Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Another Blast From The Past

What do you do when the weather is nice and the airplane you normally fly on your day off is out of annual?  What if, to your wife's dismay, you don't feel like hanging the Christmas lights on the tree in the front yard?  You could go down to the hangar and start taking the airplane apart.  But it's three weeks before Christmas, and both mechanics that normally work on the airplane have said they need to check with their wives before committing to do the inspection---so it's probably better to just leave everything buttoned up.  Experience has shown that even in organized hangars, unattached airplane parts can vanish into thin air.  Why did I think a box of old tail wheel parts would be a good place to store that carb heat muff?  That brings us back to the Christmas lights. . .

That was last week's dilemma.

My choice was to surf the Internet---starting with the Lockheed Constellation page on Facebook.  Did you know the Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung is restoring a Lockheed L-1649A Super Starliner back to flying condition?  In Auburn, Maine, of all places. (And you thought Facebook was only good for political rants, and pictures of yesterday's chili dog.)  The flight deck is getting a face lift as well; with flat panel displays---apparently the Honeywell avionics suite designed for the Lockheed C-130 Hercules fits nicely in the Super Star's panel.  Don't you know that FAA Form 337 is going to be a doozie!  Leave it to the Germans to put a glass cockpit in a sixty year old airliner.  I know "purists" will think this is blasphemy, and if we were talking about a run of the mill DC-3, I would probably agree, but the Starliner was the last of the exotic piston engine airliners---this is cool!

Image:  Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftumg

Deutsche Lufthansa:  "We don't need no stinkn' steam gauge cockpit!"

If you haven't clicked on the link in the second paragraph (and I encourage you to do so) you probably want to know who, or what, is Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung.  Simply put, it is a Foundation that was set up by Lufthansa in 1986 to operate a restored 1936 Junkers Ju-52/3m to mark the occasion of the airline's 60th Anniversary.  It's Mission Statement reads:  Our aim is to keep alive for posterity the knowledge and technology of historic aviation.  The Foundation currently operates a 1940 Messerschmitt Me 108 B-1 Taifun, a 1959 Dornier Do 27 B-3, and the JU-52 that was purchased from Author/Aviator, Martin Caidin, in 1984.

October 1974:

"This is like deja vu all over again."
- Yogi Berra

The note on the back of this old photograph reads:  Cannon Aircraft - Junkers Tri-Motor built in 1935. (Off by a year.)  Cannon bought it in Missouri, had plans for it.  Big Money!  In January 1975 a strong wind picked it up and slammed it into a tree (some damage to the tailplane.)  They got rid of it.

Cannon Aircraft was one of four FBO's located at Douglas Municipal Airport, in Charlotte, North Carolina in the mid 1970's.  That's me next to the left main gear tire.  I was in the 10th grade.  My best friend, and fellow student pilot, Joe Mullis, took the photo.  The camera used was a cheep little Agfa Instamatic.  As I recall, it was good for about 20 photos.  Image quality was hit or miss---the shutter mechanism was stiff, so it was hard to hold the camera still.  You never knew what you would get until after the film was developed.  These were a miss, obviously.  I remember the cockpit shots were completely out of focus.

Joe and I "logged" a bunch time in the old Ju-52, mostly at night.  After the FBO had closed for the evening we would sneak across the ramp, hop inside, and make airplane noise for hours---and dream!  The rumor was it had originally come from somewhere down in South America.  It sat there on the ramp for quite a while, and then in January 1975 a strong wind blew it into a tree on the edge of the ramp.  The result was a big dent in the side of the fuselage just aft of the left entry door.  It sat there for a few more months. Then one day when I arrived for a flying lesson, it was gone.  A line boy told me it was repaired with corrugated metal "liberated" from one of the hangar walls.  "Some writer-pilot bought it."

That writer-pilot was Martin Caidin, and he would eventually write about his adventures restoring and flying the Ju-52 in a book titled The Saga Of Iron Annie, published in 1979.

