Around the Airport

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Lee Bottom Fly-In Hall of Fame


Having decided to end the fly-in, Ginger and I have been discussing its history. During dinner or random moments, one of us will remember something, then we're both laughing. It has been an interesting trip.
There are so many unforgettable times the idea of a Fly-In Hall of Fame was hard to hold back. Of course, some of these moments would only be funny to a very few people and that posed a problem. How do you have a hall of fame most when people had to be there to find it memorable? The solution was easy. We'd have a hall of fame for our own appreciation.
Mr. Custom PT Cruiser Guy - This wanker called us and, in his mind, ripped us a new asshole. He had followed his GPS instead of following our driving directions and when he ended up on a washed out road, in his "highly customized" PT Cruiser, he was upset we didn't have more signs pointing the way. 
The Great Flaming Gas Can - Yep, that was me. Never one to shy away from putting fuel on a fire, when the fire in our newly built fire pit refused to light I had a solution. The fire took off, flashed, caught the gas can on fire, and I flung it away. There, in the yard, lay a flaming ball of plastic. Grass didn't grow there for years. Those who were on hand still laugh about it.
Extra across the Runway and Up the Hill Guy - One year, right in the middle of it all, an Extra came across the field toward the hill at around 100'. Reaching the hill he pulled up, rolled, and barely missed a helicopter at the top that was supposed to be there taking photos. Several months later the same guy was on the news. He had flown another plane south and bailed out attempting to fake his death. Yeah, it was that guy.
George Pascal - George and I used to be flying friends when I had a Stearman. We were each other's excuse to fly and when possible those two planes were going somewhere with all seats filled. I have never once heard anything even remotely unpleasant about George. Years ago I looked to him for advice and did my best to mold my horrid ways so they would better match his. If there are a few polished spots on this turd, he is responsible for one of them. Anyway, the reason I mention him here is because he and I together approached Fritz about holding a fly-in here and it was he and I who started it. Very quickly though, having a full plate of his own, he took on the role of attendee and many forgot he was part of its founding.
The Aerobatic Guy Who was called by the FAA - One year, a regular attendee took off and flew west. He was far enough away to be clear of the field but close enough you could still see him over the top of the hill. He did a few rolls and a loop, maybe, and left. On hand that day was an FAA guy I had known for a long time. In his soul he was friendly to GA, but ultimately, he was loyal to the FAA. A week later everyone was talking about how I had turned the aerobatic guy in to the FEDS. To the contrary, after hearing about it I had called my friend at the FAA and chewed him out so badly we wouldn't talk for a long time. I felt he should have either been there as a FED or an attendee but not both, and also that he should have called me and let me handle it (self-police). I later found out a nearby person, who always wanted to host such an event, had started the rumor. From there people ran with it. People who knew me well were more interested in obviously false gossip than reality. I still remember the names of each person who perpetuated that lie.
Desperate for Wine - There was a couple who used to come to the event until there were two bad weather events in a row. That evening Ginger and I visited with them, and a few other friends, at their hotel. The plan was to drink wine as we knew it would be their last. Sitting there panic struck us all when it was realized we had no way to remove the cork. Struggling with racing minds I had an idea. Inside the truck toolbox was a rechargeable driver. I used it to drive a screw into the cork and then used pliers to pull on the head of the screw to remove the cork. We'll never forget that wine. It turned out to be a funny end to a bad day.
Guy Calls to ask "My friend is supposed to land there in a Champ; have you seen him?" - Ginger answered the phone, heard the questions, giggled, and replied, "We have fifteen planes in the pattern. I have no idea.” The guy got mad and hung up. He called back and Ginger's dad answered. The same guy immediately went on about a rude lady who had laughed at him and he wanted to know if his friend's plane had landed. Ginger's dad said, "You'll have to talk to the lady in charge.” It was Ginger. The guy then went on and on about being some uber master commander of the CAP and how he was concerned about his friend. It turns out the Champ pilot was only one minute late, landing off a perfect flight - with no flight plan. The master commander had a reputation for checking on everyone that way.
Is That You Phil? - The year our friend Phil had been around quite a bit. At times he is quite the jokester and it had become part of our lives. That year, during the fly-in, whenever somebody called and asked a ridiculous question of Ginger. Her response was, "Is that you, Phil?” Funny, both ends of those conversations thought the other was crazy.
