Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Someone is Baiting Dreamers

That's me and one of the DC-3s I flew. The number below the cockpit is important. While I'm here I'll point out that this was the first freight operator I worked
for that laughably believed what we wore mattered to those who shipped packages. Some
things never change. 

Sliding off an oily wet wing onto Canadian soil was not my intent. Had it been my goal the ensuing flash of ignited fuel vapor would have signaled my arrival with the fanfare of fireworks. Doing whatever it took was always part of flying “the Three.” Celebrating it as glorious was one of the perks.
A decade ago, the fully story behind the paragraph above became a favorite of readers. Unfortunately, I didn’t have it backed up and when the service I was using went kaput it was lost to time (If any of you have a copy, I would love to have it). However, among the long lost details is one that stayed with me. The N# was N141JR.
If you were hauling cargo in the grand old Douglas at the turn of the millennium, count yourself among the last. The dot.com bust brought the on demand freight market to a crawl, 9/11 took its breath, and the government took the heart.
During the summer of 99, I logged 130 plus Douglas hours a month for three months straight. At the time, Rhoades was among a dozen or so companies still using the DC-3. Half of them were large operations. These had anywhere from two planes to more than a dozen. The other half, the small operators, had two or less. The number two is present in both because some were single aircraft businesses with another flying parts plane, while the others had two good aircraft and parts. There is a world of difference in the two.
By 2003, the DC-3 freight business was a thing of the past.
Some will point out there are still operators in Canada, Alaska, and other parts of the world. Others will think of “those guys down south who had one in the mid-2000s.” Yet, the reality for those who do not wish to debate minutia is that in 1999, in the middle of the night, airliners routinely used us as weather bird dogs, you routinely crossed paths with other DC-3 operators, and being the #8 plane in a line of jets flying approaches into Newark was quite common. By 2004, many of the “regional pilots” where I worked didn’t know what a DC-3 was.
I remember when I heard the last two Rhoades DC-3s sold. Word on the street was that they were going to Missouri to be roof top attractions for marketing purposes. The story was almost as ludicrous as the guy, or group of people, trying to kickstart(er) another old airplane back in the air by making it about kids or righting some wrong. I could never do that. All my ideas involve the unpolished truth and that never works on those sites. But, if I were to lose my mind and try, here’s how I would do it.
I would let folks know the only reason I was putting this DC-3 back in the air would be to take it to as many events as we could and have fun with it. We’d string lights from the tail to the wingtips, put out speakers for music, open some giant coolers, hand out bee… - six packs of soda, maybe hang a disco ball from the nose, stand up the big screen that would play really bad B-movies and run instant messages across the bottom, pass out T-rex suits, stick some Tiki torches in the ground, point a searchlight to the sky, fire up the Honda generator, and invite everyone to have fun with it. For the national anthem openers we’d tow the largest American flag on the airshow circuit and illuminate it with lights on the wing tips. Elsewhere, for the hell of it, we’d tow the world’s largest inflatable sex doll; a giant rubber chicken in Baptist country. Nothing more, nothing less.
As a bonus, on occasion we’d use the big screen to show videos I made while hauling freight in the plane, how we hung hammocks in the back (enroute), loaded it so full we had to get in the through the hamburger hatch, pulled up to go over boats on Lake Erie, did full performance take-offs and stalls for kicks and…      [Wait a minute - you in the back - what was your question?  Yes, I said while hauling freight in the plane. Yes, I meant this plane. No, not a DC-3 – THIS DC-3. Yeah, seriously.]           Ok folks. I guess I should clarify something. Start with this paragraph and count back three. The last three sentences of that paragraph, ending with “All my ideas involve the unpolished truth.” Are you there? Good.
Late last night, for thirty minutes, I was that guy with the ludicrous idea to put a “three” back in the air. Why was I thinking of how it could be done? An old friend, Darin Kerber sent me a photo of an ad in Trade-a-Plane. He and I used to fly together at Rhoades and he knew I would want to see what he found. That’s the photo below. As you can see, it brings all of these ramblings full circle.

You have no idea how bad I'd love to have this plane on
the field at Lee Bottom. But...

#Douglas #Rhoades #DC-3 #Pilotshortage #aviationrefuge #LeeBottom #N141JR

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Feudal Moon

Image - Wallpaper Studio 10

Apollo XI delivered man to the moon and cast opportunity aside - a massive leap forward erased with one small step. Soon thereafter America planted a flag. Why?

Today debate rages about a scene deleted. Pundits point fingers, signaling virtue with words. Should the flag be there or should it not? The question is silly. It also masks the true tragedy

Every generation believes its time is unique and each new chapter in history proves otherwise. Different actors and props do not change the play but merely the era to which it plays. Apollo XI is one such example. Mankind’s greatest accomplishment belies our greatest opportunity lost – an interplanetary existence.

The moment America claimed the moon for all of mankind it was over; our path forward dead. It was a progressive coup. The Moon belonged to government(s).

