Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I'm one of 6744

The Eastern Air Lines Pilot Memorial hangs on a wall in the North Terminal of the Atlanta Hartsfield - Jackson International Airport.  Inscribed on the two plaques are the names of the 6744 pilots that flew for Eastern Air Lines prior to March 3, 1989.  My name is inscribed on the first plaque, along with brother-in-law JD's, and The EG's, just to name a few. 

Part of the inscription on the small plaque in the middle reads:  "These plaques list the names of those departed who contributed so much to the Hartsfield International Airport through their participation as pilots with Eastern Air Lines."

Wait a minute, I'm still alive!

In years past, the memorial only listed the names of deceased pilots.  When a pilot died, his or her name was added to the plaque.  I often wondered if the names of the pilots from my era would ever make the wall.  After all it's been almost twenty-three years since the IAM Strike, and the memories of Eastern Airlines are fading fast.  I guess recently the Keepers of the Memorial decided it would be a good idea to just list all the pilots that had flown for Eastern, prior to the strike, and call it a day.  I'm OK with that. 

In Fate is the Hunter, Ernest K. Gann wrote that "Eastern Airlines pilots are singularly determined and clever.  They are not given to timidity. . ."   That was in the 1930's.  Based on my experience fifty years later, not that much had changed.  Sadly; we were not clever enough to prevent Frank Lorenzo's crew from taking things apart.  That is something I'm not OK with.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Jellystone Chockwerks

Greetings Brethren!

As most of you know, the chocks we use down at Jellystone Air Park are in need of a little TLC.  Yesterday, Brother Baker (along with his crew of worker elves) rectified that little problem.

Brother Baker and the belt sander.  He does like grinding stuff. . .

Joe was worried that Emma might get paint on her jeans.  As it turns out, he was the one that should have been paying attention to where the paint landed.

Young Colin Baker.  As you can see it runs in the family. . .

The drying rack.

After the first top coat.  Can you guess which set of chocks go with which airplane? 

That was it for the day---the worker elves were getting hungry!  We still have the final top coat and trim to go.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cooler than Cool

So what's cooler than a Great Lakes Biplane sitting in a hangar on a December afternoon?  How about flying a Hatz Biplane. . .

Clear skis, calm winds, and sixty degrees on the 13th of December---it just seemed like the right thing to do.

Brother Barbeau and I each bagged a landing. . .

Not too bad, all things considered. . .

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gold Medal Day

What I love the most about the "Information Age" is the effect it has had on airline reserve duty.  In the old days, if you were a commuter, more often than not, you were tied to the crash pad telephone.  That was a miserable existence.  Life got better with pagers---but you still had to find a telephone when the box started vibrating.  When cell phones became portable (smaller than a loaf of bread, for example) the reserve pilot was finally mobile.  Life was better, but there was still that feeling of isolation when you were on call.  Laptop computers and smart phones solved that problem.  Now life doesn't pass you by while you are sitting reserve!


Back in October, I was in New York, sitting a twelve hour short-call. The email chatter amongst the Brethren had rolled around to flour bombing.  Eddie Price started the thread when he wrote that he was entertaining the idea of a flour bombing contest down at Pond Branch Airfield.  He was wondering  about contest rules, target placement, etc.  He even included a few You Tube video links for good measure.  I was following along on my BlackBerry.  I had visions of five pound flour sacks crashing through the roof of the Pond Branch hangar!  I suggested he might want to check with his bride before he started chucking stuff out of his airplane. . .

Brother Baker was all over it!  He chimed in with a thesis worth of flour bombing research.  I'm still laughing at the amount of information he came up with.  He even addressed my thoughts on five pound flour sacks.  He wrote that the research suggested it was not the preferred method of delivery---citing one observation where "the five pound flour sack hitting the pool was particularly spectacular!"  The EG chimed in from the Left Coast.  He said he'd never dropped anything from an airplane, and advised us to "try not to hit anything!" 

