blog itself, you will see it at the top in red as a subtitle, "Tracking Oshkosh 2014".  Clicking there will take you to the same thing.
What you'll find on that link is an ongoing and ever changing stream of photos which people from all walks of life are posting.  Try it out.  It's a great way to catch the highlights. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

The EAA Editorial That Seemed So Out Of Place?

When a friend asked me if I had read a certain editorial in Sport Aviation, I knew it had to be interesting.  Wanting to see it, I went in search of a copy.  I didn't have one for a reason.
Did you know that Ginger was an EAA member long before I was?  It's true.  She's always been ahead of the curve.  And yet, contrary to many of today's female aviators, she isn't much for the feminist mindset; the "I am woman hear me roar" types who have to point out they are a female pilot at every turn.  But, when everyone addresses me, all questions are posed to me, and everyone including EAA assumes I am the person to address, even I find it aggravating. Because of this, a few years back I tried to get EAA to change our membership to have her name as the one on record.  She was after all, the person who finally drug me to Oshkosh. Unfortunately though, after many attempts, EAA never could make it happen and, in the process of one of those attempts, our memberships lapsed.  That's why I didn't have a copy.  But I digress...
Once I found the editorial I read it several times.   It was obviously out of place.  More importantly though, a serious concern came over me.  Because of the well crafted text, some people could read this and think it was great.
The words spoke of positives and things that would move aviation forward.  Suggested were the notions of not being behind the times and moving into the modern world; something which plays well on everyone. And logic was used like statistics; hiding reality with numbers that sounded good.  It was the wet dream of a person who has no love for grass roots aviation and who possessed an open contempt for the E in EAA until he was offered a paying job there.
Even scarier, contained within the editorial were words which appeal to a dumbed down segment of pilots; those who find more pleasure in a color screen than that which can be seen from the cockpit. Given the choice, these same people would chose jet airliners over DC-3s; Les Abend over Gordon Baxter.   More to the point, it simply did not belong in the magazine. And yet I must give the author credit.  In a manner befitting a charismatic leader that leads his people into disaster through the use of cleverly arranged speeches, he almost managed to sneak the tenets of IFR by me as stand-ins for basic flying skills.  In short, it all sounded pretty good until you felt the true meaning of the words.
Ironically, the editorial in question starts with an example that, were it clearly stated, would trash the author's entire editorial premise; his pilot of example that is burdened by having to look outside is actually student who can't look out the window because he would lose control of the airplane if he did. In the author's world, the effort required to maintain situational awareness is viable evidence of why we should abandon basics in favor of electronics.   Amazingly though, the fact our society has accepted the notion of kids not knowing math because they have calculators leads me to admit he isn't alone in his thinking.  Of course, I must also point out that even Millennials find themselves openly asking if they are the dumbest generation ever to have lived on planet Earth. Ergo, who cares if a machine does it all for us?
Nice try.
I care; that's who.  And, I bet you do too.  To accept this notion is to give up aviation. To believe in it is to embrace that we'd all be better off if drones could take our adventures for us, taking pictures along the way, so that we could view virtual reproductions of what we could have seen with our own eyes before electronics were capable of doing it for us?  It's outright silly unless you see this editorial for what it really is. It's a piece written by a guy who should never have been brought into EAA.  It's not that he's a horrible person, he just doesn't belong. As my brother says, he's the kind of guy who would go on vacation in Alaska and then sit in his room looking at photos of of bushplanes flying around Alaska.  Real Sport Aviation types, on the other hand, would consider flying the bushplane the vacaction.  But you know what, there are places where this guy would be a perfect fit.  Lee Bottom isn't for everyone either.  I understand that.

Ages ago we held bomb drop contests every year. When the last one drew to a close, I named the winner and a UPS pilot went bananas.  He had not won and he was incredulous.  The fit he threw was worthy of a two year old.  He just couldn't grasp that he was the only person who gave a damn; it was meant to be fun.   And yet, I'm positive there is a formation clinic out there somewhere where he'd fit right in.  Like I said, we all have our place, and the author of the editorial is not in his.  In many ways, it's not even his fault.