No property rights, no realization of gains, and no freedom offered; “the New World” replayed in vain. Daring to cross an ocean of darkness, throwing caution to the wind, man reached out to discover a new horizon then smothered it in failed ideology. As the original European settlers of North America found, communal law carries with it disaster.

Within the New World fortunes spent conveying brave individuals from possible to impossible, to supply and secure them, vanished in the fog of incidents uncertain; so did most of the people. Without incentives the colony went feral; the few remaining souls guaranteed to perish. Then a new leader arrived, Sir Thomas Dale.

Dale changed everything. Observing the situation, he identified a solution to correct the course of the colony – private property. Issuing three-acre plots to settlers set the wheels of private industry in motion. For the first time in the New World real opportunity existed. Production rates flourished, trade developed, and the population grew.

With the promise of possibility came those willing to risk it all. Some sought glory, others were after profit, and a percentage merely wanted a new start. Private property was key. It made the new land livable and spurred the societal base camps necessary for expansion.

The ensuing discovery and development of resources meant more of everything made the crossing. Initially though the real profit was in the journey. Technology improved to make it more so. Yet, one thing was missing; a reliable method for finding longitude at sea.

So important was the needed discovery, every major force on the planet offered a prize for the solution. Again, opportunity and profit won. The answer was a reliable clock; technology still critical today. From cellular communication to space travel, the ability to precisely mark time drives it all.

In 1969, another fortune delivered men from possible to impossible. Benefitting from accurate chronometers, the men of Apollo XI crossed an ocean of darkness, turned their eyes from risk, threw caution to the wind, and reached out to discover a new world. Then, by their orders, they smothered it in failed ideology.

Had our country’s leaders led with the knowledge of history and conviction of American greatness they would not have sent our men to the moon to win some back-room geopolitical game of chicken. Instead, upon touchdown, having never signed the Outer Space Treaty, our men would have claimed the Moon as sovereign American land, not to keep others away, but to entice everyone who believed in freedom to develop it for the future of mankind.

Lunar sections of latitude and longitude offered to any “homesteader” improving the land would’ve created opportunity and made profits possible, risks rewardable. Celestial covered wagons constructed for pioneers would have beaten a path to Earth’s pale companion. Looking back, we’d see the Moon Rush as a repeat of history. Some would even ponder it from a base on its surface or a ship enroute to Mars. Driven by opportunity and freedom, mankind would exist beyond this planet.

Unfortunately, the small minds of our government, perceived to be huge, set us back fifty years. Believing in new world orders and global law, not only did they deny opportunity they squashed it.

Believing only government(s) could handle such endeavors, only government(s) could accomplish such feats, leaders abandoned the hard New World for tasks within easy reach. That decision brought us here; seven years into a space program crippled by the feudal kings of bureaucracy.

Today, NASA relies on the Russians to deliver Americans to space. Soon, private American industry will assume that role. And although I find great pleasure in seeing business rescue government from itself, I am saddened by the thought of where we could be had our leaders embraced the New World lessons of property, opportunity, freedom and profit half a century ago.

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Final Sinful Sunday of 2018 is August 12

You heard it right folks. The final Sinful Sunday of 2018 is this Sunday, August 12th.  Hope to see you here. Thanks again to the RAF for hosting it.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Will Your Plane Die With You?

The photo above was taken at Silo Field, Lexington, Kentucky. Of note in the image is
a yellow Piper Cub (left), polished Spartan Executive (landing), convertible
Mustang (right side, green and behind tree), and an XKE Jaguar (foreground).
Below is something I posted on LinkedIn four years ago. It was forgotten to me until a friend recently referenced it. When a family member ended up being asked a very similar question from a homebuilder I decided I would place it here for you to read. Like it or not, there is a large segment of aviation rapidly approaching a turning point - a point where people do the tough things to help it survive or the easy things and let it go.

Will Your Plane Die With You?