Then Brother Hogan joined the discussion:  "We did the bomb drop out of Grumman Tigers back in college. Tried timing when the target went under the wing---highly dependant on seat position. The only thing that came close that day was one guy's glasses, when they flew off his face in the slipstream---but they were disqualified as they bounced, ricocheted would be a better word, off the horizontal stabilizer. They heard them hit the tail from the ground. Landed about 20' from the bulls eye.  The best part was when he looked in the rear seat to see if they went there; I shrugged nope! (Couldn't even yell "Nope" with the canopy open---too dang loud!)" 

Everybody knows where this is heading, right?

Six weeks later, Brothers Baker and Price have decided that December 3, 2011, should be the date of the First Annual PBA Flour Bomb Drop Championship & Cookout.

The journey:

Our good friend, Ben Zimmer has a new (to him) Cessna 150, and Brother Baker had promised to fly with him Saturday morning.  Ben keeps the airplane down at Lancaster, South Carolina.  To save a little time we decided to meet there after Ben's lesson.  Joe decided he wanted to fly the Hatz down to Lancaster, and was on his departure roll as I was driving in to Jellystone Air Park.  Young Emma Baker wanted to attend the Flour Bomb Drop, but no way was she riding in the Hatz when it was thirty-six degrees outside!  She decided she would ride down to Lancaster in the Luscombe with me.  Smart girl! 

Joe and Ben were in the pattern when we arrived, so Emma and I enjoyed the warmth of the terminal building until they were finished.  A short time later the Jellystone Squadron was winging it's way towards Pond Branch International---with yours truly in command of the Hatz. 

The flight down was spectacular!  Joe and Emma led the way in Four Three Bravo.  The fifty-eight nautical mile flight (chart measurements---no stinking GPS for the Jellystoners) took exactly one hour, block to block.  That's including a go around at PBA.  Who says airline guys can't fly without a FMS?  It was chilly; but not as bad as I thought it would be.  It could be I was just enjoying myself so much the cold temperature didn't bother me.  The snowmobile hood under the flying helmet had something to do with that, I'm sure.  Also, it helped that I was wearing thick socks!  According to the Guest Register, Hatz CB-1, N558, is the 16th different airplane to land at Pond Branch Airfield.

After exchanging greetings (and enjoying ice cold root beers) we learned it was just a three plane event.  Eddie said that Don Schmotzer was feeling under the weather, and could not attend.  That was disappointing.  Don is a great guy, and has a beautiful 1946 Taylorcraft BC-12D.  He and Eddie are both outstanding photographers, so with Don's absence, our total photo output was cut in half.  While we're on the subject; Emma's camera died shortly after our arrival, and mine was back in Rock Hill, "resting" on the seat of my truck.  (My trusty BlackBerry is only marginal at best.)

The set up:

Since Brother Baker conducted the research, he brought the bomb ingredients---twenty pounds of flour (we only used ten) cheap paper lunch bags, and zip ties. 

Joe and I quickly set about loading the ammo.  He poured the flour in the lunch bags, and I secured the zip ties.  Everyone was laughing!  Eddie, Joe, and I, at the thought of the mess that was about to happen (at any moment), and Emma, at the three old guys laughing like fools! 

 After it was all said and done, we had a dozen "Almost-One-Pounders." 

 Adjusting the bomb bay door on the Luscombe.

The Rules:

1.  Be safe!

2.  Each crew would have 4 runs.

3.  Bombing from tree top level.

4.  Have fun!

The Mission:

We decided to leave the Hatz out of the competition.  Paper bags full of flower and open cockpit biplanes just seemed like a bad idea. 

I went first, with Emma as Bombardier, in Four Three Bravo.  As per the rules, we bombed at tree top level---conservative, I know, but appropriate for a "borrowed" airplane.  All bombs left the airplane intact!  Two hit short of the target, and two hit long.  Our best was about thirty-five feet short.  I had a blast!