Eight Years Later:  

I'm a new hire co-pilot at Thurston Aviation, Inc., in Charlotte, North Carolina.  At one of the bi-weekly Jeppesen revision bull sessions---in those days there was no such thing as an aircraft librarian, the job fell to the junior pilots---one of the guys mentioned that he had seen a Junkers Ju-52 at an airshow in Titusville, Florida when he was in college.  I don't know what triggered the subject; possibly an approach plate revision for the aforementioned airport.  I offered the only Ju-52 I knew of, was Martin Caidin's Iron Annie; and then went on to explain how Joe Mullis and I had climbed all over that airplane when we were in high school.  Our dispatcher, having heard the conversation from the outer office, stuck his head in the room and said:  "You know the Boss flew that airplane. He's mentioned in the book."  "Really?"  "Yes; you should ask him about it sometime."

The Boss was Frank Thompson, the Director of Operations at Thurston Aviation.  Frank had been the Chief Pilot at Cannon Aircraft when I was in high school.  Now our dispatcher was known for telling a tale, or two---especially when he thought he could sucker one of the new guys.  Since I had not read the book, I had no way of knowing---and not wanting to be the butt of a joke, never asked.  I worked for Frank for just under two years.  During that time he never mentioned flying the Ju-52.  I always assumed the dispatcher was pulling my leg---until last week.

". . . another capable gentleman . . ."

After perusing the Ju-52 timeline on the Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung web page, I decided thirty-two years was long enough.  It was time to see if Frank Thompson really had flown Iron Annie.  I logged on to and ordered a copy of Martin Caidin's book.  It arrived last week.  Quickly, I checked the index.  There it was: Thompson, Frank, 131.

". . . and then there was Cape Girardo and the auction block and--as best we can determine, a sales price of thirty-six thousand dollars put the big tri-motor into the hands of Don Anklin, of Charlotte, North Carolina, whose company was known as Cannon Aircraft.  Give the man credit.  He took his shot.  He bought the iron monster and had it flown from Cape Girardo to Charlotte.  Sometime in September of 1974, it is shown in the less-than-bulging aircraft log of N130LW that a man by the name of Bob Evans flew the Ju-52 from Charleston to Salisbury to Lexington, all in North Carolina, and on the day following, with another capable gentleman by the name of Frank Thompson, returned the ancient and wheezing giant to her berth in Charlotte."

Martin Caidin died in 1997.  His adventures flying the Ju-52 are well documented.  Frank Thompson passed away in 2008.  I never asked him about his.  Brother Barbeau will tell you there's a moral to this story.

Frank Thompson flew it in.  Joe Mullis and I dreamed of flying it out.

Image:  Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung

This is how she looks today.  I think a vacation in Germany may be in order. . .

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Three More From Tom Kalina

Racing Abeam the Terminator, by Tom Kalina

Behold!  Racing Abeam the Terminator, by aviation artist, Tom Kalina.  This stunning rendition of a Delta Air Lines Convair 880 is one of three new Tom Kalina art prints on the wall at Casa la Cottom.  Here's what Tom has to say about the painting:

"The all-white painted Convair 880 races along the rising night sky.  Catching the last few minutes of sunlight, the plane is bathed in peach colored light.  The dividing line between day and night is known as the terminator.  At higher altitudes, this line of contrasting illumination can be quite vivid and pure in color."

I absolutely love this painting.  Tom has captured perfectly my favorite time of the day when I am at work.  When you are at cruise in the flight levels, the last few minutes of sunlight are quiet times on the flight deck.  The workload is usually low.  Conversations wane as the sun dips below the horizon.  This is the time I think about all that I hold dear:  My family; my friends; my colleagues---my extraordinary good fortune to be able to view "the dividing line between day and night."

The Terminator, Flight Level 320.
Calling all Super Connie fans!

Path of Experience, by Tom Kalina

Are you a fan of the Lockheed Constellation?  If so, then Tom's your guy.  He has three offerings to choose from:  An Air France L 1649A Super Starliner; a TWA L 1049G "Super G" with tip tanks; and Path of Experience, the Eastern Air Lines "Super G" shown above.

Let's not forget the DC-3.

