Today I had a great time sharing the plane with members of the local Boy Scout Troop. It was fun to teach them about the Tuskegee Airmen and about aviation in general. Our local Saint Joseph’s Troop members were surprised when the priest showed up. I made him promise he would include the Tuskegee Airmen into one of his next sermons.
I think I brought Father Paul a bit closer to God. I just hope it was due to a spiritual experience and not a near death one! All kidding aside, he had a great time. I think it is good for community leaders from priests, to military or political leaders to know history and understand the role the Tuskegee Airmen had.
At the end of the meeting we randomly selected one of the Boy Scouts to go up for a short ride. I can only imagine the apprehension and excitement a young boy would have with this opportunity. Fortunately for him, my goal is to promote aviation, not destroy it. I gave him a nice ride and he really enjoyed it. When asked about it, he said it made “all his stress and worries go away.” Maybe he understands more than anybody how I feel when I fly the plane.
“Isn’t aviation romantic,” I thought as bright blue 100 octane fuel was running down my hand, staining my sleeve, and trickling down my shirt!
My nice slow day to relax and document the trip and have a friend do some laser imaging of the plane was not going as planned. I decided to get a few things done around the hangar and had just tested the fuel. The fuel tank has two fuel drains, one on each side. I was checking for water in the tank, as the weather was very humid and condensation tends pools at the bottom. The result can be rather unpleasant as the engine fails at about the end of the runway.
Line boys were scrambling for fuel cans, as we began to defuel the tank. Timing is almost never right for maintenance issues, but the weatherman said the humidity was going to be worse than the Amazon…and for once, he was right!
Fortunately this would be a pretty cheap and quick fix. Well, anybody who maintains a vintage plane knows the word cheep and quick are never true. Fortunately two of my uncles, one of whom is an airframe and power plant mechanic, were nearby. Eight hours later our “quick and easy” fix was complete. Of course, no maintenance would be complete without a test flight, so I thanked my helpers with a short flight in the plane.
A friend of mine from the Boy Scouts that I hadn’t seen in years offered to do a laser scan of the plane when I met him at the weekend airshow. I was pretty excited to see the digital image he could create. He worked on this inbetween our wrenching on the plane. I am excited to see what he can do with the data he took on the plane!
It was fun to fly out of the Minneapolis Saint Paul International today. I had five airliners sitting in line behind me for takeoff. I am sure the pilots and passengers were all wishing they were flying my plane instead. The Minneapolis departure was giving me headings and altitudes to fly. I wonder if they figured out that I was flying off an old whisky compass? I quickly found my destination, the Flying Cloud airport and the Wings Over The North Airshow. I couldn’t resist giving the crowd something to see and made a touch and go to pull into a closed pattern above the crowd. I touched down to the beautiful sight of a B-17 and many fighters and trainers on the field. I pulled in just as two A-10s were pulling out for a short demo.
I managed to get away from the plane long enough to stop by the exhibitor tent. I was excited to meet various veterans including a Vietnam War POW, and the pilot of Cherry One, the C-130 on the Son Tay prison raid.
The airshow coordinators were looking for aircraft to fill the skies. My friend Don Larsson with his N3N biplane and I were happy to oblige. First I had to find some oil as I was critically low. As a true testament to the “Pay it forward attitude” of warbird crews, the B-17 on the field gave me a gallon of oil. They said my money was no good to them and I am looking forward to continuing the good deed by helping another person in need.
Don and I performed a few formation passes with me tucked in to close trail and fingertip formation. I jokingly gave him grief for his plane. His N3N was the U.S. Navy’s attempt to make a biplane cheaper than Boeing. Well, the Navy version was quite a bit more expensive and I told him it wasn’t nearly as good!
Our day was cut short because of massive thunderstorms approaching from the west. I took off just as the wind shifted 120 degrees and made the short flight to the Lakeville Air lake airport where the plane will spend the next few days.