Tree top level. . .

Empty shell casings!

After lunch it was Eddie's turn.  As Pilot-Bombardier, he stored his ammo in a cardboard box on the First Officer's seat.  Airborne for sixteen minutes, with three short and one long, his best was five feet closer than Emma's and mine.  As you can see, when you own the place you can skip rule number thee! 

Finally it was the Zen Master's turn, with Emma (again) as bombardier.  He bombed from an intermediate level, and on the second pass they hit the bulls eye!  I guess Emma was just warming up earlier.  I mean, seriously!

The winning crew!

After the show:

The whole day was a blast!  Brother Baker made the comment that it was the most fun he'd ever had in an airplane.  I still haven't stopped smiling! 

Eddie and Sandy, we can't thank you enough for all of your hospitality!   Because of rule number four, we will be back!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Basically the same engine used in the Westland Wapiti."

Monday afternoon, while Brother Baker and I were chewing the fat with the guys down at Lancaster, SC, the Airport Manager approached our little gathering, hoping to identify the airplane in the above photograph.  Neither of the Zimmers (father or son) had a clue.  I cast my vote as some sort of Italian job.  Brother Baker studied the photo for a while and proclaimed:  "I see a F - "something" on the underside of the wing, so it must be French.  Bob, take a picture of that and email it to me.  I know a guy!"  Well folks; when Brother Baker says:  "Jump!"  I say:  "How high?"   If he can teach an old airline guy how to fly a Luscombe, then he surely knows how to find the one guy that knows what we were looking at!

It took Brother Baker less than a day:

OK folks, the experts have spoken. This is a Bleriot SPAD S.56. And further, it is either a -4 a -5 or a -6. Prior to the -4 model, the cockpit was located behind the cabin. The -4s and later relocated the cockpit to between the cabin and the engine. This is a little of an oddball bird in that it has a license-built Bristol Jupiter engine. The British engines turn the other way, hence the prop's apparent backwardness. Gnome-Rhone built these engines, which is basically the same engine used in the Westland Wapiti.

Precious few images of the thing remain. Remember, though, that these were not days of high volume production! Even here in the US, only a handful of certain significant aircraft were built. About 12 Boeing 314s (the big Pan Am flying boat), and even fewer 307s, the first pressurized airliner. Ten of those were built.

About 20 of these, in all models, were built. One was even used to tow banners!

And there you have it!


And you folks think I make this stuff up!

So for all of us that don't have Brother Baker's resources, here is a shot of the Westland Wapiti:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Blast from the past. . .

Greetings Brethren!

Have you ever stumbled across something unexpected, that triggers old memories, while looking for something else?  This happened to me a few days ago.  (Isn't the Internet wonderful?)  I was looking through some old Antique Airplane Association Fly-In photos from 1961, that were posted on Jim Rice's webpage.  Jim runs a Globe/Temco Swift Discussion List on Yahoo.  I got there by way of the International Biplane Association's Facebook page.  Yeah, I was in pretty deep.  As I was scrolling through the photos, a red and yellow biplane caught my attention.  I was pretty sure I was looking at a photo of Richard Bach's 1929 Detroit-Parks P-2A, the star of the show in Biplane and Nothing by Chance.  The N-number was N499H.   I checked my copy of Biplane, and sure enough, that's what it was.

Since Brother Barbeau had just finished reading Nothing by Chance, I copied the picture and fired off an email.  I thought he might like to see a color shot of the airplane, since all the pictures in the book are in black and white.

After all of that, I continued scrolling through Jim's pictures.  Most of the shots were similar to the one I had sent to Gary, so I was moving pretty quickly.  Then another picture grabbed my attention.  This time it was a Baby Ace by the name of N8686E.  This airplane was very familiar!  Back in my high school days it was owned by my best friend's brother.

