Barnstorming, Sea Planes, and Aerobatics - Oh My

Francis Reynolds shares a conversation from his friend George. Bellevue WA Hello Francis, you asked about my flying experiences. I searched my records and memory, and found a lot of stuff that might interest you. As a young kid I took a flight with my Dad in a Ford Tri-motor which was barnstorming our area. From then on I was in love with flying. In talking with schoolmates I learned that many were building flying models from kits, and I got involved with that. In those days (about 1936) you could buy a flying model kit which included the plans, the balsa, the tissue, the prop and hook, the rubber power band, the glue and the tissue, all in one box for a nickel! Over time I built a lot of them, but nickels were hard to get. Some of those models even flew! I ultimately graduated to gas engine and glow powered free flight models, control line, and R/C. Later, coming out of the military, I had GI Bill benefits available. I thought I was so intelligent that I didn't need any more college (I already had three years) so I used the benefits to get a Private license and then a Commercial flying license. Private pilot students started on a small uncontrolled grass strip just out of town. Our early trainers were the Piper J3s and the Aeronca 7ACs (Champ). I got my Private-Pilot ticket there, then went on for Commercial and Instrument ratings. My first three checkouts were the Piper PA11, the Ercoupe, and then the Waco UPF7 all on the same day. The Waco looked like (and flew like) the Stearman PT 17 (bi-wing, tandem open cockpits). It also had the 220hp engine which qualified as “Heavy Time” for the Commercial Ticket. In the Waco, after checking out, my instructor said, “You have thirty hours to fly for your required heavy time, you don’t want to just fly around town to stack up time, do you?” By now I knew this instructor quite well and knew he had something up his sleeve, so I hollered back (open cockpits with speaking tubes) “What do you have in mind?”, and the next thing I knew we were inverted! When I looked “up” there was the ground below (open cockpit)! He laughed like crazy, and I hollered, “MORE, MORE!!” This was my introduction to aerobatics, and he taught me everything the Waco could do. Inverted “flight” was actually gliding because the Waco did not have an invert fuel system—the still-turning metal prop had enough energy to start the engine again when we went upright. Speaking of starting engines, the Cubs, Aeroncas, Taylorcraft and similar planes were started by someone swinging the prop by hand when the pilot called out “contact” and closed the ignition switch after the brakes were set, throttle at idle, and all was ready. But the Waco had an “inertia starter”. These had an internal flywheel that was cranked up to speed by a person standing at one side of the airplane behind the prop.This would store a lot of energy in the flywheel. When it was spinning fast enough its energy was rapidly transferred to the engine and prop by a clutch. This way big heavy engines that couldn’t be started by swinging the prop could still be hand started. (Electric starters soon replaced inertia starters.) I spent the rest of my thirty hours taking friends for rides. I could legally do that since I already had my private ticket. Only one of my passengers needed to throw up. I pointed over the side, did a side slip and he didn’t mess the plane! At that time I had the crazy idea that I’d like to try a parachute jump—didn’t really want to do it formally, but thought I could release the safety belt and simply fall out of the cockpit when the instructor went inverted. Chutes were mandatory on the open-cockpit jobs. When I was checked out in the Bonanza I had to learn the retractable gear and the controllable-pitch prop. Other planes that I checked out in were the Piper PA 18, Vagabond, PA-24 Comanche, PA 28 Cherokee, Taylorcraft, Aeronca Chief, Luscombe 8A, Ryan ST, Swift and Vultee Valiant (BT13). They were scheduled to build lots of BT13s in a new local plant, but as the war ended and military contracts were canceled they had built only one there. Over 9,500 of them had been built elsewhere. Some friends and I purchased the same J3 Piper Cub I was taught in. I flew it for fun as I continued with my Commercial qualifications. My first Instrument training was in a Link trainer. When proficient enough I had “upstairs” instrument training in a Cessna 170. I developed a lot of friends who had planes. At times I flew with them, and sometimes rented their planes. They had a Howard DGA, Stearman PT17, Swift, Stinson Voyager and Mooney Mite. In ‘62 I joined a J3 Cub club with three other guys. We tied our plane down at a small field close to the airport (used primarily for crop spraying planes)—no field control and we had no radios. When I got a few more bucks I joined a club at the main airport. There I got to fly the Cessna 150 Aerobat, 172, 177 (Cardinal), Grumman AA1 trainer, Grumman AA5B (Tiger), another Bonanza, Mooney and SeaBee (we used the rivers and lakes for Sea-Bee landings.) There was a guy who had a lease on a small uncontrolled grass strip, and he had a Bellanca franchise. Bellanca had bought the