Summer of My Youth, by Tom Kalina

A boy, his dog, and an Ozark Airlines DC-3.  What more could you ask for?  Summer of My Youth is my wife's personal favorite; and for good reason.  There is a tremendous amount of depth in this painting.

Nancy and I had a chance to visit with Tom and his lovely wife, Bonnie, at the Airliners International Convention at the Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta, Georgia this past June.  We chatted for a couple of hours.  It was fun to hear the story behind each painting, and Tom's ideas about future projects.  (I'm saving space on the wall for a Pan Am offering, hopefully.) When he's not painting, Tom can be found circling the globe in a Falcon 900---not too shabby, for a day job!

Sikorsky S-38/Falcon 900 Pilot-Aviation Artist, Tom Kalina, and Your's Truly at the 2015 Airliners International Convention in Atlanta, Georgia.

To see more of Tom's work, and to listen to the theme song to The High and the Mighty, check out; you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Wings Over Wine Country 2015

After a two year hiatus from flight line safety duties at the Wings Over Wine Country Airshow in Santa Rosa, California the EG, my good friend, Duncan Flett, known throughout the world as the Exotic Guy, decided it was time to reengage.  Duncan was the flight line safety head-honcho for the airshow back in 2012.  I was his volunteer sidekick.  The EG called in December:  "Come on out to left coast and help with the airshow, again.  Anita (Exotic Wife) says to bring your wife this time."

Non Rev Adventures:

In 2012 the airshow was held in August, the height of the summer travel season.  Flights to San Francisco were full.  I would say overbooked, but the word is frowned upon in the airline business.  We had one shot:  A six AM flight out of Charlotte, North Carolina connecting with the only flight in Atlanta, Georgia that had seats available for non rev passengers.  Our connection was tight; forty-five minutes.  Any hiccups; we were toast. When it was time to board the flight the gate agent said there was one empty seat.  If I would be willing to sit on the flight deck jump seat, my wife could have the open seat. Before I could reply, the captain appeared in the jet-way door.  "Hold off on boarding, we have a maintenance issue."  We were so close. . .  Ninety minuets later we were having breakfast at a Cracker Barrel close to the airport---and I was making plans to jump seat on a non-stop US Airways flight to San Francisco the following morning.  This time I'd be flying solo.

This year it was an entirely different story.  The airshow was scheduled for the fourth weekend in September, and there were plenty of seats available for non rev travel.  I decided to bypass Atlanta, and booked our connection through Detroit.  Charlotte-Detroit was a low hassle affair; smooth and on time.  When it was time to board our Boeing 737-900 flight to San Francisco the gate agent said we had a choice of two seats in the last row of the airplane, or a couple of seats with extra legroom in the Delta Comfort section behind First Class.  I asked if the Delta Comfort seats were together.  She said: "No; a middle seat at 10B, and the window seat diagonally behind it at 11A."

When it comes to riding the airlines, my wife is a nervous flyer.  I'm not sure why.  My armchair psychologist diagnosis is this is a "control issue."  I say this because General Aviation airplanes don't seem to bother her.  For example, she loves to ride in Brother Barbeau's Hatz biplane.  Whatever the reason, her anxiety level is much lower if she can hold my hand during takeoff and landing when we fly in the big jets.  So a decision had to be made:  My wife's piece of mind; or a four hour flight with extra legroom.  It was a no-brainer, really.  I said:  "We'll take the seats with the extra legroom."

Feeling slightly guilty as we walked down the jet-way, I decided to be a nice guy and give my wife the window seat at 11A.  I could suffer a middle seat for four hours. . .  When I got to row 10 there was a middle age woman seated in 10C, the aisle seat.  She had a scowl on her face and was clutching a wooden cane.  I could relate to the scowl.  Seat 10C on a 737 is not the place to be during boarding.  The center aisle narrows at the first class bulkhead---knees take a beating from carry-on luggage as passengers transition into the coach cabin. . .  Over by the window, in seat 10A, sat a frazzled looking gal with a spilled cup of coffee on the floor by her right foot---I saw it go over as she fussed with a stack of magazines in the seat-back pocket in front of her.  I thought, Uh-oh, this one's a whack-job!  Once again, a decision had to be made: My wife's piece of mind; or a four hour flight sandwiched between Scowlface and Whack-job!  Another no-brainer.  I pointed at seat 10B, and said to my wife:  "That one's yours.  Good luck, baby!"

