Sunday, December 30, 2012

Everything is Incredible

The human spirit; an intangible quality assumed by many to exist in every Homo sapien. Unfortunately, with the same nature of trophies for everyone, those giving this gift do nothing but disguise the exceptionalism of others with their vain attempts to ordain themselves as special by association. Yet although wrong, it is understandable. Who among us would does not desire to be special?
Fortunately, nature keeps us in check. Despite our strongest dreams and greatest attempts to raise ourselves high, the truly special people in this world, those who define the human spirit, are often so unique, so wonderful, and so full of life, their desire and ability to transcend every obstacle is unstoppable. Driven with a power source that defies the tangible, these people shine from the darkest corners of existence to prove nothing is impossible; to show us that everything is incredible.
Below is the story of one such man. His desire to fly, and to live his life, is expressed with his hands as they build his imagination. Enjoy.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

How Aviation Was Seen in 1951

Ever so often somebody stumbles across another old military film and uploads it to YouTube.  Today a friend sent me a link to one such video.  If you want to see how our country viewed aviation in 1951, take a few minutes to watch the film below.
One other thing of interest about this video is the lead character, Roger Windsock.  I am betting you'll recognize him.  He certainly resembles many of the pilots I know.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Love It or Hate It, Forward It

Do you ever read NORDO News and think "How dare he say those things"?  Or maybe you read NORDO News and say to yourself, "I'm glad to know I'm not the only one thinking that."  How about this; "Why don't any publications cover these issues"? Have you ever asked yourself that?
Love it or hate it, if it gets you to ask questions,  makes you want to be a bigger part of the fight to keep aviation alive, or even if it just gets you to think something new, I hope you'll take a few seconds to pass this link along to your aviation friends. Whether they be in the USA or in any other country of the world, the language of aviation is the same. Pass it on.
Click the envelope icon below to email NORDO News to your friends.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

May Your Souls Be Free and Clear

To all of you who make up our wildly diverse, extended, aviation family, we wish a Merry Christmas.  From warbirds to ultralights, vintage to rotors, and jets to sailplanes, your interests have on thing in common, a passion for aviation.  The delivery systems may be different but we’re all chasing one thing; the freedom of flight.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote, “I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things”.
José Maria Velasco Ibarra said, “Pilots are a rare kind of human. They leave the ordinary surface of the word, to purify their soul in the sky, and they come down to earth, only after receiving the communion of the infinite”.
Clearly, aviators are born of souls too big for this world.  Thankfully many of them, you, are our friends.
Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Superb Editorial from AOPA's John Yodice

Inside the November 2012 edition of AOPA Pilot, John Yodice offers up one of the best editorials you may have never read.  If you missed it, and you are an AOPA member, it was in the issue with the Piper Cub logo on the cover.  Go look for it and learn something.
If you've read NORDO News even once, you know the aviation community's willingness to relinquish our aviation freedoms has me perpetually dismayed.  After reading John Yodice's editorial, I've decided he knows how I feel.  Yet, he is also obviously much more skilled at the training of sheep.  Since pilots typically believe what they read in AOPA to be the truth, his abilities are therefore are a bonus.  So, with phrases like "it has become too accepted that the right is given to us by the government" vs my line of "What the hell are you people thinking", Mr. Yodice is able to pull even the most timid into the light, and hopefully into education.
His simple explanation of rights conveyed in The Federal Aviation Act of 1958, the subtle nuances of its language, and how these things affect our freedoms are all items with which every pilot and enthusiast should be familiar.  By regulation we do have rights, and we should not let them slip silently below the glideslope.  Find his editorial; read it; and take to heart his closing paragraph.
Here's to you Mr. Yodice.  I believe you are missing your calling.  If you think it will help, I'll loan you a Border Collie.

That Great Alaskan Aviation Spirit

While researching 337s, I recently talked to several pilots and operators from Alaska.  I looked there because the state has always been that place where aviation still made sense.  The FAA worked with operators, field approvals actually happened, and everybody flew as much as possible.
Now though, after talking to these people, it seems that aviation in Alaska is also falling prey to the evils of today.  The FEDs are against everything and gas is astronomical.  Therefore, the flying lifestyle of legend is fading.  Knowing this, and having heard a pilot talk of not seeing a plane fly over for days, I was glad to come across the video below.
If nothing else, the spirit of the aviation still exists in Alaska.  Enjoy.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Did 2003 Foreshadow The Future of Flight?

