Sunday, September 29, 2013

The 18th Hole

No, this isn't about a sport that only takes one ball.  This is about the hole that was left on the 18th.  The 18th what, you ask.  Today, the last Saturday of September,  would have been the 18th Annual Wood, Fabric, & Tailwheels Fly-In if we had held it. And judging by some of the conversations I've had over the past few days, not having it has left a hole in quite a few lives.  That's nice to be told and sad to hear.
The weather during the past few days and today would have been great for the event. As usual we've had fog in the mornings, the trees are starting to turn, and the temperature has everyone in a good mood.  Historically those traits combined with hundreds of planes and thousands of people to send the year's flying season off with a party of great friends and memories.
Mowing grass on the runway this evening I couldn't help but look across the expanse of green and imagine all those planes parked there, kids throwing a football, people lined up for food, and the gas fueled fire in the fire pit that always lit the fuse for epic stories.

Going to events and hosting them are two wildly different things.  And although being on the hosting end can be life draining, it also offers something incredible which only those who have hosted such events can truly understand.  When something you create ends up leaving a positive mark on that many people, it does the same for you and I suspect that is why so many continue to put themselves through the torture.
Looking forward, I sit here trying to imagine what the event will look like in the future. But at this moment all I can think about is our dogs.  Lying here calmly at my feet, this is the first last Saturday in September in 18 years that no pet has puked on the floor from all the food conned from fly-in attendees.  I bet you never thought about that.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Another Successful Event

The Buzz About Beez event(Sept. 14th), unique in the world of aviation, was a success.  Created by Ginger as a way to promote aviation and another of her interests, bees, the gathering left us with intriguing results.  It was a mix of two different types of flying machines and their keepers’ enthusiasm to keep them in the air.
If your interest lies only within the narrow confines of large aviation gatherings, this event probably wasn't for you.  However, the goal, just like every other event we have hosted, was to create a ‘reason for you to go flying’ and offer a place to hang out, enjoy the scenery, see old friends, meet new friends, and talk about planes.  This time though there was also an opportunity to introduce a new group of people to the world of aviation while learning about a small creature responsible for pollinating over one third of the food that we eat.  Knowing pilots will fly hundreds of miles in search of ‘the perfect place to eat’, we thought they just might have an interest.
When the day came the weather was fabulous and the cups of Indiana made honey ice cream topped with Geez Beez Honey were a hit.  If you like relaxed events with a good mix of people and planes, then this was right down your alley.
So far as I know, I am the only person that even attempted a count of aircraft on hand that day and it was a casual attempt at best.  What I came away with was that the number was over thirty.  As for people, judging by the registrations, there may have been around 400. 
Airport land compatibility issues have long been a struggle for all airports and Lee Bottom Flying Field has been on the forefront of looking for solutions.  We’ve been able to put the bug in the ears of others as some of the ‘big boys’ such as Seattle, St. Louis, and Indianapolis have recently shared their ideas of keeping bees on their airport land.   While working on some of these projects Ginger came up with the title of ‘Aero, Agri, Eco Tourism’.  We think it is something you’ll see and hear more about in the future as land is one thing most airports have plenty of.
Finally, the makeup of the people at The Buzz  was quite different; exactly what Ginger hoped to achieve.  An entirely new segment of people was on hand to enjoy the scenery while regular airport volunteers actually took time to walk around and enjoy the activities.  There were plenty of attendees but it wasn't frenzied, people took time to talk to each other, and very few even picked up their smart phones.   It was a good time and it opened up options.
If Lee Bottom and aviation are to survive, we're going to need some new blood and The Buzz definitely had it.  That is exciting to see.