Detroit-San Francisco was another low hassle affair.  Well, it was if you had the window seat at 11A.  Up in 10B, it was a different story.  A couple of hours into the flight Whack-job set out to retrieve an item that was stored in a bag in the overhead bin---right next to 10C's wooden cane.  When the bin was opened, the cane's hook caught on you know who's bag. . .   Then, in the best Three Stooges fashion, the cane swung down and conked my wife on the side of her head.  She never saw it coming!  Of course I laughed. It could have been me!

Wings:  Scenes From The Airshow, Sunday September 27, 2015.

Warbird Flight Line early Sunday morning.  Five P-51's, a P-40, a Yak, and a couple of hot air balloons in the background.

I've always liked the P-40.

P-51D, Lady Alice.

The EG got to sit in Lady Alice.  He was all smiles for the rest of the day.

Hawker Sea Fury.

Sea Fury fly-by. . .

VIP tent next to the flight line.

Some of the crowd. . .

A Great Lakes Biplane from Livermore, California.

Vicky Benzing's Stearman.

Check out the co-pilot in the front cockpit.

Frank "Dr. D" Donnelly's Tumbling T-Cart.  This was a great act!

Something you don't see every day. . .  MiG-15 from the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, California.

Headliner for this year's show:  The Canadian Forces Snowbirds.

Canadair CT-114 Tutor.

Nine CT-114's in tight formation. . .

The Jets were definitely back!

A most impressive performance!

No fancy flight suit for this P-51 pilot.  A pair of shorts and a t-shirt was the uniform of choice for the guy flying the Jelly Belly P-51D, SPARKY.

The Flight Line Safety Head-Honcho. . .

Pacific Coast Air Museum

Wine Country:

Vineyard near Healdsburg, California.  As you can tell, they could use a little rain in Northern California.

Sculpture on the grounds at Wilson Winery.

Vineyard below the winery. . .

. . . a view of the valley.

On the grounds at Lambert Bridge Winery.

Lunch at the Bear Republic Cafe in Healdsburg, California, September 28, 2015.  The EG, his lovely bride, Anita, my lovely bride, Nancy (with a goose egg on the right side of her head,) and Your's Truly.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Rock Hill-Orient Express

I think the Cessna 180 is a handsome airplane.  It ranks number four on my list of All Time Best Looking Airplanes---right up there with Lockheed Constellation; straight tailed Cessna 310; and Great Lakes Biplane.  Why number four?  Well, first of all, I'm an airline guy.  In my opinion the Lockheed Constellation is the finest looking transport category airplane ever built---no disrespect to the Boeing 757.  Next, when I was a kid, Sky King (my father in law's cousin) flew his Cessna 310, Songbird, into my living room every Saturday morning.  It might sound corny, but that TV show is responsible for who I am today---no disrespect to my parents (they know where I'm coming from.)  And the Great Lakes?  I've been in love with the Great Lakes ever since I saw one on the cover of Air Progress magazine in the 1970's.  The mid-sized biplane with it's swept upper wing and beautifully sculpted tail feathers just screams aviation romance.  That brings us back to the Cessna 180---a flying machine that looks great no matter what pair of shoes it's wearing; be it wheels, skis, or floats.