Sitting here in my chair, just inside a large window, rain is falling outside.  Warming my feet is a dog attempting to warm himself with my feet.  Having been outside, he is now a little wet and has decided to share the gift of wet fur with me.  Oddly I smile and remember a day nine years past.
December 17th is hard to forget if you have any aviation friends on facebook.  Were you on hand in Kitty Hawk for the 100th anniversaryof powered flight, it’s something you remember randomly and continuously throughout every year.  Ginger and I were there.  It was a disaster.
Built up, hyped, documented through televised specials, and publicized to the point of hysteria,  fantasy overruled success.  Behind the scenes anyone attempting to shed light on the looming disaster was routinely brushed aside in the interest of feeling good.  “Being positive” was the day’s solution.  Then December 17th, 2003 rolled around and the disaster unfolded on live TV.
The celebration of 100 years of powered aviation had the airspace closed to unapproved aviation.  The President, along with other important dignitaries such as John Travolta, was on hand to give a speech under a logo presented by “Ford Motor Company”.  Chuck Yeager was lauded for flying the millionth Young Eagle while staff from “Flying”, the official publication partner of EAA’s ‘Countdown To Kitty Hawk’ Program, took notes.  Eclipse aircraft symbolized the promise of aviation’s future.  Are you starting to see a trend here?
Let’s review that day.  The same President presided over over some of the most onerous restrictions on aviation.   John Travolta, well, uh, never mind.  Ford Motor Company is still going strong.  Chuck Yeager has since sued his family and friends and lost, thus securing forever his legend as a total prick who is only interested in himself.  The millionth Young Eagle hasn’t made a dent in the pilot population.   And, if you didn’t hear about it, under the Hightower administration, Flying Magazine was screwed by EAA.  Of course, it’s not like anyone was still reading anything but Martha’s column.  As for Eclipse, one can’t help but snicker at the future of aviation bit.  It was a good effort and I applaud them for trying but when tied to this event as the future, I have to laugh.  This “celebration” was a disaster for everyone but the sponsors who were not aviation oriented.
Ford is doing well, the Discovery Channel is doing well, Microsoft, also a sponsor, is doing well.  Everyone else, not so much.  What does this mean?
It’s easy really.  Aviation has fallen prey to fantasy.  Like the average American, aviation seems to believe reality is bad news.  It certainly isn’t “positive”.  No, in today’s world it is much better to sell out to sponsors and revel in the glory of fantasy.   Our leaders hear what they want to hear and do what they wish would work instead of what would.  Then they expect us to be positive when things are a disaster.
Our groups commonly abandon effective programs to support grass roots aviation in the interest of safety, green energy, and rubbing elbows with celebrities.  When that isn't good enough, they make their own "legends" and put them into leadership positions.  If all else fails, they “work closely with” politicians and the FAA to negotiate away our aviation freedoms.  But why do these things continue to happen?  Because members who prefer fantasy eat it up.
Now, as I sit here with wet legs and a warm dog, I am reminded of that day in Kitty Hawk.  My legs were wet and wool coat smelled of damp fur.   Around us thousands of people celebrated the future of aviation with positivity and therefore the notion of weather as an excuse.  Today though, most things associated with that day can be documented to be either a failure or disaster, or something that had a hugely negative impact on aviation.  The pilot population is fading, aviation is on the ropes, and it is still looked down upon as negative to speak the truth.
Thinking back, this celebration, not Eclipse, may have been the real future of aviation.  If this makes you feel bad, don’t worry.  I’m positive that posting a photo of the Wright brother’s flight on facebook will make it all better.

Note:  Thanks to those of you who are doing more than your share to combat these problems.  You are in the minority, you do not have enough support, and yet you do not give up.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Travel Air Trifecta

A few years back our good friend Glenn Frith called with a problem.  Sitting in Seattle Washington was a beautiful Travel Air 4000 with his name on it.  His home was in Ft. Meyers.  That’s a problem alright and I had an idea how to fix it.  A few weeks later, along with some friends in a Pilatus chase plane, we would start the journey home.
Previously in NORDO News, I wrote about our time in Spokane.  That was our first stop.  This  is from the second.