I Remember Meigs

Meigs.  I remember Meigs.  It was a magical place.  To many it represented aviation.  Others hated it because it did.  For me it was a location.
Location, location, location.  That’s what they say in the real estate business.  It also rolls off the tongues of barnstormers.  Flying from airport to airport eats up too much time and money.  Find a spot full of tourist next to an airport that isn’t already served by some guy who’s trying to lose money and you’ve found a great spot.  That’s what Meigs was to me.
That writing under the front "hole" says "Air conditioned for your comfort".
As best as I can tell there were two reasons nobody had previously attempted to operate a biplane air tour business from the Chicago waterfront.  The winds there were notorious and the entire Navy Pier area (and all of Chicago) was a cesspool of corruption.  Fortunately the Stearman is one of the best crosswind aircraft ever built and the airport was such a subject of constant media attention the corruption kept a distance.  I would come away with great memories.
The first Summer I hopped rides from Meigs, each day started with a ritual flight.  “Old Bess”, hangared at Gary, would take me across petroleum storage tanks, past an apocalyptic industrial plant, then out over the water of Lake Michigan.  From that point on the route could be what you wanted it to be.
Look right for a vast expanse of cool water dotted with pleasure boats; left for pollution, blight, and poverty.  As for me, up the middle was the concern.
Between the Indiana/Illinois state line and Meigs field, emergency landing areas sufficient to save both a pilot and an airframe exist but they are few.  Among them, one stands out.  It is land upon which another industrial plant once stood.  Stripped of everything but toxins and road beds, to most observers is serves no official purpose. Yet to some pilots, it is much more.
Sorry, this photo was water damaged.  "The Blues" are just coming into sight on
the right.  Below the cockpit are the "kill markings"; two farmers on tractors and a farmer holding a pitchfork.
Search out three consecutive asphalt turns possessing changing elevation and radii, mountains with back bowls full of untouched powder, and any vacant land 800’x 60’ or greater and introduce respectively, a person in a sports car, someone on skis, and a pilot upon wing and you’ll find out what makes them tick.  Trust me, Briggs Myers (ENTP) has nothing on this test.  If you've every flown the shoreline between Chicago and Gary, you know what I'm talking about.
The weather at Meigs was as unique as the airport.  Regularly the field would be socked in and stay that way for hours while people just a few miles south sun bathed on the beach.  Thankfully its perceived chaos was predictable and if you operated out of there enough you learned what to expect.  That knowledge is what I was relying on one particular morning as I lifted off from Gary.
Passing a rusty industrial bird’s nest of pipe and steel beams, Old Bess and I drifted just over the water flying northwest.  Ahead I could see the Meigs weather report was correct.  Between us and the field, it gradually faded from VFR to IMC a few miles from the runway.  Since that’s what I had expected, I pressed on being sure it would clear.  It didn’t.
Calling Meigs tower, the controllers weren’t optimistic but knowing the field they too predicted clearing weather.  I offered to circle, told them where I’d be, and turned right.  Fifteen minutes later conditions had worsened and I received a call.
“998, it doesn’t look good - you may want to head home and come back later”.  “Thanks for the update but it’s great out here so I’m going to hang out and see what happens”, I said.  “OK, we’ll let you know if anything changes”, they replied.  And with that I flew three or four more circles before I decided to make their job easier.
That is actually Lake Michigan not long after the Zebra Mussels had invaded and cleared it up.
“Meigs tower 998 - Go ahead 998 - Hey I’m just going to fly around out here and if it looks like it’s clearing I’ll call you - Roger 998, how much gas you have? - Enough”.  At that point I began to set everything for maximum endurance.
How do you set a Stearman up for max endurance?  Well, it depends on how you define it.  If you go with “a power setting and configuration that allows you to stay airborne for the longest amount of time”, it pretty much involves pulling the throttle back to the point you are cruising with the bottom of the wings parallel to the horizon and the engine leaned.  Of course you’re still burning gas.  That’s why on that day I went with an alternate definition.
Maximum Endurance is “a condition or configuration in which you are able to conserve gas for the maximum amount of time”.
Throttle to idle, mixture rich, carb heat on, and trim set, I rolled out wings level.  Pulling gently aft on the stick and progressively more as time ticked away, eventually it hit full aft with a thump.  Old Bess had stalled exactly as planned.  Continuing to hold it it back, I cleared the engine, switched off the mags and shut off the fuel.  I was on the ground.
You never really realize how much land a steel mill takes up until you stand where one once was.  Twenty years earlier the road where Old Bess sat ran through the middle of the mill with a tolerance which would never have allowed such a landing.  Remove everything above ground though and you have enough land to make a rather large airport with multiple runways.
Climbing back up on the wing I leaned in the cockpit, flipped the master, turned on the radio and called, “Hey Meigs, do I see it clearing up there? - Stearman 998, it’s still IMC up here, how you doing? - OK.  I’ll call you in a while - OK”.  And I shut it back down for further exploration.
The max endurance setting had been working perfectly for the larger part of an hour when I bent down to pick up a large rusty rivet.  It was then I was struck by a strange feeling; had anyone seen me land and if so what would be their reaction?   Turning to look west, I had my answer.  Lined up against the fence with fingers sticking through, were kids from the local area.  Someone had definitely seen me land and very quickly I decided my visit was over.
Looking for Ferris Bueller.
Flipping the master and radio on I made another call, “Meigs tower, Stearman 998 - Stearman 998, we decided you had gone home.  Are you still out there? - Yes sir, how’s the weather? - Well it’s getting better and should be VFR soon. How much gas does that thing hold"?  Pushing the mixture forward, rotating the fuel to on, pumping the primer, and setting the trim, I responded, “Enough -  Head this way and let us know when you're six miles out", he replied.  “Roger”.  And with that I pulled the harness lever over-center, pulled it tight, and hit start.
Lifting off with a cloud of dust following Old Bess into the air, I could see the kids waving and I wagged back.

