Monday, May 26, 2014

The Silo Memorial Classic

The barn; where refueling (food) happens.
Ginger and I had great fun attending the Silo Field Fly-In this weekend.  The sky was blue, the temperature was perfect, and there was very little wind.  Combine those conditions with a beautiful setting and great people and you have a memorable weekend.
Hence the name...
As usual, the planes were great but the people were even better.  I've often wondered how much of our passion for flying is a conditioned response.  Imagine a researcher, let's call him Pavlov.  In his hand he has a bell.  Every time a friend steps from plane, Pavlov rings the bell. Before long, whenever you see those planes, you associate good feelings with them.  I'm sure that plays a big part.
Yes I know the light isn't great but I was just documenting
with a camera phone, not working for Pulitzer.  If I were, I would
have photoshopped it like all the other photos in the world.
Freedom though is what most people associate with flying.  I've often commented that the easiest way to identify a person who truly values freedom is to ask them if they love flying.* Aviation represents freedom in so many ways that people even refer to it when an old warplane flies over; "the sound of freedom", they say.  My only quarrel with the statement is that it isn't used for every airplane.  Even the whispering wind rush of a sailplane conveys freedom from all that which is below.
Because of this, I think it was appropriate that Ginger and I spent a big part of the weekend flying. Soldiers don't fight to give us things, they fight, and often times die, to secure freedom. Those I know I respect greatly.  Those I have known who have died I miss.  And those soldiers who know me know that.  I'm pretty sure they also know that when I am out flying, although it may appear frivolous, it is not.  It merely means I am enjoying one of the greatest freedoms known to man and that I am hugely thankful for their part in that.
I thought this Jag was a restoration.  Turns out it was untouched since new!
People enjoying the sights and sounds of freedom.
I really like how fly-ins are becoming more and more aircraft diverse.  And look,
there's Myles working as Air Boss.
The Pattersons' Waco.  This flying machine is no hangar queen.
This boat was incredible.  I love these things.  Would love to take it for a ride.
Among all the old vehicles was this electrified vintage truck.
In terms of man hours, the Hoover Dam comes in first, with the polish
jobs on these birds coming in at a close second.
Remember when cars were simple and fun?
The view from perimeter road.

I look at the two photos above and I see hours spent mowing.
Old cars came and went all day, as did the planes.
One of the best values in aviation today and yet largely overlooked.  Stinson 10A
Last plane to leave.

* - Likewise, when you find someone who does not like aviation, who is trying to restrict it, wants it more regulated and safer, you have found someone who does not value freedom.   Remember that.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Delivering the EAA Sweepstakes Stearman

There it is in Oshkosh - No bugs and only 20.3 hours.
It’s finally home.  I can’t believe it.  Six months of clearing up details and waiting out weather have finally paid off.  Ralph Lloyd has his plane and I am happy to say I delivered it.  Here’s how it happened.
Late October 2013:
Ralph on phone to me, “Rich, I need my Stearman brought home and someone up at Oshkosh recommended you; are you up for it”?
Me, “Yeah sounds like fun”.
Ralph, “I still have some paperwork to complete.  Will you be able to get it out of there with the cold weather”?
Me, “Yeah, it shouldn’t be a problem; there’s always at least a few 40 degree days here and there to make a run for it”.
Middle of April 2014:
Me to Ralph, “It looks like the micro-ice-age that settled over North America is starting to fade.  The weather man says the glaciers may even retreat north of Key West within the next few weeks; be looking for me”.
And that’s the highly abbreviated version of how one month turned into six.  But like I said, we finally got the job done.
This year's sweepstakes plane.
When I was first contacted by Ralph, we planned a big trip that would take a round-a-bout path from Oshkosh to Kissimmee.  That’s a little unusual for me.  I typically ferry alone.  Owners always seem to want training along the way, they usually have a ton of questions, their agendas are different, and overall they introduce obstacles to getting the job done.  If we lived in the same town and were doing local flying that would be fine.  But these are not things you want when the primary goal is to move a slow vintage plane from one point to another.