The "I'll Run over You Pilot" - One year we had a DC-3 here who caused a stir. What he did wouldn't be bad if it happened somewhere else, and by a stable individual, but because it was during the fly-in it caused a shit-storm of problems. The pilot, well known for such things, left a trail of bad juju wherever he went. Observers, and low-information pilots, thought he was great. Those in the know, not so much. After our event a photo of his "performance" became remotely famous and in turn I received calls from airport managers throughout the southeast. They had had similar issues. Film from that day shows him almost take the head off one guy and nearly hit two different planes in the air. Having to take evasive maneuvers to miss one of them (didn't even see the other), he flew over another group of planes on the ground. This story is highly abbreviated and leads to the next.  Oh, I almost forgot.  This guy would also later end up in the national news.
The Guy Whose Shirt Got Stretched - When the DC-3 madman flew over the group of planes on the ground, one owner went ape shit. By this time I was absolutely exhausted, didn't feel well, and didn't give a shit about anything. That's when I got word someone had screamed at Ginger about something. I asked her what happened and the angry aircraft owner had come up to her and gone bananas screaming about the dangerous display and blaming us for it and on and on. Being somewhat tired of it all with fatigue, I found the guy and went a little ape shit on him. Do what you want but don't attack Ginger. This guy was a notorious "I have money so I should be pampered and listened to" type and I wasn't about to have any of that. When I grabbed his collar and pushed him onto his plane another guy walked up, flashed a badge, and suggested he leave. The guy climbs in his plane to fly off and we start to walk away. As we do our friend says, you do know that isn't a real police badge right? Suddenly it was the funniest thing that had happened all day. Note: Angry guy went on to have a very short run for Senate.
Volunteers - Our volunteers have done an amazing job helping us build this event. There are so many great people involved it is the one thing we don't like about ending the fly-in. They've built showers, walked in the heat to find holes and filled them, hosed out port-o-lets, and scooped up dead skunks. Together they ran trams, dumped trash, parked planes, parked cars, and all the little jobs it took to make an event work. Some of them also volunteer at another event a week earlier. Thanks to all of them.
Our friend Nick Stroud sees things. - We'll never forget how Nick, while visiting the event, hesitated then said, "I've either had too much to drink or there is something floating around making little flashes.” Being from the UK, and London, he had never seen a lightning bug (firefly). We also introduced him to s’mores. Wha? You've never had a s’more? Good God man!
The "I know you say no aerobatics but can I do aerobatics" guy. - After one event when only a few people and planes were left, one guy came up to ask a friend who was sitting by me, "I know the website says no aerobatics, and the newsletter says no aerobatics, and they don't like aerobatics, but can I do aerobatics?” True story. My friend points to me and says, "You should ask the owner.” He asked me the same and having witnessed this guy's behavior throughout the day I knew it didn't matter what I would say, therefore this is a quote of what I told him, "NO, you can't do aerobatics, but if you decided you are going to go out there and do them anyway and you crash and kill yourself I'm going to tell everyone what an idiot you were.” Guess what? He crashed. In the process he almost killed his friend and himself. They were both very lucky although severely injured. Later it would turn out he had a history of such things. He was obsessed with being the cool pilot and had put many people in great danger. The FEDS wanted to take his license for life. Someone in the Air Force pulled strings and months later he had it back and was attempting to turn it into a Hallmark Channel movie about a pilot who courageously came back from an accident. Friends at the IAC got word of him trying to pin his problems on us and very quickly shut him down. The next year at Oshkosh the guy who was in the front seat when it crashed found us. He had felt his big toes for the first time that day and wanted to tell us.  Standing there, with the help of a cane, he told us one of his biggest issues to get over was, in his words, "How was it that you knew he was going to do that and I didn't?” Pilots are among the most easily conned people in the world and many have suffered because of it.
Barry Bannon - If cherry picking a few people to mention by name, Barry's has to be on the list. If you have enjoyed the showers, sinks, water, and many other things, thank him. Yes, other people helped him but Barry is a machine that never quits. Thanks Barry.
The No Longer Selling Alcohol Fly-In - One fly-in Saturday morning we got word of a disaster. The port-o-lets had been puked in by several folks and they needed to be cleaned. I was standing there when a guy opened on and said, "HOLY HELL! Were these guys from ___burg?” We never sold alcohol at the event again. People had fallen in the fire, moved stones and dropped them on their toes, twisted ankles, and more. The portable outhouses were so bad they had to be fire hosed clean.
The Old Guys Who Never Listened - From the beginning we told attendees there was no crossing the runway except at the north end. However, old pilot guys being old pilot guys they didn't listen. A few times they decided to cross without looking. One pilot yanked his plane into the air early and barely missed giving one dude a haircut. Ginger grew so tired of this she got air horns and a bullhorn and waited. The first group of old pilot guys to try crossing the runway soiled their shorts and were mad as hell. We still laugh about that a few times a year. The rules are there for a reason.