How did he end up at EAA?  Strange things happen to organizations as they grow.  I think of our little field in the middle of nowhere.  We've always known who the people are who fly in.  The folks that land here are some of the most wonderful citizens you could ever hope to meet. They are the rare warbird pilot who lands here for the fun of it, the corporate pilot that stops by in a Citation because she was in the area, and the endless stream of aviators whose planes show the wear of unbridled flying pleasure. They make mistakes and admit them, take adventures and encourage you to do the same, offer help and expect nothing in return, take pride in their skill, and fly because it sets them free.  We understand that.   For a group the size of EAA that's difficult. But, it doesn't mean they don't try.  That's how they ended up with the author in question.
In an effort to boost the bottom line, EAA sought to develop "the big tent" philosophy. Famous for killing every niche that has ever tried it, it almost did the same to them. Build yourself into a giant machine and something has to feed it; money primarily.   When the niche decreases in size, you reach across the isle to the niches and riches outside your original focus. The core group doesn't like being forgotten and the new groups don't like that you're pandering. It's a stupid idea and yet people keep trying. EAA isn't the first and they won't be the last.  I just hope they've learned their lesson.
Looking to the future, and having fully digested the editorial this post is about, I can't help but believe the author will be gone soon.  Even EAA, the group that famously surrendered to paid ATC, can only handle a square peg in its round hole for so long.   Therefore, my only real concern is that when he leaves, he isn't replaced by a person from the Santa Monica City Council.


The One And Only Stearman M-2 Has Moved

I've been watching the Stearman M-2 for some time.  I remember when I first laid my hands on it as the restoration neared completion.  The thing is massive.  In fact, although many people call other Stearmans a "Bull Stearman", this is the actual model Stearman that was called that by her pilots when she was new.
Coming apart for the ride home.
Alan Lopez is the man responsible for bringing her back to life and the Posey Brothers are responsible for the construction.  But, from here on out the WAAAM (Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum) will be responsible for supplying a roof over her head and wind under her wings for what is hoped to be a long time.
Loading up for the move.
When I first heard a deal was in the works I was excited.  Alan was growing tired of the effort involved in saving such a beast and WAAAM was the logical new home.  Therefore, when word came the deal was complete I was happy for everyone.  It's going to a wonderful organization and Alan knows one of his greatest achievements will live on.   Congratulations to everyone involved.
Click here to check out the WAAAM website.   Simply put, the place is great.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Where Can You Be Found At Oshkosh?

Everyone has their thing.  You know, it's the one item you purchase, singular party you attend, person you hang out with, or spot in which you camp.  Whatever the case, you have that thing. Do you know what yours is?  Have you ever thought about it? Maybe you could try something new?
Here's my thing; first thing in the morning I'll text friends on the inside to find out the skinny, catch up with a buddy to check out the coolest planes on hand, make lunch plans with the same person because it always means a diverse group of people at the table, walk around, make dinner plans, spend money, go to dinner.  Each day is the same except for the time that fills the gaps.  At those times I go out of my way to meet friends who I've come to know but never actually met, to catch up with those I have met on occasion, and to find out who I really need to meet. After all, it really is about the people.
Every year it's the same with one exception, this year.  Since I'm nursing a bad knee you may have to look to find me.  Maybe I'll be relaxing in the shade under a tree, riding in some golf cart that goes by very fast, or hanging out in rarefied air.  I'll be there but you may not see me.  But all things considered that may be for the best.  I'm kind of cranky without my biplane shade.