After that, three days went by before I quit expecting someone to drop in asking questions.  Then just before I was set to leave Meigs for the season, a Young Eagles rally was held at the field.  When the event was almost over, one of the Tuskegee Airmen I knew walked over and asked if I had enough time to give a ride to two special kids.  According to him they were extremely excited to see the plane; something about seeing one just like it land at the...
I love this photo.  It offers a perspective of altitude, the height of the
buildings, and a sense being up there among them.  It also nicely juxtaposes
old and new.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The QED Has Flown!

Jim's vision brought to life.
That's all I know.  I just read an email that it flew this evening and am now anxiously waiting and looking for photos or video.  News of the first flight is exciting and I'm sure Jim's family, and the extended build family, are very thrilled and sentimental tonight.  Congratulations to everyone involved.
The original Gee Bee QED.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Vintage Engine Parts Desperately Needed

Our friends, the Pembertons of Spokane, are in need of your help.  Last year they finished the restoration of a beautiful Waco EQC-6 powered by a Wright 760-E2.  As usual it is a piece of vintage artwork.  Unfortunately, problems with the powerplant have kept it grounded.  This is why they need your help.
The Wright 760-E2 was a 350hp version of the 760 and is not the easiest powerplant to deal with when you need parts.  Being original to the EQC-6 though, it is something the family wishes to retain.  Therefore, they are reaching out to the vintage community in a search for spare engines and a particular part that recently failed.
Here is the part that has the Waco grounded at the moment.  It is a tower gear and if they can't find one they'll have to have it manufactured.  This is a shame because like so many other vintage aircraft engine parts, it almost surely exists in some hoarders stash but it isn't available to the people who need it.  If you know such a person, a museum that has one and claims to be about preserving aviation (Evergreen supposedly has an E2 on display), or maybe someone who doesn't realize a fellow "antiquer" needs this part please speak up or ask them to contact the Pembertons.  Until the part is found it is grounded.
Many of you reading this are likely assuming most people in the vintage aircraft community already know about the Pemberton's need for this part.  Yet, I have found that is often not the case.  Although there is a core group of people in the antique community who are closely connected, the rest of those who may have or may know of the location of such a part are often out of the loop and it is up to us to find them.  It could even be a museum or collector in another country that has this piece.  Whatever the case, we are asking you to pass this on to all your aviation friends and acquaintances far and wide in hopes of locating it.

Part Needed for Wright 760-E2:
Tower Gear
Part # 64834

Vintage Aircraft Owners Prepare

As we've recently noted, the FAA seems hell bent on over-using AD's to the point of including statistically normal occurrences.  One can only assume it is either another way for them to remove old planes from the air or to remove anything from the air of which they have no knowledge.  Whatever the case, it has become a serious problem for aircraft owners.  Now we have an accident that could affect many different vintage airplanes if the CAA (Canadian Aviation Authority) decides to go after it, the FAA follows suit, and our groups aren't prepared to fight back.
On September 11th, the Vintage Wings of Canada Stearman lost a propeller blade and subsequently its powerplant on take off.  Looking at the Vintage Wings website, it appears to have been a Hamilton Standard ground adjustable.  These are highly sought after due to the lack of an onerous AD like the one on the McCauley ground adjustable steel bladed prop.
The good news is that this happened on a PT model Stearman which is known for its legendary ability to protect pilots in the worst of accidents.  Both occupants survived and we've heard they are going to be ok.  
As for the consequences of this accident, please keep your eyes out for anything involving the FAA and these propellers.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Soldiers and Dogs

Yes, I realize this presentation isn't really aviation related but when I saw it I felt it was a "must post".  If you know a soldier, love a dog, know a dog, and or love a soldier, then you'll most likely enjoy this powerpoint presentation.  Watch it below.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Visitors From Far and Wide