Just arrived.
When we arrived in Kalispell with the Travel Air, the rest of the crew was waiting.  The day’s goal had been discussed and we were on a mission.  Mike Fizer and Mark Twombly, both from AOPA, were on hand and expecting to get an air to air photo shoot completed by sunset.  Mark was writing the story of our trip and Mike was to work his magic behind the camera.  There was just one problem, a photo ship.
When a photo shoot is over and the photos pop off the screen, I always lament one thing; if only people knew how much effort actually went into those frames.   It may seem easy but every photographer knows the nightmare.  It’s extremely difficult to gather into one patch of air a qualified photographer, a suitable airplane to shoot from, a pilot who can both fly and work the photo plane in a way that suits the photographer, and a pilot who can fly the subject plane the way the photographer needs to get the shots.  Although a good photographer can pull something from very little, a great shoot needs all these things to converge at one time.  If any aspect is unclear, or anyone involved feels unsure about the outcome, it’s not going to work. Unfortunately, on that day, the guy I had hoped would fly the photo ship wasn’t into it.  Thank God for Hank.
Hank and Ray, our hosts.
We had come to Kalispell for three reasons.  First of all, I love the place.  Secondly my friends, Hank Galpin and Ray Sanders, were there.  These two guys are true antiquers and we wanted to get them in on the article.  As a bonus, both of them own interesting aircraft.  One of which is Hank’s Travel Air 6000.  The 6000 was the third reason we were there.  He had said he would let me fly it if I ever made it back to Kalispell. 
Mark Twombly enjoying a ride in the 6000.
So here was our original idea; what could be better than stunning photos of a couple of Travel Airs over Flathead Lake?  That was my thinking at least.  Then our photo pilot didn’t seem up for it.  Thankfully, Hank jumped in and offered the use of his plane as the photo ship.  Although this meant the two Travel Airs shoot wouldn't happen, on the upside the photographers would be getting an amazing ride in an extremely rare machine.  Everyone was happy.
This photo was taken by Mike Fizer from the Travel Air 6000.
With the mission briefing complete, we were off.  An hour or so later we were done.  During the shoot we had flown the shoreline,crossed cold deep water, and flown along the mountains.  Once on the ground, everyone guessed which frame would be the best.  When I was asked my opinion, I suggested one of three; the one with the sun in my eyes, that one where I was “ten feet down-twenty feet back”, or possibly the “hold it right there” shot.  But, in reality I didn’t care.  It had been a good shoot and the day was over.  Tomorrow there would be more.
Glenn was kind enough to let me fly for the shoot.  Photo by Mike Fizer
The next morning, after escaping a sleep coma induced by the previous day’s flying, we repositioned the Travel Air to Ray Sanders’ place.  Situated in the middle of a wheat field just north of Flathead Lake, it was the perfect location to get some detail shots for the article.  It was also a wonderful place to relax and talk airplanes.
Jim Jarvis watching the excitement.
Put a few old planes in a field, along with a handful of pilots, and before long fun is going to happen.  To start, Hank offered a ride in the 6000 to everyone in the group.  It may not be cheap to fly these old crates around but what’s the point if you don’t?  That would be the theme of the day.  Recording the sight as it taxied past, all I could see were smiles.  The Travel Air was casting its spell.
When our friends returned from their flight, those who weren't antiquers when they left, were  when they landed.  In fact, as their feet touched soil once again, I’m sure they were imagining themselves in their very own 6000.   Then Hank stepped out with a question for me, “Do you still want to fly it”?
Inside I was thinking, “Does a bear crap in the woods”.  What came out was much less dramatic; “Sure”.  To anyone listening it may have sounded unappreciative but Hank knew better.  A few minutes later we were in the plane and I was in the left seat.