Fly-In Sponsorships

The fly-in needs them.
Even though we're going to run the fly-in as lean as possible this year, just getting the basic services in place will cost around $6000.  That's makes it easier but it's still a pretty big chunk of change.  Therefore, we're looking for sponsors.
If you have an interest in sponsoring, please let us know.  As in the past we do broad corporate sponsorships, individual item sponsorships (tram, port-o-johns, movie night, etc), volunteer food, and other material sponsorships such as fuel, com radios, signage and more.
Basically, we're open to anything as long as you don't ask us to sell our grass roots soul.

Will a New EAA President Be Revealed at Oshkosh?

What do you think?  Have you even thought about it?  Do you care?  As long as the fly-in happens and your magazine shows up is everything is ok with you?

The First Ever Stearman vs. Waco Challenge - Don't Miss It

This logo appears first due to the alphabetical rule.
Attend the fly-in this year to see history in the making.  A decades long rivalry is about to be put to the test. Yes that's right, for as long as you can remember, the Stearman and Waco folks have all agreed their manufacturer is the best and we're going to put them to the test.  How do we plan to do this?
This logo has more weight because the lines are heavier.
You might think it would be difficult to develop a challenge which would accurately determine which is the best all around aircraft make but you're wrong.  It's really quite easy.  Everything about each of these planes, take-off distance, ease of ground handling, maneuverability, and such area all greatly affected by the person at the controls.  Therefore, the person at the controls largely determines how good the plane is on any given day.  Accepting this angle of reasoning, we think it's safe to say you can judge the planes by their owners. Considering that any vintage plane nut worth their salt flies the plane more than they wash it, and that a real aviator would never turn down a chance to stand up for the honor of their make of choice, this means that you only have to count how many of each are on hand to know which is the best.
A little known Stearman from way back.
Got that?  Makes sense, right?  OK, since we all agree on that, here are the rules:
  • 1. The total number of each make, Stearman and Waco, to land at Lee Bottom between 12PM (noon) on Friday September 19th and 4PM Saturday the 20th, will be tallied for the challenge.  This is during the Wood, Fabric, & Tailwheels Fly-In
  • 2. All models of Waco and Stearman count toward the total.  This means Stearman aircraft produced when owned by Boeing are Stearman Aircraft, and even that monoplane Waco counts as a Waco.
  • 3. The total number of Travel Air, Curtiss Wright, Laird, wood structured Cessnas, Staggerwing Beechcraft, and Mooney Mite aircraft on hand will also be tallied.
  • 4. Whichever model, Stearman or Waco, has the least to attend gets to add the total of the other aircraft from rule #3 to their bottom line.
  • 5.  The final tally of rule #4 determines the winner.
  • 6.  The winner of the first challenge determines which name comes first on the trophy that will be used from here on out.
Waco wild card; if you arrive by air in one of these, Waco wins.



























Stearman wild card; if you can find a way to get me this plane, Stearman wins.
This is at the bottom because I figured those of you devious enough to look for
a way to "purchase" a win would likely be smart enough to scroll all the way
to the bottom.

Fly-In Volunteer Meeting and Work Weekend

We had originally planned a fly-in meeting for July but have decided on a date in August.  On Saturday August 16th we will have a volunteer/fly-in planning meeting.  If you would like to volunteer, and especially if you are someone who in past years headed up a specific area of the event, this will be when everything is finalized.  This day and the next, August 17, will also be work days for getting the field in shape.
There is a lot to do to get ready so even if you can’t make the fly-in but would like to help out, please come on up the weekend of August 16-17 to help out.  Any assistance is greatly appreciated.
Fly-In planning meeting August 16th at 10:00 AM.

Fly-In airport readiness days – August 16th-17th.

Here are some areas of focus from past years:
  • Aircraft Parking Area Marking and Repairs
  • Car Parking and Entrance Gate
  • Volunteer Scheduling
  • Registration Tent and Lee Bottom Store
  • Aircraft Parking
  • Radio Coordination for Aircraft
  • Trams
  • Medical/Emergency Response
  • Garbage Pickup
  • Accounting
  • Sponsorship
  • Movie On Hangar
  • Aircraft Meet and Greet

If you've helped in one of these areas before or would like to volunteer, please try to attend on the 16th.  If you can't make it but are willing to commit to an area, you can email me by clicking here.