At the start and end of it all.
Throw in weather windows, employment windows, jumpseat windows, and rapidly escalating expenses to the mix and very soon the savings and efficiency the owner was hoping to accomplish have vanished.  Even worse, when all is said and done they're disappointed.  How to tell them that is the difficult part.  But in Ralph’s case that wouldn't matter.  He just won a freaking Stearman!!  So our goal was to enjoy the trip.
Unfortunately, that grand idea soon fell by the wayside.  With winter delays adding up we both seemed to realize the best thing to do was to focus on getting it home.  That’s what I did.  And at the first solid block of days with good weather I jumped on a plane to Appleton, a short drive north of Wittman Field.
When I arrived at the EAA maintenance hangar, the folks there took good care of me.  In fact, they even picked me up in Appleton.  Yeah I suppose they were ready to free up some hangar space, but I must say that through the years, even when the reasons for my presence weren't the best, they've always been helpful.   And as with almost every other similar occasion (planes to or from the operation), John and I discussed the aircraft in question, then looked it over.  This one was sitting outside in the sun; a beautiful, super glossy, Jake powered Stearman.
That's how fast a Stearman goes with a bigger engine.  Odd, that's what stock owners claim.
Even from a distance it was obviously very nice and I could only wonder what it must be like to get that call, “You just won the Stearman”.  My next thought was a simple one, “Wow, sheeez purdeee”.  You almost hated to touch the thing it was so clean.  Thinking about that for a second, I took a quick photo and sent it to Ralph.  Here’s what I said, “I thought you’d like to see what it looked like without any bugs on it”. 
Back in the hangar I took a little time to see what the guys were working on, reminisce about planes I wish I’d never seen, and to experience the operation at work.  Next I made some notes from the manuals, Jessica Voruda made sure I was able to get a butter burger, some photos were taken, and then I made a run for it.
Home in the air.
For me, climbing into any Stearman is like going home.  I love them all.  Some of the more vintage models may look different, but each of them have that very special something.  Back in the day, if you wanted the General Motors of aviation, you just asked any pilot for their input.  But if you wanted something better, you went to those who really knew their stuff.  In turn, you often ended up with a Stearman.  Fly a few of them and you’ll understand.
When Boeing acquired the company prior to WWII they had no idea how lucky they were. Found among drawings that came with the deal were improvements to the Cloudboy*.  These would serve as the foundation for the best known basic trainer of WWII.  The Kaydet PT Stearman, built by Boeing, was born to be special, and so it is all these decades later.
Digging my heals in and pushing the power forward the vintage machine leapt from Wisconsin soil.  Just like a favorite saddle horse, the old girl knew where to go.  Banking left, the Stearman and I were headed for someplace special.
Found at Poplar Grove; a story all its own.
Any time I am in the area, the first or last stop is always Poplar Grove.  It has become such a tradition that I joke it's the northern hub of the Lee Bottom Vintage Airways system.  In the same way you have to go through Atlanta to get anywhere on Delta, when something is moved on LBVA, you can almost guarantee a layover there. There’s plenty to see, hugs and handshakes abound, and fun is just waiting to be had. Furthermore, when it comes time to leave you’re not ready.  You don’t get that at Hartsfield.
Next I would land in Lafayette Indiana for gas, answer a lot of questions, and regrettably turn down several ride requests from students.  I know I know, I could have save the world; changed a Purdubee's life; I chose to head for Lee Bottom instead; sure to burn in hell.  But just like everything else guaranteed to send you to purgatory, that leg was incredibly fun.
Twenty minutes out of Lee Bottom.
During the hour and a half it took me to fly home, the GPS marked the passing of sunset with the changing of bright vibrant colors to blacks and purples.  In a biplane that’s equivalent to passing through the sound barrier.  It’s a wall most will never pass, and some fear, but once on the other side the magic behind mundane is revealed.  It’s rarefied air for open cockpits and every minute offers something to be savored if you’re willing to taste it.  Reality and dreams seem to merge.  And then, the tires are skimming the grass and you’re home.  The tick of the engine plays your favorite song, the exhaust smells like vanilla, and the plane puts itself away.
