The Back Yard Flyer

…and the case of the TP vandals at Oshkosh. Revenge will be sweet.


Hey! Sharon cried. Look over there at my plane! Someones TPd it. We were on the red tram to the north end of Wittman Field, heading toward the Replica Fighters Association (RFA) area where her Airdrome Aeroplanes Morane Saulnier L Parasol replica was on display. AirVenture 2008 was in full cry, and we were part of it this time.

We had put in one full day at AirVenture, but the endless walking at the show had already caused the onset of the dreaded ailment called Oshkosh knee. We couldn’t walk any more without staggering. This caused oncoming traffic to move to the other side of the street, because they thought two drunks were coming at them.

So Sweetie and I started using the trams on the second day as we traveled from the campground way down south by the ultralight/light plane area up to the north end of the grounds where her Morane was tied down.

Sharon’s Morane was getting a lot of attention, and as soon as she would go out to answer a question from one visitor, a crowd would gather to listen and ask their own questions. I guess there is something about a red-headed, freckle-faced cutie with her own WW-I warbird that lights a lot of mens fuses. (It sure lights my personal fuse.) Whatever it was, she was always surrounded by guys wanting to talk to her about her plane.

What Is That?

This time, as the tram went by the RFA area on its way to the next tram stop, we noticed her plane was festooned with what looked like toilet paper. We couldn’t believe it.

We got off the tram and thundered back to where the plane was tied down. Silently, we looked it over. Definitely toilet paper. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to do this. The vandals had taken a considerable amount of pride in their work, too. Sweetie and I looked at each other and nodded our heads. We knew who had perpetrated this nefarious deed. At the same time we both said, Butch and Rick.

Butch Witlock and Rick Bennett are two other members of The Dawn Patrol, who had both reported in the night before. They had said that they would go up to the RFAs display, and now we knew for sure they had made their arrival known.

Butch built and flew a Graham Lee Nieuport 12 for years. Then, out of the blue, hed been bitten by the build-another-plane bug. He decided to go over to the dark side and build a German plane.  Now he is building one of Robert Baslees Airdrome Aeroplanes Fokker D-7 replicas. Butch did not like the idea of selling his 12 because of the liability issue, so he chose a much safer way of moving it on. The Nieuport 12 is now hanging proudly from the ceiling in the Illinois Aviation Museum in Bolingbrook.

Thats half the team. The other half is Rick Bennett, the proud builder of one of the most beautiful Graham Lee Nieuport 23 replicas you’ll ever see. He flies it all over the Midwest in airshows, too. Anyway, those two big knuckleheads are now on our well-get-even list.

Low and Slow, and OK with It

We put in a few hours of talking about the Morane at the RFAs area and then headed back to where we really belonged. As far as were concerned, low, slow and inexpensive is now our aviation world. We both talked it over, and when our FAA medicals expired, we became Sport Pilot fliers. We knew that as we became more mature, there was a chance wed blow a medical for a non-serious reason, and with the Catch 22 that exists with the FAA concerning the Sport Pilot medical, we would be through flying for good. As Sport Pilots, the low-and-slow crowd was what we could afford anyway.
So its not a big deal. We love low-and-slow flying, and its inexpensive. As retired public school teachers we don’t have the riches of Peru, and the cost of flying is a biggie!

Down to the light-plane area we went to see the design that really grabbed us by the nose: the Valley Engineering Back Yard Flyer Swing-Wing Ultralight. Its fully Part 103 legal.

When we first saw the plane, Gene and Larry Smith of Valley Engineering were pulling it out of a long trailer. We thought that they had just arrived at Oshkosh and were getting ready to set it up for flying. In a way, that is exactly what they were doing.

Three minutes later the plane was ready to go! Gene and Larry have developed a swing-wing concept that has to be seen to be believed. The wing rotates 90 on its vertical axis. After rotation, it takes about 2 minutes to attach the aileron linkage, bolt the wing in place with four wing attach bolts and you’re ready to aviate. We were amazed.

It got to be almost comical seeing the expressions on peoples faces as Gene and Larry would roll the plane up to the flight line in its stored configuration and then in the blink of an eye have it transformed into a plane ready to fly.

Potato, Potato

The Back Yard Flyer is pulled along by one of Valley Engineerings Harley-Davidson Big Twin, four-stroke, 40-horsepower engines. The engine comes with starter, alternator, automatic carb heat and a separate ignition system for each cylinder. Coupled with a Valley Engineering Series Three PSRU swinging a Culver Prop, you have an impressive combination of aircraft, engine, PSRU and prop. The Valley Engineering Big Twin firewall-forward package weighs 120 pounds complete and costs $4995.

The Back Yard Flyer Swing-Wing comes complete, ready-to-fly with a ballistic chute for $17,500. If you have trouble finding affordable hangar space, or any hangar space for that matter, you can get the plane with its own custom-designed trailer/hangar for a package price of $25,500.
There are Big Twin engines on Sweeties Morane and her Kolb Twinstar MK II. Consequently, we have spent a lot of time with Gene and Larry at their plant in Rolla, Missouri. The Smiths, along with Robert Baslees low-cost Airdrome Aeroplane replicas, are the main reasons were still able to afford to fly.

The Big Twin comes at a reasonable price compared to a lot of similar powerplants. And it sips only 5 quarts of gas an hour. Add the fact that its a reliable, slow turning, four-stroke engine, and you have a lot a peace of mind while in the air. 

By the way, Alaina Lewis, Larry Smiths daughter, was the one that gave Rick and Butch the toilet paper. Shes now on our list, too. Even better, we know where she lives! 


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Dick Starks
Dick Starks has written two books about the joy of flying; “You Want To Build And Fly A What?” and “Fokkers At Six O’clock!!” He was the recipient of Flying’s 2001 Bax Seat Award “for perpetuating the Gordon Baxter tradition of communicating the excitement and romance of flight.” Dick and his wife, Sharon, both fly WW-I replica aircraft.



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