L-R: Emil & Uli
I'm always amazed by the number of international visitors we receive here at Lee Bottom. Pilots from all over the world have driven, ridden, and flown into our corner of the world so many times we shouldn't be surprised by it.  Yet each time it happens we are and we've never been disappointed.
Maybe it's our common interest in aviation or perhaps a similar sense of adventure that attracts such enjoyable folks to our field?  Whatever the reason, we always hate to see them leave.  The two most recent were no different.
One extremely beautiful day about two weeks ago, the field was buzzing with activity.  People were coming and going all day and everyone was having a great time.  Some stopped for lunch, a few practiced landings, and several zipped by and waved.  Among all the aircraft that afternoon was a Searey Amphibian that taxied up loaded to exactly one pound under gross. Inside were two guys who looked to be having a great time.
Stepping out from the plane, the two gentlemen introduced themselves as Ulrich (Uli) Hasche and Emil Rollin.  Their primary homes were in Germany and Switzerland but for a few weeks in August their home was the Searey.  Together they were flying it around the eastern half of The United States and doing their best to have fun.  It was the second week of their journey when they stopped to see us.
As usual, among us we had at least one common acquaintance, they stayed longer than planned, and when they departed we hated to see them go.
Every day on an airport is an adventure.  Sometimes it's yours and other times it's theirs.  Either way, there is some pleasure to be had by all when someone is living their life to the fullest.

The Buzz About Bees

This coming Saturday, September 14th, we will be hosting 'The Buzz' at Lee Bottom.  The original event was organized by Ginger in 2012 and hosted at Clifty Falls State Park.  When it was over, it turned out to be the largest event the park's Nature Center had ever seen.  Thinking it was a one time deal, Ginger took great pride in its success and moved on.  Then people began to ask if there would be another Buzz while pilots started asking if we would hold another event at the airport.
Feeling well rested but a little lost with no events on the calendar, after fielding so many questions it was decided we would mix the two together and see what came out the other side.  Personally, I'm excited to see the results.
Aviators are a unique bunch as are bee keepers.  They each have their own language, clothes, and obsessions with things that fly.  Most of them love the outdoors, work tirelessly on upkeep, and in the end come away with little more than sweet memories.  They also both are struggling with the same issues.

Each group faces a graying population and younger generations that are disinterested while simultaneously being attacked from all directions.  Pilots face the parasitic drag of excess government and poisonous self-motivated bureaucrats while beekeepers face invasive parasites, pesticides, and crony capitalism.  Yes, the combination may seem a little odd at first but deep down the two groups are much more alike than expected.
If you're a pilot who is looking for an excuse to go flying, come check out the displays on bees, taste honey, and indulge yourself in honey ice cream.  You may very well come away with a new hobby.
If you're into beekeeping, and you're looking for something different to do, come by and check out the planes sitting on the grass.  You might find that your bees are having more fun flying around than you realized.
Whatever the case may be, the weather is supposed to be nice, the scenery will be great, and the atmosphere will be relaxed.  What more could you ask for?
To see the event details, click here.  Or, to read more about the event click here for a local newspaper article on the subject.

Smile Makers

L-R: Bair, Ace, & Sky
I am posting these photos for no other reason than how they make me feel.  Add Gilmore to the mix and every day we have something to laugh or smile about.  Such great dogs (and cat).  At this very moment, 1:10 AM, all of them are lying within three feet of my chair and will be there until I go to bed.  When I do they will take their usual spots at the edge or foot of the bed.  When all else is wrong having just one of them nearby feels like a hug that never ends.  If you have dogs, I'm sure you understand.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

50 and Done – Reno’s Last Race?

That’s the word on the street.  Behind the scenes that’s what those in the know are saying and yet on the surface everything is great.  Like everything else in this country, folks have chosen feels good over feels right.
This is the 50th Anniversary of the Reno Air Races and, although you may not have heard it, the notion this could be the last isn’t new.  In fact, for many years racers have occasionally discussed that they just wanted to make it to 50.  Although it was never much of a topic, it was definitely there and being quietly shuffled around.  Then the Galloping Ghost vaporized an area the size of a house.
To begin to understand all you don’t know about the impending downfall of Reno, it helps to understand that the crash of The Galloping Ghost was not a surprise to all.  After the fact there were many racers who, when behind closed doors, would tell you they thought Jimmy shouldn’t have been in that race and that everyone knew the plane had not been properly tested.
Unfortunately, Reno is one of the many places in aviation where those who attend latch onto participants, hoist them upon grand pedestals, and lay at their feet such titles as hero and legend. Ultimately though they are nothing more than pilots who had enough money in the account or draw to their name to be able to put together a ride or get a seat in one.
I’m not implying they are poor pilots or denying some may be outstanding pilots.  I’m merely stating that Reno is one of those places the average pilot in the stands believes it takes some kind of magic to do what they are seeing and in doing so place themselves below those out there on the course.  Yet, the main reason this is a problem is because even the racers fall prey to it.  Therefore, the Galloping Ghost went racing when it should not have.  Nobody said a thing. 
The accident toppled a card.
For a while, there was a debate as to whether or not there would be another race.  In addition to the insurance issue, there was the FAA and the RARA to deal with.  The feds and the RARA wanted to change the course to make it safer but in doing so built a bottle neck into the course that was dangerous.  The Reno Air Racing Association, (RARA) known to many racers as the mafia because of the absolute control they hold over the race, then attempted to strong arm the Unlimited Division (UD).  That’s when the UD put their foot down and said “NO”.