Every Airplane Has A Story

Jellystone Air Park neighbor, Gardy Wilson, has a 1965 Cessna 180H that looks like it just rolled out of the factory.  It's hard to believe the airplane is fifty years old!  I bumped into Gardy several weeks ago as he was finishing the 180's annual inspection.  The cowling was off; not one speck of oil, anywhere.  Brother Baker, had he been there to see it, would still be crying. . .  I asked Gardy, "When and where did you find this?"  He said:  "I bought the airplane from a guy in Texas in 1997.  Do you have a few minutes?  It's kind of an interesting story."  It is indeed.  Here's what Gardy had to say:

"I saw an add in Trade-A-Plane.  I was looking for a 180 and there was one near Dallas, Texas that looked like it might be a pretty good airplane.  I called the guy and he gave me the particulars.  The airplane had extra corrosion protection, which is something I really like.  Prior to painting, the entire airframe was covered with Zinc Chromate primer, both inside and out.  Cessna normally didn't do it that way, but they sold ten airplanes to the Government of Thailand, and that's what the contract stipulated.  This airplane is one of the ten.  It's primary use was for VIP transportation.  The logbooks are interesting.  Short hops, mostly.  Thirty minutes here, fifteen minutes there---what you would expect for the area.  It's a relatively low time airplane.

The guy selling the airplane was a retired American Airlines pilot who was familiar with that part of the world.  When the Government of Thailand announced they were selling the 180's, he convinced a few of his buddies to join together and make an offer.  They bought the entire lot, shipped them back to Texas, fixed what needed to be fixed, and then sold them one by one.  He said this airplane was the best of the lot, so they saved it for themselves.  Other projects were in the works, so it was time to sell.  I liked what I saw. We came to terms on a price, and here it is.  It's been a good airplane."

From out of the clear blue of the western sky comes. . .

Kirby Grant Hoon, AKA Sky King, my father-in-law's cousin.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Now I Know What The RV Fuss Is About!

OP Preflight selfie.

Seven years is a long time.  That's how long it took Jellystone Air Park neighbor, Rick Maury, to build his RV-7.  A little over seven years, actually---but that's not important right now.  What is important is Rick has reached a point in his flight test program where he can utilize the services of an Observer Pilot.  What's even more important is Wednesday morning the Observer Pilot was me!

Before we go any further I guess I should say a few words about the Additional Pilot Program for flight testing Amateur Built Aircraft.  The program was developed to improve safety by enhancing Builder/Owner Pilot skills and mitigate risks associated with Phase I flight testing.  (Yeah, that statement was designed by a lawyer.)  You can read the long version in Advisory Circular 90-116.  For those of us that do not have a Master's Degree in Aviation Safety Management Systems, what that means is:  Once you've mastered the basic skill sets---takeoffs and landings, stalls, that kind of stuff---test flying your newly built Experimental airplane is a lot safer if someone can fly, or monitor the autopilot, while you fiddle with all the "stuff" you need to fiddle with during the flight.  Common sense from the FAA---I guess they really are here to help.

Observer Pilot Worksheet.
To perform the duties of an Observer Pilot the applicant must:  1. Have at least a recreational pilot certificate with the appropriate category and class ratings, and proper endorsements (tail wheel, etc.)  2. Have a current Flight Review.  3. Be current as PIC in the same category and class as the test aircraft.  4. Have adequate vision forward and to each side of the aircraft.  5. Complete the Observer Pilot worksheet prior to the initial flight and attach it to the airframe logbook---so my name will forever be associated with Rick's RV-7.  Didn't think that one through, huh Rick?

Observer Pilot Observations:

While Rick ran through his preflight checklist, I familiarized myself with all the "stuff" that needed to be fiddled with once we were airborne.

The Dynon Avionics SkyView flight display system is certainly airline pilot friendly.  This particular setup is similar to the display used on Big D's Boeing 737s.  Flight information was easily processed.

Flying characteristics?  I'm glad you asked.  Rick's RV-7 is easily the nicest flying single engine airplane I have ever flown.  Flight control rigging is perfect.  Now I know what the RV fuss is about!  Of course all of my stick time was in cruise; Rick did the takeoff and landing.  Both seemed pretty straight forward.  (Good pilots make that kind of stuff look easy.)  The view over the nose during ground operations is similar to the Luscombe, except the RV sits much lower.  

"Vision forward and to each side of the aircraft" is way better than "adequate."  It is outstanding!  

Builder/Owner Pilot, Rick Maury.

Post Flight Takeaway:

I want one!