*We are starting to get a lot of interest so it is possible the turnout will be pretty good despite the event being on hold the last two years.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Oshkosh Obligation

Last year, about this same time, I wrote a blog post to describe my feelings about driving to Oshkosh.  To me, it was just an open discussion on the way I see it; not the way I thought you should see it.  But boy was I surprised by the reaction.  It really got people worked up.
On one particular evening during Oshkosh, I even ended up at a large round table explaining myself to people I had apparently insulted.  Yet, I have to say, that evening was still great fun.  Why?  Because I knew it would be the only time that year I would see most of the people there.  And that’s one of the reasons we’re driving this year; to see people we never see otherwise.
There is another reason we’re going though.  That’s the obligation.
In late June, as Oshkosh approached, reasons to not go kept creeping into my head.  It looked as if I would not be flying and, as I said last year (click here to read it), when I don’t fly I don’t get as much out of it.  The whole participating vs. attending thing was really encouraging me to stay home.  Then a buddy asked if I was going.  My answer to him was “Yes”, but it was followed immediately by a qualifier that came out with no contemplation; “I’m afraid if I don’t go, I’ll never go back”.
Standing there thinking about what I had just said, I realized that’s exactly what had been nagging at me.  It was as if I had admitted taking a cookie from a cookie jar.  It cleared my conscience, and helped square my decision to go.
So how in the world would that make me feel better about going?  Because I realized there’s an unspoken obligation, something most do not realize, and few ever talk about.  It’s an obligation to go; because without Oshkosh, aviation is sunk.
It’s true.  I know a lot of people will not understand that, and some may not like it, but Oshkosh is the aviation sex that keeps the marriage together.  It gives a boost to the sport, makes everyone want more, and it certainly drives the renting of hotel rooms.
Imagine the county fair of the old days where everyone would get cleaned up, come out of the hills, and party together for a week in order to rebuild a sense of community, get drunk, and make more citizens.   That’s what Oshkosh is to aviation.  And, as I’ve often said, to the dismay of many who believe asking questions means I have it in for EAA, it must survive and thrive if aviation is to do the same.   Therefore, as a pilot, I feel I bear some obligation to go, have a great time, point out the ways it could be better, talk about all the things that are great, and basically do my part.
Yes, like I said last year, when I drive to Oshkosh I still don’t get as much out of it.  But, when I make the effort to attend, I have at least upheld my obligation as a member of aviation, and as someone who, despite all the possible reasons, hasn’t given up on it.
A potential pitfall.  Please keep that in mind EAA.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Engine Failure During Oshkosh Photo Shoot