Here's the short version:  Back when I was in the seventh grade, I started talking airplanes with a guy on the school bus one afternoon.  His name was Joe Mullis, and in short order we were fast friends.  Joe's brother, Johnny, was a new hire in the Navy, and was in pilot training in Pensacola, Florida.  A few years later he was a S-2 Instructor in Corpus Christi, Texas, and the proud owner of a Corben Baby Ace.  When it was time for Johnny's next deployment, the Ace came to Charlotte.

Here's Johnny's recollection of that adventure:  "When I was transferred from Corpus Christi to Norfolk in March 1975, Dad came down to help me move what few bachelor belongings I owned. It was too far to fly the Ace, especially in March with the chance of crummy weather for the 1100 miles between Texas and North Carolina. So we got the idea to find a trailer and tow the Ace home behind my 1974 VW Super Beetle. We happened across a guy who built made-to-order motorcycle trailers and we got him to modify one to fit the Ace. So we took the wings off, put it on the trailer, stacked the wings underneath the fuselage and towed it home. We stopped for gas somewhere in Louisiana and Dad got a big laugh talking to some guy who was astounded to see an airplane being pulled by a Volkswagon. It was a good trip."

Eight Six Echo's new home was at Brockenbrough Airport, which was located on the north side of Charlotte, North Carolina, adjacent to the old Metrolina Fairgrounds.  (The airport closed in 1986, and the runway is now a driveway in the parking lot of the Metrolina Flea Market.)  There were never more than two or three airplanes at the field, so there was not much going on.  Joe and I would hang out there in the evenings when the place was deserted, and taxi the Baby Ace up and down the narrow runway.  By this time we had both soloed in Cessna 150s, so thoughts of "taking it around the patch" crossed our minds a time or two.  I laugh now just thinking about it!  I wonder if we could have even raised the tail on takeoff?

By the time Joe and I were in college, Johnny was out of the Navy and flying for Braniff International---and the wings were off of the Baby Ace and it was in storage under the carport behind their parent's house.  It was sold a short time later.  I remember Mr. Mullis telling me that when the guy that bought the Baby Ace picked it up, he cut the fabric on the wings with a razor knife.  He told Mr. Mullis he planned to recover the airplane, and didn't want the "temptation" after he got it home.

Back in the present, I copied the picture and fired off another email, this one to Johnny Mullis.  Here's his reply:  "Sure enough, that's it.  It must have been owned at the time by the guy I bought it from in Weatherford, Oklahoma, Russ King.  That is the paint scheme on it when I bought it.  Mine had a metal prop.  The guy who owns it now lives in Houston and works for the FAA, and the plane is painted entirely different. . .  Thanks Bob, Great pix!"  I sent another email asking Johnny if he had any pictures from the Brockenbrough days.  His reply:  "I don't think I do. . .  It sure was a fun plane.  Did you ever fly it?" 

Footnote:   Jim Wilson, the newsletter editor of the Carolinas - Virginia Antique Airplane Foundation (VAA, Chapter 3) sent a note:  "I noticed the photo of Bach's Park's P-2.  That airplane was owned by one of the founders of the Chapter, Evander Britt, from Lumberton, North Carolina."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

July 13, 1973

Elser Field, North Lima, Ohio

On one of our summer visits to North Lima, Dad took my brother Brian and I out to Elser Airport.  I remember feeling pretty excited about the trip.  This was where Dad and Uncle John learned to fly.  Galen Elser operated the airport, and it was built on his family's farm.  The Elser's were neighbors when Dad was young, and in 1936 Galen built a Pietenpol Sky Scout, with a Ford Model-A engine, in his basement!  Growing up we heard plenty of Galen stories. . .

