Raising the Misery Bar

The Dawn Patrol


Mark Hymer, Dick Starks, and Chuck Stevenson wait by Sharon’s Morane after we’d placed it on the lawn. Right after this, we tied the fuselage down. It was that windy.

April 6, 2017. Exactly 100 years since the United States entered WW-I.

The temperature was 37. It was pitch-black, coal-mine-at-midnight dark. Winds were steady at 35 mph, forecast to gust at over 45 mph. The time was 5:30 a.m. My teeth were chattering so hard that I couldn’t speak. My soggy feet felt like two lumps of ice. Sharon, my Little Luv Muffin, was suffering sullenly right beside me in the dark on the bench of the picnic table we were sitting on.

Why, I hear you ask, were we there?

Well…I’ll tell you. About a month before this happened, I got a call from Marvin Story. He’s the president of the Great War Aeroplanes Association. The National World War I Museum and Memorial had approached Marvin and inquired if he could find some aircraft representing the different sides of the war for the centennial commemoration of the entrance of the United States into the war.

Waiting for security to give us permission to get into the memorial. It took 40 minutes until someone who had a clue showed up and let us in.

Marvin contacted me, and I said he could sure count on my Graham Lee Nieuport 11 and Sharon’s Airdrome Aeroplanes Morane-Saulnier L Parasol. Marvin had already lined up Marvin Berk’s SPAD XIII and Mark Hymer’s Airdrome Aeroplanes Fokker D-VII. Mark Pierce was going to be there with his Graham Lee Nieuport 16, too. Marvin Story’s Siemens-Schuckert D.I (German copy of the Nieuport 11) was going to round out the participation.

Marvin Berk has a really well thought out way to take his SPAD on road trips.

When the smoke cleared, we had six planes saying they were going to be there: Nieuport 11, Nieuport 16, SPAD XIII, Fokker D-VII, Siemens-Schuckert D.I and Morane Parasol. We would have had several more, but they were all at Sun ‘n Fun.

Was this ever neat or what? We fly WW-I replica aircraft. It was the 100th anniversary of the USA entering WW-I. We were invited to show our planes at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, our hometown. What a Deal!

Sometimes being a “trailer weenie” really pays off. This was one of those special times. We get to go to places we wouldn’t dare try to fly into and show off our little birds. (And just between us girls, there’s no way I’d fly my little bird over downtown Kansas City and land it on the grounds of the museum—even if it does offer a better runway than we have at Liberty Landing International Airport.) If the FAA gave us permission to do it, I’d still chicken out. If you lose an engine over the town, you are done!

Mark Hymer’s fantastic Airdrome Aeroplanes Fokker D.VII. It’s painted in the colors of the D.VII flown by German Ace, Ernst Udet.

Let me say right now that we’ve flown our “cheap” little “lawn-chair-construction” aircraft in some pretty splendiferous locations. We’ve flown off the lawn of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio three times. My little Love Monkey is one of the few women to fly her own WW-I replica off the ground there, too.

We’re also some of the few pilots who fly there who’ve been chewed out almost every time we land. One time a full bird colonel gnawed on us after we’d landed. We have a tarnished reputation to uphold. The safety officer’s face in charge of the Dawn Patrol rendezvous always went blank and then paled when he saw us drive up with our trailers in tow.

Mark Pierce’s Nieuport 16 waits for the crowd. Mark’s plane is painted in the colors of the 1916 Lafayette Escadrille.

VIP Treatment

This time we were directed to show up at the museum grounds very early on the morning of April 5, the day before the event, to assemble the planes. We were going to have designated places to park our trailers and all that stuff. It was very important that we be totally gone from the event grounds by four p.m. the day before, so security and the Kansas City bomb squad could sweep the whole grounds before securing it for the night. We were told our trailers were going to get extra special attention from the sniffer dogs.

Then, the day of the event, we were directed to be on the grounds beside our planes before the gates opened at 6 a.m. The sun was going to come up at 7 a.m. The two days before the setup day, Kansas City had endured some rainstorms of biblical proportions. I’m talking some real frog stranglers, too. Multiple inches of rain had fallen. The grounds of the museum were soaked.

Marvin Berk waits beside his SPAD XIII for the crowd to arrive.

Then we got a letter from the event organizers. It was a list of items not permitted on the grounds the day of the event. We knew that many dignitaries from different countries were going to be there, and it was even rumored that the president of the United States and many members of congress were going to attend. That means security was going to be duck-butt watertight. What we didn’t realize was how tight it was really going to be. The letter we got is below.