The RARA, being a local board of cronies, was never much for allowing pilot input into the races.  Therefore they made it clear it was their decision, grabbed the hand of the FAA, and for a while stood firm.  Eventually though the UD told those involved the bottle neck would be done away with or there would be no race.  The bottle neck was quietly removed.  This year it came back.
Early in 2013, as meetings were held to discuss the course, things heated up once again.  This time though, it became clear the FAA and the RARA were not going to budge.  That’s when the UD said it was too dangerous and backed out.
UH OH!  Now Reno was without the signature race.  What to do?  Don’t worry, politics and egos have a way of fixing things.
Let’s back up for a second though.  Did you get that?  The Unlimited Division, the most prominent group among the racers, believed the new course was dangerous enough to walk away after all those years.  But in an effort keep a smiling happy face on everything, it all happened very quietly (pay no attention to the man behind the curtain).  That’s when the RARA and some of the more egotistically driven air race pilots cut a deal to create the UWRC.
Someone realized they needed the cash cow and miraculously the UWRC appeared out of nowhere.  It is America after all; if you’re willing to give someone enough glory or money, there will always be a Tiger willing to go along.  In this case, it also means willing to fly a course many believe to be seriously flawed.
Have you heard that anywhere?  Did you not wonder why the Unlimited Division suddenly disappeared after all those years and how a brand new group, THE UWRC, appeared so rapidly?  Strange hu?
Now, take what you have just learned and go to this link.  There you can read the RARA press release about it and better understand some of the more vaguely worded sentences.

When you are done, ask yourself why aviation continues to allow this to happen.  Once again we have chose to ignore the man behind the curtain and instead go forward with what makes us feel good.   Things are never fixed in this manner.  Instead they are bled out.
Six months ago, there were plenty of racers willing to discuss this.  Today, they’ve gone silent.  My guess is that they hope to get “50” accomplished and then hope for the best.  With all my heart, for their sake and aviation’s, I hope there isn’t an accident related to the changes.
Of course if there is nobody will blame the glory seekers who stepped up to create the UWRC and cut the UD off at the knees.  Instead, everything else will be blamed and those who survive will be hoisted upon pedestals and called legends. 

Note:  All that I have discussed here comes from racers who were willing to talk to me about it earlier in the year.  Although highly condensed, I believe it to be the most accurate example of what went down with the UD, UWRC, FAA and RARA since the crash of the Galloping Ghost. Take from it what you want.  I have also been told by two people this will be Rare Bear’s last race.  Maybe it’s just rumor and maybe not.  Will 50 be it?  We're about to find out.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

It Flies, It Floats, It's Metal

It's my understanding the Hamilton Metalplane has made its first flight on floats. Although the photographer appears to have forgotten to take a photo of it in flight, I am told it flew.  Here are some photos for you to enjoy.  The location is Kenmore Air Harbour.  The floats are 6400's.
Thank you Mr. Wright for putting this plane back in the air instead of parking it in a museum.

Another Great Aviator and Builder Gone

Waking up from my own bed for a change, things were going well.  Then I opened my email.  Jim Moss had died (September 1st, 2013).
Jim’s aviation history is long and storied but most of today’s generations know him for his replicas, the Super Solution and Gee Bee QED.  What I remember most though is how he and Ginger hit it off at one airshow years ago.  Jim’s shadow was long and that’s where most people naturally fell.  Ginger though, with some good natured Indiana style ribbing, made him wonder who was standing in whose shadow and before long he’d put her in the Super Solution to check it out and get her picture taken.
The other thing I think about when I think of Jim is how he got stuff done.  When other folks would have been planning their deaths he was planning his next project.  There was always another item on his to-do list and no doubts or fears were going to stop him from accomplishing it.  It’s an admirable trait and because Jim had it we are left with some great memories we otherwise would not have had.
I hope there’s a big shop where he’s gone.  If not, they’re going to have to add on.  Rest in peace Jim.