What do you see when you look at this photo? Most eyes land on the obvious; the blue sky, Piper Cub, Mustang convertible, Spartan Executive, and beautiful E-type Jag. Yet, what lies hidden in this image is a valuable lesson.
The Cub tells us some things don’t lose their value as much as others, the Mustang reminds us that pure and simple are typically the best things in life, and the Spartan is a great example of how the prettiest things need constant polishing. But again, those things are obvious?
What isn’t so easy to see is the lesson contained within that beautiful red Jag. Bought new by a gentlemen while overseas in the service, only recently did it change hands. When I saw it I stood at stared at its beauty. Imagine buying that at the dealership and still having it. So what’s the lesson?
Well, look at it. It’s a dream on wheels. Would you want that car? If the owner offered it to you would you take it? I mean, if the guy who bought it originally were to call you up and say, “You know Fred, we’re like family and if you want the car you can have it”, would you say, “No”? Can you imagine anyone saying no to that? Well, here’s the thing, as it was told to me, that’s what his kids said. They didn’t want it; had no interest. But, up to that point he thought they would. That’s why he asked.
Are you starting to see the lesson?
That big plan of yours to give your vintage plane to one of your kids, well, it may be nothing but a fantasy. The fact they fly with you and have a pilot’s license is no different than kids who have a driver’s license and talk to you about your old car. Chances are really quite good that when the time comes they’ll not want it or to take care of it, and most likely would rather sell it. If it doesn’t make sense to them, it doesn’t matter how much it makes sense to you.
But there’s more to this than your kids. This demographic shift will play heavily on the values and the future disposition of our vintage fleet(note: four years later it already has). For those of us who want the planes to be preserved and flown, this is something we must face head on and be willing to discuss.
Do we want these planes to take on the role of rare cars that are trailered from one event to the next; only started for show? Is our number one priority to make a killing on the sale of them to a trophy room collector whose biggest thrill is overpaying at auction? Or, do we really believe the talk and are willing to walk the walk to keep them alive?
If the later is you, the time is fast approaching where you’ll need to find someone you trust with the plane; an individual who would love the plane and keep flying it; a person who may not be able to pay you the full fortune you once imagined. I realize that’s a tough idea for many people, especially those from the parenting generation of “give your kids everything”. But, if you love that plane and want it to go to a home where it will be taken care of and flown on a regular basis, your kids may not be getting that truckload of money they fantasize about. Are you OK with that? Good, then there's one additional thing we need to discuss.
What happens if you die without a thorough will? Do you trust your family to do the right thing with your plane once you've passed? If you don’t find it a home before you are gone it’s only going to cause problems for everyone. Even worse, your actions will have likely set the scene for disaster.
Allowing your family to believe a vintage plane is worth a fortune, when it is not, is irresponsible. Yet, either by the owner's desire to believe it himself, or to convince family the money spent on the plane wasn't a bad investment, this belief is what most owners leave behind. Therefore, if this is your situation (don't fool yourself, this is likely you), once you’re gone the wife and kids will be looking to sell it as soon as possible to anyone offering top dollar. Unfortunately though, after you pass, what they believe they know about plane will be largely incorrect. That in turn means they’ll be left believing everyone is out to take advantage of them because every offer will seem like a low-ball.
Next, brokers will show up and reinforce the notion of a high value in hopes of getting a big commission. The family will cling to these dreams, sign a contract, and hold out for that big payoff that never comes. Meanwhile they’ll be getting angrier and angrier as the low but realistic offers continue to trickle in. Then when they are at their wits’ end, they’ll do one of three things.
One, they’ll let it go to some dreamer friend of yours who’ll truck it home and there it will sit. Two, and as hard as it is to believe, they’ll chose another resolution; they’ll scrap it or let it rot. Or finally, they’ll give it to a museum. This they’ll do because they can justify it in their minds as something you would like and also because they can get a highly inflated appraisal to help them with potential tax issues. And yet, none of these are good options if you’d rather that plane go to someone who’ll treat it like family and keep it flying the way you did.
I know the subject of dying is a tough discussion. But, if you’re one of those people who have ever stated proudly, “I’m not the plane’s owner, but merely its caretaker”, then it’s time to think about who its next shepherd will be. Of course, there’s always the chance you merely latched onto this popular gratuitous statement as a way make yourself sound really deep and complex when asked about the airplane at fly-ins. If that’s you, people will remember your BS the same way people remember sports players who claim to do it all for their fans then take the highest salary they can find and move elsewhere. But, whichever of these people you are, and without passing judgment, I hope you’ll at least try to find a new owner that will keep the old bird flying. Leaving the decision up to your family, or looking only to get top dollar, will betray who you said you were and the airplane you claimed to love.
So there you have it; the upbeat subject of the day. Nobody likes thinking about death. But, if you really are its shepherd I encourage you to think it through. Others may look at it and see nothing more than an object, but let’s face it - most of us know at least one airplane that feels alive to us. The decisions you make will determine if it lives.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Stop to See the Shadows

The shadow created by clouds on the horizon at sunrise.

"Do you see that?" Outside of "Where the eph are we going", "Why is it doing that", and "Shouldn't we be higher", this is probably the most common question I have on the flight deck. Cruising along at three-four-zero, I'm amazed at the number of other pilots who fail to see what can only be seen "up there." I don't know why that is but I suspect it has to do with the never ending effort to remove everything that is beautiful or moral from all that is good. Never let that happen to you.

The Beast Visits Lee Bottom

Our good friend Mike Rutledge recently stopped by for the night in what could best be described as an aviation time capsule. Known to most as "the Beast," it is the last flying unrestored Stearman cropduster in its cropduster configuration. Get that?

Essentially a critical piece of aviation history, it is the Stearman cropduster of aviation lore. Drug around by a "1340," lifted by extended wings, and full of hopper tank, it displays the pinnacle of Stearman duster mods in a way that has to be seen to believed.

If you happen to run across it somewhere, stop and take it all in. I believe it is one of the most underrated pieces of aviation history flying today.

I always wanted one of these to be saved. Now, thanks to the Schiffer brothers, I can rest knowing one has. Flying it was pure bonus.  Thanks Mike. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

No Sinful Sunday in July

There will be NO SINFUL SUNDAY IN JULY of 2018. Please pass the word around. The August Sinful Sunday will be hosted by the RAF and will be August 12th.