Both Families - Both our families have gone beyond the call of duty to help through the years. Thanks to all of you.
The Rain Out - Only three planes made it and only two landed at the event. Glenn Frith in his Travel Air and Nathan Hammond in a New Standard. The field here, resting on loam soil, can take an amazing amount of rain and still be firm. One year we had between three and four inches of rain Friday night and still had the fly-in on Saturday. However, the week of the rainout was a freak of nature. It rained continuously, all day every day, from the moment Glenn arrived on vapors through a gap in low clouds, early in the week. We pushed him in the hangar and it began to rain. That day of the fly-in the ground was like pudding. I've never seen it anywhere close to that. When we started this event in the 90's, I chose the date based on data from NOAA. It was, on average, the driest weekend of the year, as far back as records went. One other plane made it from Florida and I still hate we told him to land elsewhere. Looking back, the ruts would have been worth it - one of my few fly-in regrets.
Glenn Frith - Few people have put out the effort to attend and help than Glenn has. I am hesitant to name names because then I have to name all the exceptional folks and that would take days. Nevertheless, Glenn must receive mention. Every year since 2004 or 5, I can't remember, he has flown here from southern Florida, nearly a week early, so that he could help us make sure the event is possible. There aren't enough “THANKS” in me to cover what he has done for us.
The Marriage and Honeymoon - One couple was married here at the fly-in. Another wonderful couple showed up in a Champ and on their windows were words "Just Married.” They had come here on their honeymoon.
Unexpected Visitors - There is actually a low-level training route that comes near Lee Bottom. One fly-in a formation of F-16s were going by, saw us, and decided to circle. That was fun. Liberty Belle, the B-17, used to fly over the event each year. They would be at Clark County giving rides and our place made a perfect max distance point for the length of their rides. Then there was the year the big Sikorsky from St. Louis Helicopters dropped in. Flying overhead after a lift in Cincinnati, someone looked down and said, "I bet they have food down there.” They circled back, gave us a great fly-by, and then landed. They were a great bunch of guys. The next year, I heard that machine was somewhere working when it had a mechanical and crashed.
Cory Thomas - This dude has helped every year since the beginning. He's truly part of our family. His sister Maggie is much the same, helping until she went away to college.  Note: remember the peaches from Sinful Sundays? Their family grows them.
Moved into Hotel Due to No Electricity - Most people are surprised when we tell them the biggest threat to our event is a hurricane. During September it is common for hurricanes to hit the gulf. After landfall the remains come up through the Midwest. One year the remains were so strong they still qualified as a class one hurricane when the eye came over Lee Bottom. This knocked out the power two weeks before the event and it appeared it would not be back on in time for the fly-in. In response we moved everything into a hotel and ran it from there. Meanwhile we stayed on the phones calling movers and shakers and one day before the event it came back on.
College Students - Students from a university flight school volunteered one year. They were a great help during the day and at night their true pilot spirits came to life. Reports of loud noises coming from their tents, raucous behavior, and plucking used ice from the grass to chill their beer made us laugh. We wondered how they would feel if they knew three different airline chief pilots camped nearby - airlines they would love to fly for.
Broken Foot - There's no way for me to dress this one up but Ginger still attempts to make it sound reasonable. One year, as the fly-in drew nigh, she decided to do some painting, from a ladder, sideways, on a slope, while stepping from the ladder onto some steps, and somehow, God only knows, she managed to fall and break a bone in her foot. That was an interesting fly-in. 
Volunteers of Old - People like Jim Hartlage, Errol Hand, Steve Kratt, and Charlie Laird used to put out an exceptional effort in the early days to help out. They put in great efforts and made a huge difference before their lives went in other directions.
Media Coverage – Media groups from around the world covered our event.  For all the profit in the top end of aviation, it is the grass roots level keeping it alive. Thanks to everyone in aviation media who understands.
Sonerai Guy - Some guy from Madison who had recently learned to fly, in a tricycle aircraft, decided he needed a race plane and bought a Sonerai. The next thing he decided he needed to do was to bring it to the fly-in. Coming down final, without slowing down, it appeared he went under the horizontal and over the wing of a Lake Amphibian, went hauling ass by the video camera I had set up to record, and as the outcome of his landing attempt grew more questionable people in front of the camera could be seen to watch him go by, straighten up, the step forward to look downfield, then run further to watch the accident, then to sigh in relief and shake their heads.   After touching ground a few feet from the end of the runway, at over 100 mph, he located a brain cell, shoved in power, and yanked back, barely clearing the trees off the south end. He didn't make another attempt. I still have that video.