The following items are not permitted on the museum grounds:

Outside food or beverage; firearms of any type; weapons of any type; hazardous materials; chemical materials; radiological materials; biological materials; knives (of any kind); toy guns/toy weapons; animals (except service animals); chairs; backpacks; bags; purses; fireworks; pepper spray/mace; scissors; razor blades; needles; Leatherman tools (or similar); glass bottles; plastic bottles; soda cans; tripods; coolers; air horns; laser pointers; aerosol containers; sticks/poles; signs; baseballs, softballs, any balls, etc.; food/produce; umbrellas; any other items that may pose a threat to the security of the event as determined by and at the discretion of the security screeners.

Marvin Story talks about his Siemens-Schuckert D.I to spectators.

Now, try reading all the items mentioned on the list and see if you can figure out what you could really bring in. (The day before the event, due to the soaked ground, they relaxed one rule and said the attendees could bring in folding chairs.)

Quite a list isn’t it? I called Marvin up and asked him if he’d seen the list, too. There was no way we could assemble out planes using only our hands and teeth. Marvin gave the event organizers a quick call and told them to take our planes off the list of attendees. We were assured that “special accommodations” were going to be made for the Dawn Patrol aircraft.

Yup…”special accommodations.” Hoo boy…We were going to be “taken care of.” (Suckers…we shoulda known what was going to happen.)

Marvin Story’s working model of the Anthony Fokker interrupter gear that makes it possible for the machine gun to shoot through the prop.

Another look at Marvin Story’s working model of the Anthony Fokker interrupter gear. This first appeared in the war on the Fokker E-III.

Dj Moo

Anyway, we were there very early in the morning of April 5 to set up our planes. As we drove up to the gates of the museum, the joint was jumping! There were crews setting up tents, fences, and an enormous stage with large speakers and video displays. It looked like an invasion. This was really going to be something.

As we got to the gates, a security guard waved us down and looked suspiciously at our planes on the trailers.

“Hi. How ya doin?” I said, “We’re the Dawn Patrol here to set up our planes.”

He looked at me like I was speaking in tongues.

“Uh…who did you say you are?” He said while looking at a list in his hands. “The Dawn what? You’re not on the list.” I got a suspicious glare.

A couple of uniformed guards with big guns on their belts started sauntering our way giving us the stink eye. It looked to me like their hands were close to their weapons.

Pucker factors edged upwards.

Uh-oh…that’s when we knew how the day was going to go. Another Dawn Patrol fiasco was getting ready to evolve. The old dj moo all over again feeling sat in.

No one knew a thing about us being there. More armed guards started showing interest in us.

Mark Hymer talks about his Fokker D-VII to interested onlookers. It’s painted in the colors of the D-VII flown by German Ace, Ernst Udet. Udet was the second highest German Ace of WW-I with 62 victories. Only The Red Baron, Manfred Von Richthofen had more. Udet survived the war. On the side of most of his aircraft was painted “LO!” for his girlfriend, Eleanor Zink, later his wife. In WW-II Udet, now a general, was made head of the Luftwaffe’s Technical Office. After the debacle of the Battle of Britain, Goering made Udet the scapegoat for the Luftwaffe’s failure, and Udet was forced to commit suicide in 1941.

Forty minutes later we were still waiting for clearance to enter the grounds. It was cold. The winds were blowing 35 mph with higher gusts. We’d already decided not to mount the wings on our planes.

Finally our contact person who’d been our liaison with Marvin showed up. There was a little palavering, muttering, finger pointing to our toolboxes, more muttering, suspicious looks directed at us, but we were finally given the go-ahead to enter the grounds.

Mark Pierce, Mark Hymer, and Marvin Berk were going to place their planes on the west side of the mall. Marvin Story, my Sweetie, and I were going to place ours on the east side of the mall. Even without the wings, after we’d placed out fuselages where they told us, we staked and tied the fuselages down. It was that windy. The Trench Cat was safe, so we didn’t stake it down.

Then we had to find out where to put our trailers and guess what…there were cars parked in those “designated” spots. Dj moo two times was here. While we were waiting to see if the cars were going to get moved so we could move in, we decided to have our usual traditional Liberty Memorial tailgate party behind our stealth van. Yup…bottles of champagne and pitchers of orange juice appeared. Cheese, crackers, and sliced summer sausage trays made their presence known. The many treats went down just swell.

haron Starks gets interviewed by Kansas City’s Channel Five.

After swilling and munching for a while, we went on the search for trailer parking spots again. Two hours later we were still waiting to park trailers, and the invading cars were still there. The “get out” time of 4 p.m. was rapidly approaching. There were some empty slots scattered here and there in the parking lot, so we made some executive decisions and parked our trailers any which way we could, chocked the wheels, and fled the scene before anyone could come up and yell at us.