Whatever it was it was important.
While flipping switches, latching belts, and making sure everything else was just right, Hank briefed me on the bird’s characteristics.  Somewhere in there, the words “I’ve never let anyone fly it before” were spoken.  The fact he was double checking with himself to make sure this wasn’t a mistake made me want to put him at ease.  Yet, I was sure I remembered other people flying the plane so I decided I had heard him wrong and moved on. 
Breaking ground in the old girl was something I’ll never forget.  At another time in my life, just seeing one would have been a treat.  There’s only a handful left and even fewer that actually fly.  Yet somehow there I was flying a pristine example. Like those before me, it didn’t take long to imagine one of my own.
Much easier to fly than expected, but nowhere near sprightly, the 6000 is a combination of truck and Bentley.  Easily one of the era’s finer forms of transportation, later they would find their niche as bush planes.  Due to this, several survived to be restored back to their elegant glory.
Flying once again over Flathead Lake, only this time in a larger airframe, I did my best to make friends with the plane.  Slow flight and turns revealed characteristics similar to other aircraft of the era.  Make the inputs for a turn; then wait.  It’s not really like that but compared to what most people fly, if they were to get in this plane and cruise around, that’s exactly how they would perceive it.  Furthermore, once a bank starts, its angle definitely wants to increase.  Nearly all old aircraft have some tendency to do this.  Roll into it pretty good with the 6000 though and you’ll find yourself doing an equal amount of work to keep it from banking further.  But hey, that’s typical of these old birds so you deal with it.

Some pilots I know who've flown a 6000 really talk them down as a barn with wings.  Flying a New Standard would fix that notion.  Like most vintage planes with less than stellar pilot reports, this Travel Air's reputation is a victim of modern misconceptions. Those who fail to understand these planes were once new, also forget each model was originally built for a purpose and sold to someone who needed what it offered.  The 6000 could transport five passengers in relative comfort for significantly less money than other aircraft of the day.  Viewed with that perspective, it was and still is an amazing machine.
Click on the photo to see more information and detail.
Rolling wings level headed back towards the farm, I took the opportunity to smell the roses. Flying a plane like this without taking it all in would be criminal.  Therefore I relaxed and looked around.  To my left was a crank down window where my elbow was perched, my right hand worked the throttle, and my left hand held the wheel.  Through the glass raw scenery passed,  while the engine conjured up spirits which  would show me the world through their eyes.  Simpler, more free, and demanding of skill, their time was one of man and machine; peril and excitement.  They lived in the sky and on that day so did we.
There I am starting my first Travel Air 6000 flare.
Lined up on final, Hank made sure to remind me he had no brakes and therefore I was on my own.  What he was really saying though was, “Don’t screw this up”.  Fortunately the Travel Air seems to have a groove which it finds on its own and tracks to the runway.  There it has the ability to make an average pilot look good as it alights ever so nicely and rolls straight to a stop. Turning to taxi back, my smile gave me away. I too was imagining my very own 6000 (Still saving my pennies Hank).
Who cares about a little oil on the windshield?
Leaning over to look down from the window as we swung into our spot, the last thing I remember was the view; wing struts going there, landing gear here, and large diameter wheels holding us up.  Some aircraft are old but they don’t feel it.  The 6000 is not one of those.  Windshield fairings, the control column, wicker seats, cylinders in your face, and the drag inducing devices mounted outside remind you continuously of her age. Therefore, it was truly a special feeling to have been at the controls.
Stepping from the plane and wanting to remember the moment, I turned to see what I had just flown. It was then that Ray asked what I thought of it.  “I WANT ONE” was most likely my answer.  Whatever it was though, he didn't need to hear it to understand the flight had made my day.  Then, without pause, he asked if I would like to fly his.  “Could I?” is what I think I said but I honestly do not know.  My mind was spinning with the excitement of a fourteen year old boy who had just walked in on Mila Kunis and Emma Stone making out.
Standing with Ray at his hangar I still could not believe my luck.  As the doors were pulled open, the hangar drained of darkness until another plane in the lineage was revealed.  Having started the day in a Travel Air 4000, gone on to a 6000, and then found myself in front of this wonderful little blue and white 16E, it was a Travel Air dream come true.
Ray is saying to me "Pay attention".  Well actually that's what I think it looks like he is saying.
Once in the sun I couldn’t wait to fly her but there were things left to do.  Get the oil from the cylinders and grease everything; check out the cockpit and ask how it all works.  Anything odd?  How about the trim?  Ok anything else?  Yes; yes I see; ok; great; let’s see how she flies.  Am I strapped in?  Yes I’m ready.  Brakes on.  She’s hot!  And with a swing of the prop she was  running.
There’s something I love about five cylinder radials that most aviators do not; when they are running it’s extremely obvious.  Why?  With cubic inches spread between so few combustion chambers, every time a cylinder lights off, you get a kick in the pants.  Pilots therefore complain how they shake.  I suppose they also complain about heavy breathing.  Not me though; that’s the heart of the old girl and the more fire inside the better.
Pushing the power up caught me off guard.  I didn't expect it to climb so well.  Leveling off high over the far end of the runway a steep turn seemed necessary.  The roll rate was also surprising.  Stalls were non-events and throttle application was like a slap to a horse’s rump.