Bowman Eagles and the Louisville EAA Chapter - The members of these groups are here due to their undying support of the field and our events.  Thanks to all of you. 
BEES! – We had some trees that were rotting where we now have fly-in central and one of them had fallen down.  I asked Glenn and Little Donnie Weber if they could cut it up and move it.   The next thing you know they came running.  When the chainsaw started, Donnie screamed, “BEEEES” and they both had split as they came out.  Yet, despite saying “BEEES” they said they were yellow jackets or wasps or something.  Therefore, I fell back on tradition, grabbed some gas and a lighter, and went after them.   First I doused them with fuel.  Then I lit a paper towel, and as I swung my arm and released it I saw they had actually been bees.  I felt horrible.  But the story of Glenn and Donnie running around like their heads were on fire still made me laugh.
The Atomic Bomb Bon-Fire – Several years ago we had a huge pile of tree limbs, old lumber, and odd stuff to burn.  Leading up to the fly-in, if there was a piece of wood to be disposed of, we put it on a pile near the river so we could have a bon-fire at the event.   When the day came I poured old oil, bad kerosene, and even some Illudium Q45 on it so that it would light off that night.  Well, when we went to light it, nothing.  The wood was too wet.  So, while the rest of us enjoyed a small fire up at the airport, our friend Mike Korff, and one of the RV Campers, continued to pour everything they could find that was flammable onto the pile.  An hour or two had gone by and I went to the house for something.  Standing there, pouring a drink, I saw a brief flash, my retinas fried, I felt the heat, then the house shook with a massive KA-BOOOOM!!!  Running to the window, what was left of my eyesight made out what appeared to be the after effects of a small thermonuclear weapon’s blast. Apparently, when you reach a fuel to wood mixture of 50/50, it doesn’t matter how wet the wood.  It will burn; burn like the light of a thousand suns.
And there has to be at least this many more.  What stands out in your mind?




4 comments:

Ken Bittner said...

"The memories of a man when he is old are the deeds of a man when he is young"!
You (and Ginger) toiled a lot but in the process, you made this memories.
Thanks.

Rich Davidson said...

Ken, your comment triggered another memory and the Hall of Fame has been updated.

Ken Jordan said...

I remember my first landing at Lee Bottom meeting Fritz Hageman and his trusty dog Casper. Oh yes and the famous Georgia Pickup!

Ken Jordan said...

So much more than this. Thanks Rich and Ginger and all those who volunteered through the years.
I flew to the first Lee Bottom Flyin and won the flour bombing contest in my 7AC Champ.
Me and Champ have returned to most all flyins since early 1990s. This has been my sun n fun and Oshkosh event rolled into one.