The Channel Five reporter tries out the cockpit of the Morane. She liked it better than my Nieuport’s cockpit.

We were as ready as we could be.

April 6 dawned windy, cold, and raw. The winds were howling in the trees. Sweetie and I got up at 4 a.m. Getting on the roads at 4:30 got us to the museum at 5:00, in time to grope our way through security (and get groped), so we could get set up beside our planes.

Then we just sat there on the picnic table, staring into the darkness, shivering with chattering teeth. We were wearing our Eddie Bauer 10-below down-filled parkas, but they didn’t help. We were frozen solid.

Brenda Pierce and Sharon Starks start mixing mimosas. We ended up making several pitchers.

A Quick Side Note

One of my favorite humorous authors is Patrick F. McManus. He’s an outdoor sports, hunting, and fishing writer. He’s written some great humorous books over the years. I’m talking snorting-coffee-out-your-nose humor, too.

I finally had to quit reading his stuff while eating because his zingers would catch me unawares, and I’d end up snorting coffee, milk, wine and, worst of all, Diet Dr. Pepper out my nose. Carbonated beverages are the worst for snorting. Anyway, my favorite book of his is titled A Fine And Pleasant Misery. It’s about those adventures you go through that make you think to yourself, Lord…please take me now!

Of course, as it always happens, those adventures are the ones you talk about for years. You do this when the snow is swirling about the house and you’re sitting in front of a roaring fire with your dogs lying on the rug snoring away. I’m usually having a robust glass of tawny port wine.

The happy mob celebrated getting everything set up by breaking out the mimosas and treats. From left to right: Nancy Story, Sharon Starks, Mark Pierce, Mark Hymer, Chuck Stevenson and Marvin Story.

Back to the Adventure

So there we are, sitting on that ice-cold iron-hard picnic table with Sweetie approaching a fine and pleasant misery status. While sitting there, I stared blindly ahead into the darkness as the wind howled in the trees.

Just about then, a sinister voice hissed menacingly in my ears. “You’re going to really pay for this! You know that don’t you?”

It was Sweetie. She was shivering so hard her teeth were chattering. She hates being cold. She really hates being wet. Being cold and wet at the same time opens the door to bloody Armageddon. She morphs into something nine feet tall and completely covered with hair. Superman wouldn’t mess with her.

I responded meekly as I’ve learned to do in over 52 years of marriage. “Yes, my sweet. I know.”


I went back to being miserable, sitting precariously next to a cold, wet, enraged female grizzly bear with a toothache.

The sun finally peeked over the horizon, the gates opened, and the crowd surged in. Sweetie perked up as it warmed up. For the rest of the day, we were busy answering questions about the planes and had a great time. We kept apologizing that the planes didn’t have their wings mounted.

They’d take a look and say, “Oh yeah…no wings.”

Security was everywhere. Because there were so many dignitaries attending, security was really intense. There were five snipers that we could see on the top of the memorial tower and the buildings of the museum.

Strolling casually around the grounds were many guys in suits and mirrored sunglasses looking at everyone. They weren’t smiling or talking to each other either. It’s anyone’s guess how many security individuals in the crowd were casually dressed just looking around.

As soon as the sun came up, Sweetie started to get back into her normal “Polyanna” mode. I, on the other hand, was still in the “Lord, take me now” mode.

After all the speeches were finished, there was a flyover by Patrouille de France, the precision aerobatic demonstration team of the French Air Force. Those tiny little planes looked pretty sharp.

Then a B-2 stealth bomber from Whiteman Air Force Base flew over, and with that, the event ended.

The Patrouille de France, the precision aerobatic demonstration team of the French Air Force makes a smoke pass down the middle of the mall.

The cold, wet, and relieved crowd fled. The dignitaries bailed. Crews started taking down the fences and tents. We hooked up our trailers, loaded up the planes (another dj moo, which I won’t go into here), and got the heck outta Dodge.

We all agreed it had been a classic fine and pleasant misery that raised the misery quotient, but we wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

And, as usual with the Dawn Patrol…The adventure continues.

The world’s oldest aerobatic demonstration team, the French Patrouille de France flies the nimble and pretty twin-engine, two-seat Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet.

By the way, one of Robert “Bullwhip” Baslee’s “lawn-chair construction” Nieuport 28 replicas took Reserve Grand Champion at Sun ‘n Fun this year. So for those of you that have been making those disparaging comments online about our lawn-chair-constructed planes, well…someone clearly loves us! —D.S.

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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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