Wait, let me clear up something.   If you have flown really high performance aircraft, you may not be that impressed by this machine.  But, compared to other aircraft of the day this plane is a hoot.  In fact, with both planes sitting empty, the 16E and a 450 Stearman have the same power to weight ratio. 
This was on the panel of the 16E.
Do more powerful planes exist?  Yes.  Is there anything from that era that is more responsive?  Possibly.  But is there any other plane from 1932 that is such a sleeper?  I don’t think so.  
Despite its manageable size (28’10” wingspan), sprightly performance, and rarity, the 16 series is widely overlooked in vintage aviation circles.  At certain times of the year, there are places where you could swing a dead cat and hit an RNF Waco (another great airplane) yet they often bring a 50% premium over the much rarer Travel Air. Come to think of it, the last time a 16E sold, only a few years back, it had sat for a year, maybe two, when it finally went for around $50,000.  That was an award winner.  Nobody ever said the vintage market made sense.
On short final in the 16E.   
Taxiing in and to a stop by the two other Travel Airs, it was hard to believe I had just flown the range of the breed; small, medium, and large.  A great day had peaked and was winding down.  Lined up on the field, both friends and flying machines were captured on "film" for posterity.  The scenery was amazing, smiles abounded, and memories had clearly been made.  Then Hank thanked me for flying his plane.
I had been wrong.  As it turned out, others may have been in the right seat at the controls but he had never let anyone fly it from taxi-out to shutdown or from the left seat.  When I heard him say earlier that he’d never let anyone fly it, he wasn’t kidding.  Having deposited a ton of sweat equity and money in this old girl, it was his baby.  But he also wanted to share the plane with others.  Inside though he was hesitant to allow others to fly it.  It's a common struggle for today's antique owners and that’s why he thanked me.  “You may have just opened the door to others flying it”, he said.
The Trifecta
The good old days of antique aviation are over.  The truly vintage birds are no longer flown the way Cubs and Champs are today.  Most instead have found homes in what could best be described as micro-collections.  There they are pampered, flown only to the same handful of events each year, and rarely touched by others.  Fortunately, they are also saved.  The question though is why?
I think that’s what Hank was getting at when he expressed the desire to let others fly the plane.  Why are we saving them if nobody is enjoying them?  And that is why I enjoy the company of people like Hank and Ray.  Somewhere deep down, they believe there’s more to these machines than fabric and tube and they do their best to live it.
Another thanks goes out to the Ft. Meyers crew for including me in this journey.  I didn't forget you; you'll get your own story later.  Thanks again to Hank whose generosity turned me into a kid, and Ray who opened the door to something I did not expect.  You have shepherded the souls of these old crates into a new generation and given me the gift of memories impossible to repay.

L to R: Glenn Frith, Sorin Lupu, Jim Jarvis, Ray Sanders, Hank Galpin, Rich Davidson
Front: The great dog that knew how to pose for a photo.
Purists may argue that not all three of these aircraft are Travel Airs.  Yes, each side of this argument has its merits yet both involve minutia.   Therefore, if you would like to learn more about the different Travel Air and Curtiss Wright Travel Air aircraft, minus tedious debate, check out this link.

Flying vintage planes is serious business.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Is The FAA Secretly Funding Aircraft Museums?