Brother John looking back to see if I appear to know what I am doing.
With sunrise all was real again.  There was work to be done at Lee Bottom.  Half a day later though, I was on my way to Bowman (Field) to pick up my brother.  Like I said earlier, I rarely take anyone with me on ferry flights.  But, exceptions to the rule do exist.  For me there are two or three people I know who actually help things go more smoothly.  Ginger’s the best for this.  She’s a classic self-starter and gets things done but she never forgets to stop and look around.  Unfortunately, she couldn’t go so I called my brother.
John and I hadn't been on a long trip together since he taught me how to fly Stearmans as we brought Old Bess home from California.  So, if he was able to go along I thought it could be fun.  Admittedly, he would also be useful.  His level of experience meant he would know what to do, and when, and that in turn would make the flight less like work; the perfect combination.  
The Cumberland Plateau.
After Bowman we would make a stop in Tennessee and then shoot for Griffin Georgia.  I had wanted to stop at Peach State but that wasn’t going to work out.  And although Jim Ratliff had been kind enough to offer us hangar space (thanks Jim), I was sure Griffin would work out better for everyone.  Airport facilities, food, and lodging are critical to the vintage ferry experience.  So, on whim I climbed out on the wing, stood on one leg, held my phone high, while John flew of course, and sent a text to Clay Hammond.
The setting sunlight reflects off of downtown Atlanta.
There are some people in the world you can count on for any given job and I knew Clay would know what we needed without having to spell it out.  When he messaged back, also from a wing (of a Waco), standing on one leg, and holding his phone high, he confirmed it.   “Land at Griffin, I’ll pick you up, get you in a hangar, we’ll get some food, and I'll take you to a hotel, and then take you back in the morning”.   That’s very close to what was conveyed.  Of course Clay is also known for moving planes around the country so I guess that was cheating wasn't it?
And then, just like that, the GPS switched to night mode.   There it was again; that rarely experienced window of life.  The air gets cooler, the plane’s inner fire is revealed, and everything becomes so calm you’d swear your heartbeats are conveyed to the controls.  Then you are on the ground, it’s dark, and you’re standing on the nose pumping gas into the tank.  Where did those last twenty minutes go?
Post sunset in Georgia, just after climbing out.   The exposure hides the level of darkness.
The next morning the doors slid open and the sun poured in.  Above the Stearman New Standard parts and early Wright powerplants were revealed.  Clay thinks of everything.  It had been the perfect overnight, like a perfectly finished desert, except in this case it was topped with a vintage fuselage instead of a cherry.  The plane had been in good company.  And although we wanted to talk old airplanes, there was no time to waste so off we went.
Old and new.
The final day of flying benefited from an A.M. start.  Unlike the day before, we’d be able to take our time.  An extra stop was made, some great old photos were found on FBO walls, and new people were met.   We spotted legendary landmarks such as the Suwannee River, obscure airports that always seem to pop up in conversation, such as Little River, and by chance we ended up directly over a private strip where I said goodbye to an old life and old friends, one of which I would never see again.   Then, as the world’s most egocentric aircraft collection slipped under our left wing, we dialed up the frequency for Winter Havens and could hear Ralph with Tim Preston in the pattern.
On the ground at Winter Havens
Turning downwind, base, and final behind another PT was an interesting way to end the day. Entering the ramp and shutting down beside the Preston’s well known trainer, the twin blue and yellow Stearman looked like a scene lost in time.  Viewing it from a distance it was easy to imagine student aviators having landed at an outlying field to wait out weather.  A casual bystander might even imagine the pilots discussing what they had learned from the experience.  The reality was actually pretty close.  I had rediscovered how much I love these planes, and Ralph had learned it wasn’t a dream.  He really had won a Stearman.  It was right there in front of him.
There's he is in his new plane.  Congratulations Ralph!