After introductions and catching up on family stuff, Galen opened the hangar door to reveal a Pietenpol Sky Scout with a Model-A engine, just like the one he had built in 1936.  He told us he had bought this one (I think from a museum) a few years earlier.  Also sitting in the back of the hangar was the original Sky Scout fuselage from 1936!  Brian and I both got to sit in the cockpit and work the control stick and rudder bar.  I was in heaven!  Then he cranked it up!  I can still hear the Model-A engine going "Bap-pa-da, Bap-pa-da, Bap-pa-da. . ."  I wanted to ask him if he would take it around the pattern so we could see it fly, but I was pretty much in awe of the whole situation, and kept my mouth shut.  To this day I have never seen a Pietenpol fly.  Not even at Oshkosh.

I'll let Dad take it from here:

A Pietenpol was my first encounter with the field of Aviation. When I was 5 years of age (that's a lifetime ago) in 1936, we lived next door to a sixteen year old, named Galen Elser, that was building a Pietenpol with plans that were printed in "Popular Science" magazine. Since I had not started school yet, I spent a lot of time with him after he got home from school. Then next year, when I did start to school, I broke my elbow when I jumped off the back porch at home.  I could not do much with the other kids, so I spent more time next door. As time went on, the Pietenpol building progressed. Many times when assembling the finished parts, I would help hold things in place while he put them together.

To digress a little, when Galen was cutting out dikes for reinforcements for wing and rudder ribs, he used a coping saw to cut the teak wood. I saw no reason for me not being able to do the cutting with the coping saw.  Remember, this was expensive teak wood. Well, needless to say, he was not happy with my attempt to save him some work.

Getting back to assembly, after the wings were installed, he would need some balance so he could put the wheels on.  He would set me out on a wing so he could lift the wheel with one hand and put the wheel on with the other hand.   Occasionally he would need to take the fuselage to the weld shop after he had the gear and wheels on. He towed it behind his mothers 1936 Chevrolet. I know he must have worn out a set of tires towing it. I never did get to see the Pietenpol fly. We moved away before the it  was finished, but WWII was in the news now, so my interests were directed to the war planes of the day. I built many models. B-24's were my specialty.

After the War, Galen came back and built an Airfield on his Father's farm. He started Flight Instruction, and I was his 4th student. Since I was only 14, I had to fudge my age on my medical because you had to be 15 to get a medical, and 16 to solo. So, I soloed at 15.

After moving away from North Lima, the next time
I heard about Galen was a newspaper story about Galen having to jump out of his
airplane with a parachute.  Years later I had the opportunity to ask him about
the incident.  He said that he was flying another Pietenpol that he had bought,
and the Government authorities had started requiring pilots flying homebuilt aircraft to wear parachutes.  He said the extra weight
changed the horizontal axis putting more weight distribution further back
causing the angle of the parasol wing to change.  The extra stress caused the
wing to fold.  He said that was the only time he had to bail out of a plane.

The original Pietenpols were powered by a Model A Ford engine.  One of the
problems was carburetor heat.  The carb. was an updraft which made it difficult
to fashion a way to generate heat for the carb.  His fix was using a coffee
can that could be controlled by pulling a wire connection on the can.  Pulling it back cut the air flow around the carb., allowing it to hold heat.

Galen was an instructor in the USAAF in Texas for awhile, then went to the far
east flying C-47's supplying  island locations in support of the troops fighting
the Japs.

When he got out after the War, he bought 2 PT-19s in Texas and flew them home. I
believe he said that he paid $100 each for them.  Those planes were the first
that I had instruction in.  However, the cost of flying those Ranger 175
engines was too high, so he sold them and bought a brand new Taylorcraft
BC12D. That is what I soloed in.  He later picked up a Stinson Voyager with a 90
horse Franklin engine.  A great handling aircraft.  I was also was able to get some
free time.  Before Galen was able to get fuel at the field, he would have me fly
the planes to the next field about 10 miles away to fill the tanks.  But he
finally got tanks, which ended the freebees.