There are two types of groups; those that are effective and those that are feel good.  To me, AOPA talks a good game but a little too often falls into the category of feel good.
Lobby groups serve a purpose, the purpose which is to serve the desires of their members.  The effectiveness of these groups therefore is, or should be, measured by how many membership goals the lobby is able to accomplish.  Agreed?  If so, and with that in mind, ask yourself what you believe members pay AOPA to do?
Did you ask yourself?  NO?  Hey, I was serious.  Take a minute, close your eyes, and ask yourself what AOPA’s job is, and the next sentence will be waiting for you when you are done.   OK, now that you have a few things in mind, ask yourself what you believe other AOPA members think AOPA is supposed to do for them.  Got some things in mind?  Great.
What did you come up with?  By any chance did grounding airplanes, removing valuable parts from the market, or celebrating people who do either of those make it on your list?  No?  Really?  Are you sure?
What about when you asked yourself about other AOPA members?  Did grounding planes, removing valuable parts from the market, or promoting the notion of doing so make your list?  No?  OK, I just wanted to make sure.
Like you, when I ask myself those questions, I get none of those answers.  So why then does AOPA have an article celebrating the grounding, via donation to the Smithsonian, of a vintage Fleet?  It boggles the mind why aviation continues to celebrate such things.
Locally we have one of the worst papers in the country; the Courier Journal.  A few years back that paper ran a story with a headline of “Plane Finally Grounded”.  It was the story of some older guy who labored to build this plane, then flew it for years, and finally gave it to some museum that was to never fly it again.  I remember thinking, while holding the paper, at least they’re honest about how they feel; finally, it’s grounded.   As if to say “it’s about time” or “thank God it’s no longer in the air”, the headline revealed the true beliefs of the author and paper.  It was also a story I never expected to see in AOPA, or for that matter, or any other aviation magazine.  I guess I was wrong.
Here’s the link to the AOPA online article.  Feel free to read it.  Sadly, I’m sure many people will think this is a wonderful story but I want you to read it anyway.  Then we can discuss why I believe this type of story should not only be banned from AOPA but it should create scorn from anyone who loves aviation.
Did you read it?  Wasn’t it a wonderful heartfelt story about some older guy and his plane?  Not really.  In fact, the article is so full of illogical statements and head scratching notions that I wonder how you could write such an article and not be compelled to ask the people making them how any of it is supposed to make sense.  But worse, AOPA feels this story somehow promotes aviation which is what most of you, I am guessing, thought AOPA is supposed to be doing for members.
Let’s look it over.  The lead subject of the article is Mr. Breiner who is portrayed as a guy who overcame obstacles and let nothing stand in his way to earn his pilot’s certificate.  Mr. Breiner obviously went to great lengths to tell his story and how the aircraft, a vintage Fleet biplane, connected him to an exciting time in aviation.  He also stated that it was getting harder to maintain and fly these planes.  Then, after all that, what does he do with it?  Well, he gives it to the Smithsonian where the difficult to find engine parts will no longer be available to others who are trying to keep their planes in the air.  Furthermore, hanging there among all the other corpses, the plane will no longer be available for young folks to learn to fly or work on, and one less opportunity for another person to overcome obstacles and connect to “an exciting time in aviation” will exist.  Does that make sense?  Consider this; if the owner previous to Mr. Breiner had given the plane to the Smithsonian, would Mr. Breiner have this story to tell???
I don’t know how people like Mr. Breiner end up convincing themselves these decisions make sense.  Whatever it is it’s powerful.  How else can you explain a person doing something that goes against everything they claim to be and believe?  There are some good suspects though.  An article in AOPA is one of them.
