A Flying Tale


As everyone should have heard by now, AirVenture 2019 got off to an interesting start, with a number of severe thunderstorms dumping several inches of rain and raking the grounds with significant winds. Saturday morning saw two such events, with each serving to scatter the early arrivals who had set up camp in the HBC Pavilion. When the weather had calmed down, we sloshed over to our aircraft to discover that our four-person REI tent had been flattened and filled with water, poles sticking out at odd angles. While surveying the damage and salvaging wet clothes and sleeping bags, my wife asked “how’s the other tent?” I looked across the fuselage of our Dream Tundra and in a surprised voice, said “what tent?!”

Yup – there was no sign of our two-man mountain tent – a surprising find, since while it was admittedly empty, it was also staked down. I looked around the immediate vicinity, asking those who had ridden out the storm in their planes or tents if they had seen an escaped Alpine Designs Sphinx. “Was it blue?” One potential witness asked. When I answered in the affirmative, he was quite helpful… “oh yeah, I saw that lift up to about 25 feet, and last I saw, it was headed southeast at a good clip!”

I set out walking in the indicated direction, and sure enough, a few hundred yards of sloshing through watery grass brought me to our tent – hung up on the fence behind the Innovation Center pavilions. It was in relatively good shape, with only one pole section bent into a 30 degree banana shape. Recovering the runaway abode, I returned to our campsite, and we went into salvage mode. My wife took both tent shells to a rental house with a clothes dryer, while I collected the poles, discovering that only two sections (of the many in the two tents) we bent. Neither of them were kinked, so straightening them would simply take some careful persuasion, preferably with a bench vice. Ahh, but where to find such a vice?

Fortunately, AirVenture has a handy facility filled with volunteer builders and mechanics known as Emergency Aircraft Repair. I liberated (errr…borrowed) a golf cart, and headed down to their building south of Vintage Aircraft parking. Walking through the door, I proclaimed “I’ve got aluminum repairs to do!”, and the entire assembly of experts lit up and rose to their feet, eyes agleam, and hands rubbing with anticipation of the cutting, drilling, and riveting to come. “Oh, I’m sorry” I said, as I pulled the poles from behind my back, “please don’t get too excited – I just need to straighten a couple of tent poles.”

“You do know that this facility is here for AIRCRAFT repairs, don‘t you sir?” Was the icy response from one of the volunteers who was clearly disappointed that I hadn’t brought in a bent flap or elevator.

“Well yes, I understand that”, I replied, “But I’ll tell you what, I have a reliable witness who saw this particular tent fly about a quarter mile at an altitude of 25 feet – that’s better than the Wright Brothers did back in Kitty Hawk in 1903, so I’d say it’s appropriate that we call this an airplane incident, and get to fixing it!”

The audience pondered this for a moment, then the leader said “That’s good enough for us – how can we help?”

The spirit of homebuilding is strong in this bunch.

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Paul Dye
Paul Dye, KITPLANES® Editor at Large, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the Space Shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 and SubSonex jet that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra and an electric Xenos motorglider they completed. Currently, they are building an F1 Rocket. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 6000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, FAA DAR, EAA Tech Counselor and Flight Advisor; he was formerly a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.


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