Years later, when Bob and Brian  were with us on a trip to Ohio, we visited
Galen.  He had a Pietenpol there that Bob got to set in.  Glory time for him. 
Galen died several years ago at the age of 84.  I had visited him a year
before.  He had sold the airfield to a friend.  They paved the runway, added
lights, and extended the runway.  It is now called Youngstown-Elser Airport. 
They house the Medi-vac Chopper there for the general area.  The owner is a
major annual, and re-builder of Beach 17 Staggerwing aircraft.

Since my flying out of Elser Airport was curtailed when I got out of the Air
Force, I had not had my hands on controls until Joe let me fly the Luscombe on the way to the Camden Fly-In last year.

Dad Cottom

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Keeping up with the EG

Greetings Brethren!

I was excited!  Dad said he had an old photo of me, taken when I was four years old, holding a model airplane.  I thought it might be similar to one our good friend the Exotic Guy, Captain Duncan Flett, had revealed to the Brethren a year or so back.  Some of you may remember the photo: 

The photo clearly shows that even as a youngster our friend was well on his way to becoming "The Exotic Guy."  Think about it folks; at an age when most kids can't even count to 727, our hero is holding one in the palm of his hand!  A snapshot of exotic things to come. . .

So here is my photo from all those years ago:

I'm told, this was taken on the steps of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.  That's mom on the left, and I'm the little guy sitting between family friends, Marie and Joe Dutter, who I have no recollection of.  Two things of note here:  First; unlike the EG, my airplane is not a 727.  Second; it appears my friend Joe Mullis was correct when he teased me that my mother always dressed me funny! 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mobile Updates

Windsock Upgrade at Pond Branch Airfield

The Operations Manager at Pond Branch Airfield sent us this update:

EB says:  "If I could just get off my butt and put it up!"

Saturday morning's update shows progress. . .

Finished by 11:00.  Eddie says he's going to try it out after lunch!

Brother Hogan's NC Outer Banks Vacation

Mark told his Bride they were going "Bird Watching."  We hope she's not too upset. . .

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Budget Day

Greetings Brethren!

Well, Monday was supposed to be "Budget Day" at Casa la Cottom.  We have new "budget software" (as opposed to my old paper spreadsheet) and I had promised Nancy I'd help input all the information to get things up and running.  About as exciting as watching paint dry, I've been putting it off for a couple of weeks now.  Just when I thought I was doomed to a morning of data input, Brother Baker called with a better offer!  He was planning on flying the Hatz over to Goose Creek, and asked if I wanted to grab the Luscombe and meet him there.  I gave Nancy my best sad puppy-eyed look, and of course she melted. . .

The next order of business was to give Dad a call to see if he wanted to ride along.  I called the house and Mom said he was at the dentist's office.  I called his cell phone (three times) to leave a message, but didn't get an answer. . .  Well folks, I guess it's a good idea to shut off your cell phone before you sit in the dentist's chair!  Sorry Pop!

On the drive down to Jellystone Air Park we got a call from Brother Baker, who was on the ground at Goose Creek.  He said the Feds were scheduled to give check rides there later, and thought it might be a good idea if we met someplace else.  Never one to get in the way of the FAA, I agreed wholeheartedly!  A short time later we were on our way to Wilgrove Air Park, with Dad at the controls---dancing with 43 Bravo's pesky ball! 

Brother Baker was parked in front of the office by the time we hit the pattern---hard to miss that Pontiac Red!  Hard to miss Wilgrove's skinny runway too!  The NC Airport Guide says it's 40 feet wide.  It doesn't look anywhere near that wide when viewed from the Luscombe.  I can only imagine how narrow it looks from the back seat of the Hatz!  Way to go Joe!

After forcing Joe and Dad to pose for MORE THAN ENOUGH photos, we were informed by one of the locals that I had parked "GASP" in "the Chreokee's" spot.  And I had done such nice job of parking too---perfectly positioned next to the Hatz.  Oh well; I guess there's a reason I'm the NSEG!  Of one thing I'm certain:  The forty or so minutes we were there, we had the coolest airplanes on the field!  That WAS exotic!