There's no doubt, on the surface the story almost sounds great.  The printed word is powerful.  Yet, as I have to point again, another plane is grounded, parts are no longer available, and the plane is off limits to people.  With the ongoing willingness of aviation groups and magazines to promote such notions, it's no wonder we have folks like Mr. Breiner lamenting “There’s fewer of us around that understand the old airplanes” and believing the parking of a vintage aircraft is the solution.
Do I believe it is Mr. Breiner’s right to give the plane away?  Yes, of course I do.  But do I think it is wrong?  Yes, of course I do.  Were Mr. Breiner to say “I just want to create a memorial to myself” this terrible decision would be a little easier to swallow.  But even then, if you want to build a memorial to yourself, does it not make sense to ensure the rare parts needed to keep others in the air would be held back and sold or given to those who still have it in them to keep the plane in the air?  Wasn’t that what Mr. Breiner worked so hard to do all those years ago?  Now that he’s had his fun though, I guess it's ok.  I mean, after all, he is permanently grounding it in the interest of history right?
According to his daughter Joyce, “It’ll be able to be exposed to the most people possible.   That’s what I hope is part of my dad’s legacy.”  Ah there it is, a legacy; it always seems to sneak in there somewhere.  Sadly, Mr. Breiner’s daughter seems to have the words exposed and inspired confused, although she is correct about which will happen.
In the Smithsonian many people are visually “exposed” to aircraft bones that are off limits.  But, out in the sun and alive in the hands of a pilot, people are “inspired”.  When and if I ever find myself with a great vintage plane in the hangar and physically too old to fly I hope my family understands the difference.  If not, they are going to be sorely disappointed.
I wonder, do you suppose Mr. Breiner or his daughter ever considered the idea of selling the airplane?  What about parting it out?  How many other Fleets or vintage aircraft could have been put into the air by grounding his plane in a way other than sequestration?  I guess we’ll never know.
Instead of selling or auctioning off the engine to people who may need some of those difficult to find parts, this Fleet and the airworthy powerplant parts will be useless to everyone and seen by no one.  While some young guy sits at his computer every night looking for a wing panel or hard to find fittings, good ones will be hanging out of reach in the Smithsonian.  And yet, it is implied this was done to preserve history.
Don’t get me wrong.  The Breiners are not evil people.  They are merely the most recent, in a long line of aviation families, to have fallen prey to failed logic.  Unfortunately, with each successive “historical donation” the bar is lowered.  In this case, serving at Roosevelt Field supposedly makes their Fleet ,worth grounding forever.
For people who would love nothing more than to ground every old plane, this donation may have provided the excuse.  The Breiners may not be the first but their donation does seems to qualify anything as historical.  I mean, come on; serving at Roosevelt Field makes it something that should be forever removed from the hands of mankind?  Really?
Would you kill an endangered animal and mount its head on the wall in the name of preservation?
Anyone with a knowledge of vintage aircraft knows there isn’t a single plane from that era without something interesting in its history.  Whether it be that “Roscoe Turner smoked a cigarette and had his picture made by this plane, that airplane was landed at an airport used by airmail pilots, or this airframe was once flown by Louis Thadden”, apparently anything now counts.  And so, let’s just park them all.   After all, wouldn’t it be a tragic loss for our country if the first plane to land at Smith Field, on Christmas day, of 1934, were to remain in the hands of someone who would do with it the most unthinkable thing; fly?  Oh the humanity.  Ironically though, that philosophical standing actually takes away from the planes that truly are historical.  If every plane is famous, none of them are.  Sorry to burst your bubble.
Oh, about that headline, “Is the FAA Secretly Funding Aircraft Museums?”   When these museums that claim to love aviation have become so terribly good at permanently grounding airworthy aircraft and removing the critical parts from the market, you do have to wonder about it don't you?  Sure, AOPA Pilot and the other aviation publications may run these misguided, quasi "ground a vintage" articles, yet without shame the FAA openly fantasizes about such things.