It was an exciting day to be a hometown Minnesota boy at the 133rd Airlift Squadron, MN Air National Guard. The unit celebrated its 90th anniversary with an open house at the Minneapolis St Paul International Airport. We had a good crowd that was enthusiastic about their local military unit. The day was especially fun for me since many old friends including a few that I hadn’t seen in over 15 years showed up. Quite a few people showed up at the aircraft because they saw our interview on KARE 11 TV. During the interview the previous day I did a walk around of the plane and talked about it in detail. I must have opened up the baggage compartment door several hundred times with people asking to see the 30+ signatures of Tuskegee Airmen on the inside.
We were fortunate to have overcast skies most of the day which kept the temperature down. The humidity was so high that a C-130 that made a steep turn overhead made vapor trails on top of its wings. This is something you normally only see from a fighter jet.
The hospitality from the Guard was the best I have ever seen in our three years working air shows. They brought us coffee, water, pop, candy, and fruit. The Minnesota Air Guard really knows how to take care of people.
We pushed the plane back into the C-130 hangar for the night. Tomorrow we are off to Wings over the North for their Air Expo. It will be fun, as my friend Don Larson will be there with his N3N Biplane. I am sure we will fly some formation for the crowd and have a lot of fun.
Today was supposed to be my first day to relax a bit after a long week. We were expecting storms overnight and the Minnesota National Guard was great about letting me put the plane into their hangar. The Stearman was nestled up against the olive drab UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters at 07:00AM when we arrived at the field. A two-star General was due in to inspect his facilities and I guess the bright Blue and yellow biplane was too hard to hide. We pulled the plane out of the hangar just in time for rain showers and thunderstorms to hit. Back in the hangar the plane went.
Our seven mile journey to the Minneapolis Saint Paul International Airport for the Minnesota Air National Guard event the next day took nine hours! Fortunately the Army guys took pity on us despite our Air Force flight suits and entertained us all day. I think they just about had us recruited with their enthusiasm and good hometown Minnesota attitude.
While waiting to fly out, the news team from KARE 11 stopped by for an interview. It was a fun interview and in my mind one of the most well put together.
By late afternoon we found a small break in the weather. Our short hop to MSP was an adventure. I guess a 95 MPH open cockpit biplane doesn’t match up well with airliners traveling at about 150 MPH on final approach. This was compounded by our radio acting up and the bad weather coming back in. We were cleared to land behind a United Express regional jet and I dove in after him in hot pursuit. Our full power dive from altitude gave us a 135 MPH airspeed and the airliner ahead was just barely pulling away. We touched down slightly hot but controlled in a wheel landing configuration and taxied to the Air National Guard Ramp. The professionals at the MNANG had us in the hangar in no time before the weather hit again.
Morning seems to come way too early while flying the Stearman cross-country. One of the most taxing things about flying it is the wind beating the pilot on the left side of your head. It isn’t too bad sitting in the front seat. Sometimes I think my passengers think I am just complaining. The problem is the air spills off the top wing where there is a cutout for visibility on top. The air falls over the top of the passengers head, and hits me just about square in the face. This is compounded by the airstream made by the propeller. It produces a clockwise corkscrewing pattern around the fuselage that caused this wind to hit me on the left side. Just ask any Stearman pilot and they will confirm this.
Anyway, I managed to pull myself out of bed and eat breakfast with Hammer and my grandpa at the Village Inn. My grandpa showed me how he has lived to such an old age with his waffle covered in butter, butter, more butter, and lots of syrup. It looked like a heart attack on his plate, but how do you argue with the lifestyle of a 92-year-old man who is still spry and walks two miles a day?
The new status quo was sitting around the airport waiting for low ceilings and visibility to improve. After waiting around for a few hours we prepared to depart. Just then a group or about 20 or so 3rd graders came in for an airport tour. Not to miss out on a chance educational opportunity, Hammer and I took the kids out and talked about how much fun planes are, and about working hard in school.