This is from an AOPA shoot.  The article never made it but the photos show
up all the time in AOPA material.  Mike Fizer was photographer.
I love doing aviation photo shoots.  Up ten, down ten, five back, twenty forward, straight ahead, whatever the photographer wants I’m there to give it to them.  It’s not easy to capture images of rare planes and playing an active role in the process is extremely satisfying.  Look at any great aviation photo you took part in and you remember the effort involved. 
My first Oshkosh photo shoot.  There's also a story to go with this one but that is for
another day.  Paul Bowen photographer.
First, in order to capture the best aviation photos an almost mythical level of convergence is required.   Two planes with closely matched performance, one of which must have a few specific traits that make it perfect for shooting air to air photos, must be available.  During that window of aircraft availability, you must also have good weather conditions during specific hours of the day.  Next you need a photo ship pilot that understands what is needed for a photo shoot; good lighting, backdrop placement, formation flying, and the size opening from which the photographer will be shooting.   In the same plane with that pilot you need a photographer skilled in catching action in an environment where lighting changes substantially every five seconds.  Finally, in the plane being photographed you need a pilot that understands photography and has formation skills.*  Sounds easy right?  Unfortunately, there is yet another factor that comes into play.
This is from an EAA photo shoot.
What if the subject aircraft is a very rare flying machine?  At that point, the chances of pulling everything together in one spot in the sky, at the same time, become astronomical.  It’s the reason EAA takes several years’ worth of photos during Oshkosh.  They get’em while the getting’s good.   A few years ago, on a particularly beautiful evening, I was taking part in one of those shoots.
I remember that day clearly.  Having participated in many of the sessions through the years, this time I asked the photographer if we could go last to get the best light.  He agreed and a few hours later we were over a lake capturing images.
I took this photo at Deer Run Airpark.
The plane I was flying, a rare Stearman C3B, had really caught the eye of the photographer.  At the time, it was one of the most beautiful planes flying.  For that matter, it still is.  Something about it just pops and people naturally find it attractive.  Because of that we stayed a little longer on station to get maximum camera time.  Flying over the middle of the lake though, where many of the shoots take place, was something I had refused.
When you play the role of photo subject pilot there are many factors you must consider.  Knowing the plane didn’t climb well on hot days, part of my planning had been to have minimal fuel.  If we were going to be anywhere near the lake, I wanted to be able to climb as high as I could as quickly as I could and get the maximum performance from the plane.  Being light was critical to that.  But don’t get me wrong, minimal doesn’t mean empty.
My fuel planning went like this; primarily, the airplane would be at a high power setting most of the time.  We’d be climbing enroute to the photo shoot location.  Once there, the prop would be set to achieve maximum rpm.  This would offer a quicker throttle response while also making it easier for the photographer to capture a full prop disc blur.  It would also mean a higher fuel burn due to the rigors of jockeying to achieve whatever the guy behind the camera wanted.   We’d be there a maximum of 45 minutes and then we’d make a mad dash to Wittman Field trying to get there before it closed for the evening show.   On top of that I’d add 45 minutes worth of fuel to allow for fudge room and reserve.  And yet, that’s not everything I considered.
From the Oshkosh shoot.  Chris Miller was the photographer.
The Stearman I was flying had two fuel tanks.  One was up high in the center section and one was down in the fuselage.  Considering everything the photographer may want, plus the fact I would be working with minimum fuel, I put all of the 100LL, except what I needed to get to the air to air location, up top.  This would give me an additional level of comfort by ensuring I would always have gas higher than the carburetor and a few gallons left over in the fuselage for an emergency.
If you think that sounds like an extreme amount of fuel planning, maybe it is.  I don’t know how others handle it but I can tell you that engine failures have almost always been, and continue to be, due to fuel starvation.  Even the much maligned OX-5 was actually reported by aviators of the day to most commonly quit due to fuel issues, not mechanical.  Therefore, in my mind, fuel considerations are always critical.
Finally, there was one other thing to consider.  While I circled waiting for my photo slot, I knew the photo ship would check in.  When they did, I told them I would not be able to go out to the middle of the widest part of the lake but that I would gladly fly over other parts of it as long as we were a little higher.  The extra altitude was to ensure gliding distance to land in case of an engine failure.