* To date, the Cloudboy, among all the planes I've flown, is easily my favorite.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Forty Years of Positive Thinking

Well?  Are you?
Open any American aviation publication and you’ll find someone lamenting the decline of the sport.  Depressed pilots are so common they’ve become passé.  Like Democrats lamenting freedom and Republicans lamenting Satan, their conversations have become tiresome and tedious.  And yet with all those words none of them have solved a single problem.  There’s a reason for that.
Common solutions are actually fomented in aviation’s decline.   Short sighted, safety focused, and driven by fear, to the unwitting reader they sound great because they’re easy.  Unfortunately, the only benefit they serve is to buttress the author’s income or the bottom line of the company promoted in the adjacent full page ad.  Most importantly though, the simple fixes being lobbied capture the eyes of the hopeful, thus drawing them from the true enemy as it creeps ever closer.  They are verbal Trojan Horses containing the enemy within; us.
Communities hell bent on harassing local airports, bureaucracies that attack with the never ending ferocity of fire ants, and individuals who insist on new laws because they lost a loved one to an accident are not turned back with free rides, angle of attack indicators, and another article on inadvertent flight into IMC.  These aren’t solutions.  They are the stiff tags on underwear, senselessly irritating and unsupportive, and they represent the mind of our country in three dimensions.   Fortunately, they also serve as genetic markers for flawed beliefs.  Look for the common solution and you will find the problem.
Real solutions don’t kill the soul to save the body.  Pills don’t cure, they mask.  And any so called fix for aviation which does not involve society as a whole participating in a multi-generational effort is doomed to failure.  Are you starting to get the picture?
There’s no doubt flying is ill.  However, despite its short-comings, the sport itself isn’t to blame for the real and potentially fatal problems it faces; our culture is.  This is why nobody wants to offer real solutions.  Repairs for problems such as these lie beyond the common thresholds of comfort and effort.  Therefore, to ask a person to participate is akin to suggesting they walk naked through a briar patch.  And it certainly isn’t seen as fun or positive.
This perfectly represents a large percentage of our population.
Think about it.  Giving a free ride to a kid* is a lot more fun than constantly trying to move yourself and others back toward a society which values freedom.  For example, aviation is no stranger to lawsuits yet how many times do you or your friends utter the phrase, “There ought to be a law against (insert thing you don’t like here)”?  It’s a simple phrase that seems so harmless but somewhere somehow some part of society ingrained that notion within the rest. Thus, each time it’s brought into this world it reinforces the notion that laws are an almighty God.  Now start correcting people every time you hear it.  Before long you’re the local thought Nazi.  No fun hu?  You might even be called opinionated.  And if you're like most people, driven to seek out the approval of others, you’ll bend like a slinky and let it slide.

That’s what political correctness does.  It punishes citizens for daring to think, tapes the mouth of logic, and allows society to crumble; a self-destruction of unworkable ideas founded in the throes of emotion.  And in the end, when the opportunity exists for you to do your small part, you look the other way.
What about safety?  Our society’s ideas about safety have been so skewed by product marketing and political fear mongering they’ve become a burden.  I think back to something I witnessed in DC several years ago.  There on the waterfront walkway, an old lady grudgingly screamed at two guys who rode by her without head protection; “GET A HELMET”, she yelled.  But why would she do that?
What does their lack of helmets have to do with her?  It’s as if safety has been given a hyper-contagious viral-like status.  If someone sees another person doing something they deem dangerous, they seem to fear it may waft through invisible currents of air and infect them with “potential head trauma”.   It is completely off the charts out of control.  So bad is it, I recently witnessed a guy cuss out a kid for being injured on a moped without a helmet.  His concern was not the kid but what it did to those who had to deal with it. One term used to describe the kid was “selfish”.
Now ask yourself this.  How many times have you spoken those very words or heard someone accuse another person of being selfish for doing what they wanted to do?   If not, here’s a popular version of it, “If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for the others who care about you”.  If this is a favorite phrase of yours, I have some bad news.  There is no bigger act of selfishness than to expect others to alter what they do or want to do so that the chances of you ever having to be uncomfortable are diminished.  To call others selfish for such things is wildly hypocritical and illogical but it too has become so common I am certain to get hate mail for being so selfish.  Yeah sure, everyone should be considerate.  But remember, consideration is a two-way street.  So why then do these things keep happening?  Emotions.
When logic is replaced with emotions, it can only mean one of two things.  Someone, or society as a whole, either has it so good they’ve been removed from reality, or that same person or group has a mental stability problem.  And I guess, now that I’m thinking about it, they’re really one in the same aren’t they?

