Hay, What’s That?

Somewhere between Lilienthal and the Wrights in Paul’s Woods.

Well past vespers, when the beer-pong tournaments had retired for lack of light and somewhere the last cancelled check courier considered his breakfast from the FBO’s vending machine, a terrible bleating and un-syncopated coughing came through Paul’s Woods. Were AirVenture campers under attack?

Soon colored lights were seen flapping through the trees; arming ourselves with our trusty Nikon we set an intercept course for the cacophony and lay in wait by a handy Airstream. And there, in processional, came a schwarm of horn-happy scooters followed by this flapping jabberwocky lit like a Younkin twin-Beech and with fair maiden atop. Behind shuffled the un-washed, herded from behind by yet more scooters and yellow-lamped dignitaries. All proceed with the solemnity of a frat house building steam for the spring bacchanal.

No attack this, but rather Steve Hay of Delavan, Wisconsin playing piper to the Camp Scholler holiday crowd as we learned once the assemblage was safely stopped. Obviously a first-class merry maker, the surprisingly well-centered Hay (once you got past his glow stick crown) reported the contraption was 30 years old. That seemed something of a surprise to him as, “I thought it would fall apart a long time ago,” but upon closer inspection the clearly well-lubricated and stoutly built apparatus seems capable of DC-3-like longevity.

Asked if it had a name Hay nearly burst at the obviousness of it all. “It’s an ornithopter! That’s a real word, it’s in the dictionary!” he gleamed while temporarily assisting a mesmerized youthful admirer to the pilot’s bench. “Don’t touch anything!” admonished the father, no doubt fearful of the machine’s idling shakes and exhalations, and no doubt, the boy’s mother and passing bedtime.

Steve Hay, character.

Hay graciously, and somewhat enthusiastically, demonstrated his ornithopter’s AC and DC power, electric aaoogha horn, flapping levers and pump-powered squirt gun. We didn’t get to the particulars of the primary power plant (clearly an iron mid-century modern primitive of some sort) or the source of the famously random chugging exhaust affectation, although the latter is obviously some sort of gas-fired, open-spark triggered audio cannon as the exposed arcing display was apparent to casual visual inspection. Many admirers wanted confirmation nothing but flight-qualified AN hardware was used, to which Hay proudly pointed to a pipe nipple in the otherwise galvanized pipe exhaust, exclaiming it was stainless steel. And, like racer Howard Hughes, he reported possessing two sets of wings, one set decorated in rags for daylight and the nocturnal, lights-only spans.

As for the maiden, that’s the obviously indulgent wife Joan, who seemed happily perched, restrained and illuminated safely above her admiring public. The pair’s final act was demonstrating their trademark horizontal loop prior to retiring at a sensible hour.

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Tom Wilson
Pumping avgas and waxing flight school airplanes got Tom into general aviation in 1973, but the lure of racing cars and motorcycles sent him down a motor journalism career heavy on engines and racing. Today he still writes for peanuts and flies for fun.


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