Discomfort, doubt and distraction are not things you want to experience during a photo shoot.  Being sure I could focus on the other plane without worrying about fuel or going into the lake would make everything work much better.  We agreed on an altitude and before long the camera was filling up flash cards.
Forming up on the photo ship I had one last question, “At our current speed, how long would it take us to get to the field?”  The guys gave me their answer, I compared it to my estimate which was based on a higher speed, split the difference, and then gave them my bugout time. 
Amazingly all the important points converged.  My estimated maximum time on station fell exactly on the point I felt we’d need to leave to get back to the field before it closed.  I gave them the time and asked them to let me know when we were ten minutes from that.
Pointed into the sun, out of the sun, high and low, we flew.  180’s, 360’s, and even 270's were among the turns we made and sometimes it was just a few degrees.  “How far out over the lake would you be comfortable”, they asked.  I looked around, told them that if we were 500’ higher I’d be up for the middle, and we agreed to climb.
Leveling off we found it nice up there.  By chance, that extra altitude took us through a thermal layer and dropped the temperature several degrees. This made everyone much more comfortable.  A few circuits later we were all in a good mood and I took a quick glance at the timer.  To my surprise, we had already been in the shoot for almost an hour.  Thankfully though, getting to the shoot had not taken as long as planned so the numbers still worked.  But just to verify my time piece wasn’t fooling me**, I asked, “What time is it”? The photo ship responded, “We have a few minutes left to play around if you’re up for it”.  So on we flew; all of us working hard to catch a few bonus shots.
“Do you have anything else you’d like to try or a specific photo you’d like to get”, they asked, obviously trying to use every minute of photo time available.   I suggested some odd attitudes and we agreed I would put it in a hard slip and see how it turned out.  Cranking hard right aileron and left full rudder, I worked the controls to hold a maximum slip throughout a 360 degree turn.  Coming up on a complete circle I heard them say,  “Roll out”.  Then they started to tell me what we’d be doing next.  It was something about straight but I didn’t really hear it.   The engine had gone instantly silent.
When I say instantly silent, I mean, the powerplant went from maximum climb power to completely dead in a fraction of a second; a blaring exhaust note to chirping crickets faster than I ever thought possible.
Instantly every powerplant control was full forward, carb heat was pulled and tanks switched as I strained to see forward.  “Where’s the shoreline”, I thought.  “HOLY CRAP, I CAN’T MAKE THAT”, my mind raced.  “Great, I’m going to be the second guy to die in a lake in as many days***”, was the next thought to go through my mind.  “Why isn’t this thing running”, I asked myself.  “This plane can’t die in my hands” was my next thought.  I looked again, adjusted my track toward the nearest point, and watched to get an estimate on our maximum potential dead-stick distance.  I had already put the bottom of the top wing level with the horizon for maximum glide when I looked up to see the photo ship pulling away.
“Should I tell them; no you have other things to do”, went the inner voice.  “Why isn’t this thing running!?”  I checked all the controls again and switched the tanks back to my original configuration.  “COME ON BABY; RUN!!!”.  Again I adjusted for land and pondered the situation at hand.
That’s when I began preparing for a crash.  I quickly pulled the extra cushion out from behind me to place it in front of the panel for impact, tightened the harness to the point of cutting off circulation, and planned for when I would accept reality and shut everything off.
Just then my head jerked back and my ears struggled with sensory overload.   BLAAAAAAAAA” came the engine back to life.   It didn’t wind up.  It came just as it had gone; straight from crickets chirping to wide open quicker than I ever thought possible.  “What the hell”, I wondered.  And in that instant my eyes fell on something I had seen but never truly saw.   I was dumbfounded and relieved.  How could we all have missed that?  Then I heard a radio call.
Note the single fuel line coming down from above.
Fairly far away by now, for the second time, the photo ship was asking if there was a problem.  Trying to play it cool and relax myself at the same time, I responded, “No, I just dropped my goggles in the floor.  Pull it back and I’ll catch up”.  We were heading for the shore.  That was good and since I had realized what happened, I didn’t want to freak them out and cut the shoot short.  Thankfully we were almost done.