Have you noticed the politicians who melt down crying while discussing a heated issue or those who lash out with insane accusations such as islands flipping over and New York being inundated by the ocean if we don’t quit eating meat?  The human mind needs to work, to hunt, to gather; it needs to struggle to survive.  Without those challenges it goes mad.
Perhaps it’s easier to explain this idea with a more common example; dogs.  I love our Border Collies.  The breed is so smart and yet everyone knows that if they don’t have a job, they’ll go mad.  People are the same way.  Give them dominance (power), unlimited food supplies, no fear of being without a roof over their heads, and no responsibility and the next thing you know they’ll be shredding your couch and crapping in your bed.  A little hardship is good for the soul and yet even our so called poor have cars, TVs, and phones.  We have it so good, and so little to do of any real meaning, we’ve gone mad.
There’s a well known phrase in aviation, a little gem of hangar flying knowledge passed down through the years that says, “If you move something and something bad happens, put it back”.  I think we as a country could put that advice to good use.  Unfortunately, to do so involves discussing the most discomforting things; politics, religion, parenting, money, and individual responsibility.
Current generations, minus those under 30, were made to believe our country was so great it could be left on autopilot and would continue to be amazing.  Unfortunately, that isn't true.  Just like any airplane, it requires constant maintenance to keep it in tip top shape.   And quite frankly, we haven’t been doing that.
Fortunately, it’s never too late to start rebuilding.  Make it a point to remove those indoctrinations that are holding us back, kindly correct those who perpetuate false notions which fly in the face of freedom and logic, live a moral and principled life, ask questions instead of repeating sentences, promote smaller government, encourage positive financial behavior, educate your kids away from school, never teach a child the world revolves around them, embrace risk, and think long term.  Do those things, teach them to your kids, and then practice each and every one for a minimum of 20 years and the tide will have just then begun to turn.   A true solution will take at least that long but if you really want aviation to survive, along with all those other things you value, that’s what it’s going to take.  Don't do them and nothing you treasure will survive another thirty.
One of my favorite proverbs is, “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.” It’s ancient Greek.  Sadly though, this is something our country has lost nearly all capability to understand.  The only proposed solution we ever get is a quick fix. Unfortunately, nothing that could be thought of and completed in the next five years could ever rebuild a society so ill.  And like Moses and his people, we have screwed things up so bad we don't even deserve to see the Promised Land.  But, we do owe it to those who will inherit the future to take a long and purposeful journey toward it.  Do that, never give up, and perhaps, in forty years or so, others shall once again enjoy the fruits of the country we have so carelessly driven off the road.

* - Most people always take this the wrong way.  I don't think giving rides to kids is bad, I just know it isn't a solution to aviation's ills.   So, if your goal is to save aviation by giving free rides to as many kids as you can pile in your plane, your efforts are being wasted.  If you get great pleasure out of giving the rides, that's great.   Who doesn't like giving those rides.  But, if that is all you are doing, don't complain about the decline of aviation, golf, the automobile culture, boating, etc.   All of them are suffering from much larger problems and a boat ride around the harbor won't help.