Our flight out of Freemont turned into a short one. About 25 miles north of town the weather began to deteriorate. We decided to make an unplanned stop just 30 miles into the trip in Pender, Nebraska. If you try to find it on the map you will have to look really hard. The airport was pretty quiet with just one man and his puppy hanging around. It is always nice to depart with a full tank of gas, and we paid him cash for a few gallons of fuel. Eventually the weather broke and we departed for Minnesota. Our plan was to make it in for a war-bird fly-in at the Saint Paul Downtown airport. This is a benefit for the Minnesota Air National Guard Museum. It wasn’t looking good for being on time. We were bucking a 10 mile per hour headwind component, when the clouds began to break above. We climbed through a big hole in the clouds and reached the bright sunlight above. The best part is the wind shifted at altitude and we gained a 30 MPH tailwind! 30 MPH might not sound like too much to a jet jock, but it is a lot when you are only going 95 miles per hour to begin with.
We made up some time, but ended up missing all but the last 30 minutes of the war-bird fly-in. Fortunately I was in position for my next event that night with the Minnesota Wing Civil Air Patrol.
Giving a presentation to the CAP was a real honor for me. I was a cadet and learned to fly with this organization. My instructor that solo-ed me in a Cessna 172 just three days after my 16th birthday was present at the meeting. My 45 minute briefing turned into almost 2 hours of discussion about the Tuskegee Airmen, the plane, and careers in the U.S. Air Force. The young cadets in the room were so enthusiastic about the Air Force and it gave me such hope for our future generation.
The Academy airfield opens about half an hour before sunrise. Captain Nick “Hammer” Helms and I prepared for an early morning departure. We met at the airport at 06:30AM and prepared to depart. The weather to the East was looking pretty sketchy with ceilings of 700 feet overcast with low visibility. We took our time preparing the plane and decided to make a short hop to an airport on the east side of Colorado Springs. We departed the Academy Airfield and flew north to overfly the summer training area. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to fly over the Cadets in training one last time.
I was glad we made the decision to drop into Meadow Lake on the East side of Colorado Springs. This method of following the good weather with short hops was the only way we would make it to the Midwest. Not to lose out on an opportunity to thank a friend, we took a short hop out of Meadow Lake to give an incentive ride to my host Sue. She had been the best host for my short stay in the Colorado Springs area with great food and hospitality. We landed just as the weather cleared to the east.
Our next hop was from east Colorado to Limon. While on the ground a gentleman walked up to talk to us about the plane. This is pretty common and it can be difficult to get going when in a hurry. We told him about the plane and our journey to Washington D.C. He was the editor for the local newspaper and asked us to wait around for his photographer/writer. About five minutes later his writer showed up and took some notes for an article. We hopped in the plane and began to prepare for departure. Just then a man pulled up in a full size long bed Chevy. He yelled something that I couldn’t understand with my leather flying helmet on. I pulled it off and he hollered “Why don’t you guys shut that thing down and come on over to my place for some pan fried chicken!” Now that was some good ol’ country hospitality that I was so tempted to take him up on! Unfortunately we were running about four hours behind with the weather and we wanted to make it to Omaha before dark.
Departing the high country for the Great Planes is a big shift in flying. The mountains with all their beautiful snowcapped peaks and raging rivers present some major challenges. Higher altitude airports require more careful planning with longer takeoff rolls and limited performance. The planes ahead were much more forgiving and the environment was inviting. Seeing the lush green corn fields ahead reminded me that I was pointing the nose toward my home in Minnesota. The green fields below were just taunting us, and we swooped low to “see how the crops were doing.” The corn and bean fields were properly inspected as the aroma of corn, soil, and occasional whiffs of cow manure filled the cockpit.
A quick stop was made in Goodland, Kansas where we planned to stop at their quaint airport café. But we were still running behind schedule, so we pressed on with a granola bar. We departed to the north east and followed a creek most of the way to the Pioneer Airport in Minden NE. This is the home of the Pioneer Village, a must if you want a great history lesson. The wind was favoring the main runway, but the big grass runway also looked very inviting.