A few photos later the adrenaline wore off just as the folks in the photo ship offered their own surprise, “Hey, we ran late, how fast can that thing go?”  “110 wide open, how late are we”, and I looked at my clock.  I couldn’t believe what time it was.  There was no way we could make it.  I’d be landing elsewhere and finding a ride.  Would Ginger have her phone on?  Fortunately, in recent years I had pointed out the field where I’d be landing.  If I could get her a message I was sure she could find me.
You can see Oshkosh just under and to the left of the plane.
Then the photo ship said, “Hey we need you to fly straight at the field as fast as you can while we call ahead; we’ll fly on you”.  At this rate I was going to land right at thirty minutes fuel.  “Hey guys, you need to tell me if there are going to be ANY holdups.  I’m running thin”.   “No problem, aim for a direct midfield downwind and go fast.  We’ve been cleared in.”  That was the exact moment I watched my “alternate” go by.
Looking again at the clock, I just couldn’t see it happening but the guys stayed positive.  Then, as if everyone who had anything to do with flight operations knew we were coming, the radio came alive with precise directions to follow without response.  I turned tight base, final, and rolled immediately off the runway so a 195 could land tight behind me; on his heels was the photo ship.  Then came the call.  I can’t remember the exact wording but over the radio I heard someone say the airport was closed.  As I taxied to park the airshow was in full swing.
This was a modified downwind/base/to final.
So what had caused the engine to quit?  It was me.  Well, to be fair to myself, it was the convergence of many things.  Fuel planned to the minute, a late day photo shoot, the photographer’s desire to get the most shots possible, a fuel tank designed at the factory for a gentleman flyer, and me operating it almost 75 years later like it was designed for aerobatics.
Having flown the plane all over creation, it was hard to believe I had never noticed something that was literally right in front of me; something nobody else had noticed either.  Yet why would they?  They all flew it straight and level.
The design of the Stearman C3B top tank fuel line take off was typical for the era.  Placed aft and in a fuel bowl, it was designed to accomplish two things; catch fuel contaminants and ensure fuel supply in flight.  There was just one problem with it.  If you were running off the top tank, it wasn’t full, and you flew for an extended period of time in a maximum slip, the fact it was ALSO built into the middle of the tank meant you could starve the engine of fuel.  Ooops.
Yep, drive all the remaining avgas to one side of the tank and it is possible to unport the fuel from the fuel line.  Having just gone a full 360 on edge, sometimes working all factors to achieve even greater but momentary angles of bank, I had done just that.
Arriving back at Vintage Parking, Ron Alexander, the owner at the time, and Ginger were waiting.  I remember Ron looking at me a little funny when I handed him the seat cushion that was still out in the cockpit.  Ginger had something for me to drink.  At the time though all I could think about was filling the tanks to see how much fuel was remaining.  Had I made a mistake in my planning?
Watching the gallons tick by one after another after another, I anxiously awaited a number set in my head.  Five gallons away from it, someone said something to me, I looked away and SPLASH, everything within ten feet was covered in fuel.  Imagine a large capacity Piper Cub tank going from empty to full in under a second and that’s what you had.  That was good news; the plane still contained a little more avgas than originally planned and I couldn't help but laugh. A few minutes earlier I was sweating the possibility of too little fuel; a few minutes later I was dripping from having too much.
Back on the ground in the last light of day.

Note: This story covers just one piece of my part in the shoot. It doesn't cover attending the briefing, cleaning the plane, getting out of Oshkosh during the event, and more.  Earlier I discussed what it takes to get everything together for such an operation.  Now think of all the issues the photo ship pilot may have had to deal with on that day; fuel, maintenance, scheduling, communication with other aircraft waiting in the air for their turn in line, etc.  Then there are all the issues the photographer may have had to deal with; having all the equipment in place and ready, flash cards handy, equipment failures, other cameras with different lenses arranged within reach yet secured from falling out the door, turbulence, and so much more.  If you think about all that could go wrong and all there is for everyone to do, when you see photos from a shoot that produced stunning images you begin to realize how special that moment was.

*In rare circumstances, if you have a bad subject pilot but excellent photo ship, photo ship pilot and photographer, you can still manage to get quality shots.  But again, that’s really rare.  
**I had a clock fool me once, just once.
***During the previous day, a Piper Cub had crashed in Lake Winnebago and both people inside were killed.


With the well known PT series Stearman, the problem I had was
rectified by taking fuel from all four corners of the tank.
Thanks to Mike Porter for the photo.