rights to Aeronca, then modernized and beefed up the airframe, calling it the Citabria (“airbatic” spelled backward). Then they beefed up the engine to 150, added an invert system, lessened the dihedral, made a semi-symmetrical airfoil and called it the Decathlon. They also made a heavy-duty version for field crop dusting and spraying called the Scout. This was basically the same airframe but with an 180hp engine, an 80-inch climb-pitch prop (fast in and out) and BIG wheels and tires for rough field use. He had one of each at this field. My partners and I bought the field—and still later sold it, nearly doubling our money in about two years. The Bellanca guy was also still in the Air Force. From a military field he flew two C5 cargo trips to Asia (and back) each month. I got to know him quite well and we later formed a partnership for the Bellanca franchise. (He didn’t have big bucks, and we’d alternate in buying each plane, yanking our dough out (upon selling it) and providing some bucks for the business.) We would also take turns flying commercially to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport where we would be picked up by Bellanca staff (in a Bellanca Viking) then flown to the factory in Osceola, WI to pick up another plane. We’d then ferry them back, one at a time, to our little private strip. On one occasion I flew a Scout back. They came with no radio as they were for field work and the field people would put in their own equipment. So I had this beefed up Aeronca with an 180hp engine, 80 inch fixed climb-pitch prop (NOT for cruise!), giant tires (more drag!) and no radio—what a flight! Noisy, slow, finding small uncontrolled fields for fuel, and taking two days (17.3 hours according to that log book). Oh, and I had a 30mph headwind. I was dingy after that flight. The straight-line distance from Osceola was about 1800 miles. Obviously I flew farther than that since I had to divert from straight line in order to find fuel stops at uncontrolled fields. This flight had to be VFR (visual flight rules) since the Scout had no radio or navigation equipment. This small crop-plane airport was out of any air traffic lanes, so there was no problem doing aerobatics in the area. For this reason, a bunch of guys regularly flew there for the aerobatics. I flew the Decathlon with its tandem seating, conventional two-wheel gear, and big engine as much as possible for aerobatic practice, and just for the fun. About this time there were quite a few local air shows and we’d take these planes to shows to demonstrate them (I’d fly the aerobatics). We would get some Bellanca product sales from these shows (not millions, but we did well). This is a large agricultural area, so we also sold some Scouts. We sold two Scouts to the local glider club, to use as tow planes. I flew into the glider port to check it out, and took a flight in a Schweitzer SGS-233. Really enjoyed it, took some lessons and got checked out on glider flying. Close by there’s a foothill range. They would tow me up over it, release me, and I could cruise back and forth over that standing wave as long as I wished. I understand how that works, but it sure was a unique experience to soar back and forth and not go down. I had to point the nose down to get out of the wave and return to the glider port. In about the same time (1965 to 1990) the Goodyear blimp, Columbia (N4A), would stop in this area each summer for a week or two. It too intrigued me, and I finagled the seat beside the pilot for a flight around town. We had a great chat (during which he gave me the controls. Boy was it was slow responding! I told him I had my Aerobat right there at the airport, perhaps he’d like to fly it. He said sure, we went flying and I introduced him to aerobatics. He really liked it and we went out several more times. We flew together every summer that they came by. They haven’t been here for many years now and I have not even seen their new airships with the "torquing" engines (the others were fixed). It has been many years since I last flew anything, and I REALLY miss it! The last time I took my plane in for its annual inspection/certification the inspector said, “Do you know you have twelve hours on the clock since last year?” Well, I didn’t know because I didn’t pay attention, but I decided to sell and let the next guy have as great a time as I did. I advertised in Trade-A-Plane and had calls from all over the country—the first guy coming up with a certified check took it. I sold the ship for considerably more than I paid for it because no new trainers were to be had and small, good condition, low time planes were scarce as a result of the manufacturers stopping production because of all the law suits against them (the “deep pockets”) from accidents. Virtually all “accidents” were pilot error, and the companies always won—nonetheless it cost them big bucks to defend the high price lawsuits. They finally said “ENOUGH!” and stopped production. I didn't tell you about my dead-stick landing. This flying autobiography of sorts is already too long. It was quite an exciting landing though. Safe landing spots look plentiful except when you badly need one.
Facebook Twitter Share

Add new comment