A quick fuel stop and we were off to Freemont, Nebraska. Freemont is a friendly airport with a hangar and reasonable fuel. Oh, and my Grandpa, Aunt and Uncle live there. We were greeted with help pushing the plane into the hangar, and some pizza from Valentino’s, the greatest pizza chain in all of Nebraska!
Today was our first big event in our 31 day trip to Washington D.C. I was excited just thinking about the impact our eight Tuskegee Airmen and the plane could have on the Cadets. I wanted to bring the plane out to the Academy because it is so important for our future military leaders to understand the important role the Tuskegee Airmen had on our country. Fleur Paysour, the director of media relations, and Paul Gardullo, a curator, with the National Museum of African American History spent the morning documenting interviews with the airmen. We were interrupted many times with Academy planes starting on the nearby ramp. This worked out great as we brought Cadets into the hangar where they meet the Airmen and talked about the plane.
One of the most memorable experiences of the day was the bus ride to lunch at the Officers Club. I was fortunate to sit next to a Tuskegee Airman who flew P-51’s in WWII. He went on to fly various piston and jet fighters in his career. I was amazed when he told me he finished his career flying the F-111. I cannot imagine a career spanning such a huge gap in aircraft technology.
The afternoon brought in the typical afternoon thunderstorms. The Academy had requested another fly-by since we had to cancel the previous day’s event. General Clark, the Commandant of Cadets arrived at the airfield for the fly by. The weather held, and we took off just in time to fly over Jacks Valley and the Cadet training area. The Cadets on the ground cheered as we flew over and the announcer talked about the plane and that General Clark was flying in it.
The day was exhausting, but I was satisfied that we accomplished our goals. Hundreds, possibly over a thousand of our nation’s future leaders were impacted, and the Smithsonian gathered priceless interviews. The evening was topped off over discussions about the exciting future of the plane at a local brew pub with Paul, Fleur, and their film crew.
I really didn’t want to get out of bed today. I was completely exhausted from flying the last 2 days. Fortunately our only ride to the airport in the courtesy car was leaving at 05:30 AM so we were forced to wake up. I will catch up on sleep when we get to Colorado.
We departed Laramie, WY by 06:30AM. We needed to make it to the U.S. Air Force Academy by 09:30AM so we wouldn’t keep our reception commitee waiting. We departed the airport and headed southeast. I was looking for a road with a railroad track about 1 mile after it. I found the road which would make navigation to the Denver area easy. I was flying IFR, or “I Follow Roads.”
After about 10 minutes the scenery started to look different than expected on the chart. I realized I was following the wrong road. There was a second road heading in almost right direction with a railroad track parallel to it. Our new flight path was taking us on an unexpected experience deep into the back side of the Front Range. Fortunately the plane still has the 300HP Lycoming engine so we climbed up to 10,000 feet to cross a ridge closer to the Front Range.
An unexpected treat was a valley we flew up that lead us to Estes Park. This was some of the most beautiful terrain with its jagged rocks and dark green pine forest. We ended the flight at the Longmont airport just north of Denver. I picked the airport because it had the cheapest gas I could find. I was sure to point this out to the airport manager. Hopefully the praise will help the next guy flying along in need of fuel!
On the flight to Colorado Springs we hugged the Front Range to stay clear of the Denver International Airport Class B airspace. We had a great view of the Red Rock Amphitheater and beautiful homes among the rocks. Some of this area is a golfers dream with gorgeous courses.
In the distance I could see the spires of the Academy chapel glistening in the sun. As we flew closer the campus on the mountain side came into view. I knew we were close to the airfield with the Academy Stadium off our right wing. We touched down on the east runway with numerous gliders and Piper Super Cub tow planes just off to our West. When we shut down I could hear cheers in the distance even with my leather flying helmet on. Our reception committee included the Gough family with some other family and friends, and the airfield management.
We planned to perform a fly-by over the Cadet training area at Jacks Valley but it was canceled due to thunderstorms. We tucked the plane into a fortified concrete hangar and headed out to the Gough home. I enjoyed a relaxing evening with the amazing hospitality provided by my former squadron commander’s wife Sue Gough.