Click here and read the caption.  Sad.


A note to AOPA:  Other magazines can print these half-wit articles and get by with it because they are not a lobby group.  You on the other hand are and it appears some of you do not  understand the power of your publication.  Every word, every article, and every photo must always be perfectly measured to ensure a pro-aviation message is constantly on display.      Members expect this.  So, with that in mind, I hope you'll accept this small suggestion.  Permanently grounding airplanes does not promote aviation.  If your editor and authors don't understand that, find new ones.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Real Bull Stearman

M-2 Bull Stearman at the factory.

Whether you’re 19 years old and far away at college or 44 and far away for job training, care packages always deliver a boost to morale.  Popular choices for contents include cookies or brownies, well intended clothing items, and the latest gossip from home.  Of course, that’s a big generalization.
Despite what you may have heard at airshows, a 450 Stearman (pictured here) is not a  Bull Stearman.
Ginger says that what you include in a care package highly depends on to whom and for what reason you are sending it.  I think she’s correct.  Why?  When I was away at training she sent one to me.  Inside were the perfect items; a mini-kite shaped like a Stearman, a new ATM card, the most sincere card my animals have ever given me, and a book titled “Bull Stearman”.  Clearly, she knows how to assemble a proper care package.
The kite was hung from a lamp, the ATM card relied upon, the card from the animals placed on the desk, and the book put by the bed.  Now that I am back home, the kite is boxed up, the ATM card is in the wallet, the card from the pets is in a drawer, and at the head of the bed is the book.  I guess you could say square tail Stearman are the stuff of dreams.
Although my wonderful wife mailed the book to me in Miami, let me tell you how and why I initially received it.
The M-2 Stearman was and is the "Bull Stearman".
Not too long after arriving at my new job, I received an email from Alan Lopez.  He was letting me know that a book about his latest project was on its way to me.  There you have it.  Alan sent me the book.  That’s how I received it.  Pretty simple hu?  The reason though is slightly more nuanced and a bit of a guess.
Several years ago while on an overnight in Philly, I rented a car and drove to see an extremely rare bird which was being rebuilt; an M-2 Stearman.  The Posey Brothers’ operation was not too far away and I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to visit.  The beast, nicknamed the Bull Stearman by early mechanics, was almost finished and Mike Posey had offered to give me a look.
Before I arrived, I knew enough about the plane to know it was large.  The act of standing upright under the engine revealed its true size.  Massive is a great descriptor for this flying machine.  As if the canopy of a favorite tree, she looms overhead.  Like a bull in the room, you feel its presence.
Having talked to Alan before the visit, I had to send him a note afterwards.  Filled with excitement, I’m sure it included more questions, a note of thanks for taking it on, and a request to see it fly.  More messages would follow.  And that is why I think he sent the book.  The following paragraph is how I am guessing it went down.
Alan was sitting at his desk, signing a few copies of the book for friends, when at some point he thought, “I better send one to that crazy guy who keeps sending me emails about it”.  The image I have in my mind is of him throwing it over the fence and saying “Here you go; now beat it kid; scram”.  Of course I am kidding; slightly.
Alan's M-2 Stearman
“Bull Stearman, The Story of the Stearman M-2 Speedmail” is a great book for enthusiasts.  Inside is the story of Alan’s passion for Stearman aircraft, some history on Varney Air Lines for which this plane flew, the life story of the six other M-2s, and a detailed history of the survivor.  Also included is the story of the restoration; a restoration very few people would attempt.
Despite the obvious things to like about this book, I believe it offers up a great example for something I would like to see more of from the vintage community; books about individual restorations.
The notion of creating and publishing, even in small numbers, books about restorations of specific aircraft is a wonderful idea.  A chance to share the history of vintage aircraft, fully credit everyone involved with bringing them back to life, and to reveal the fascinating timelines which often accompany specific airframes should not be passed.  Revisiting the restoration also gives them greater relevance and historical value.  This is what Alan Lopez has done with his book “Bull Stearman, The Story of the Stearman M-2 Speedmail”.
If you would like to purchase a copy of the Bull Stearman book you can do so by clicking here ( Alan also wrote a book about flying his A-75 Stearman to every US State and Canadian Province in North America.  Titled “Biplane Odyssey”, it can be purchased by clicking here (  Both books can also be published through Amazon.  Finally, if you would like to see some additional restoration photos, visit
Thanks again to Alan for returning the M-2 to the air.  It was a daring feat and you succeeded.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Congratulations Dave

During a recent warm day, one of our regular visitors dropped by.  We've mentioned Dave Kaufman before but something he said on that day made Ginger and me want to send him our best wishes.

I was leaning on the wing strut of Dave's Husky and discussing with him the meaning of life when he told me something amazing.  Oh wait, let me back up.  Dave flew B-29's.  Yeah, that's right; Dave flew B-29's and he's still out visiting with us whenever he can.  So, back to where I was.
Dave and I were having this conversation.  I was leaning on the wing strut and he was sitting in "The Lady in Red" (his airplane) when he looked up and began to count to himself.  When he was done "cypherin", he turned to me and said, "Would you believe that in three months my wife and I will have been married 70 years"?  "Dave, that is AMAZING", was my response and it is still how I feel.
Here's to you and your wife Dave.  Please tell her congratulations and tell her thanks from all of us for allowing you to come out and play.  It's always great to see you.