The WW-I flight line at Columbia. In the foreground is Darryl Porter’s yellow Airdrome Aeroplanes Fokker D.VII and Ken Hines’ Airdrome Aeroplanes Nieuport 28.
There I was in the garage hopelessly searching for a lost tool somewhere on the floor when the phone rang. The caller ID screen is in the house. Our phone had been inundated with political ads until we just didn’t answer it anymore. Why I picked it up this time remains a mystery. I call situations like this “a momentary lapse of reason.”
I picked the phone up, being ready to slam it down. As soon as the voice at the other end started blaring in my ear, I knew exactly who it was.
“Lemme speak to the famous WW-I flying ass!” (That is not a typo by the way.)
It was Jay Williams. He’s another denizen of the bums and misfits that fly out of beautiful Liberty Landing International Airport. He’s got a real nice Zenith 701 that he built.
Ken Hines’s impressive Airdrome Aeroplanes full-scale Nieuport 28 stands tall and proud on the flight line.
“Whddaya want, Shrek?” I snarled.
Now this calls for an explanation. Jay and I have known each other for years. He loves torturing me. I respond in a like manner. If we ever start being nice to each other, that means something is seriously wrong.
I’m the “flying ass.” (Actually, that’s the only thing he calls me that can be printed in this fine family magazine.)
At the airport, Jay’s either “Ghost Rider” or “Shrek.” Ghost Rider comes from the movie “Ghost Rider” with Sam Elliot and Nicholas Cage. Shrek comes naturally. Jay is a big teddy bear of a man. He’s also the strongest man I’ve ever met. You do not want Jay to get upset with you. He’d rip your arms off and then beat you to death with them. It’s a really good thing Jay’s the most easygoing 800-pound grizzly bear you’ll ever come across.
“Just how strong is he?” I hear you ask. Case in point: Jay asked me to come over and help him do the different cables in the Zenith 701 he was building. He asked me because, one, I have a Nicopress tool and, two, a go/no-go gauge. We were getting ready to install a cable, and I asked him for his Cleco pliers to take out some Clecoes that were in the way.
“Cleco pliers!” he growled. “I don’t need no steenkin’ Cleco pliers,” he snorted. “Get outta my way.”
Willy Hackett with a 1918 Bristol Fighter F.2B that is the only original airworthy example in Europe. This airplane is extra special to the Hackett family as Debb’s grandfather Edward Evans flew Bristol Fighters in the Great War as a sergeant pilot.
Then, using his thumb and two fingers, Jay took all the offending Clecoes out so I could get in there and do what needed to be done. The watching crowd just stood there in stunned awestruck silence.
For years, Jay was a very respected motorcycle racer in the Midwest. He had business sponsors and raced for Kawasaki.
In 1999 he had a bad crash and permanently messed up his right leg and knee. That didn’t stop him from racing though. He just had his bikes modified for his right leg’s limited mobility.
On a recent trip back to the U.K., Willy Hackett was flying passengers in a two-place Spitfire wearing his official Dawn Patrol “I’m a taildragger pilot!” T-shirt.
During this time, Jay owned and operated a bicycle shop in the Kansas City River Market area from 1991 until 2016. And these weren’t bicycles like you’ll find in Walmart and Kmart. Jay sold the high-dollar, super-lightweight carbon fiber bikes like you’ll find in the Tour de France. These bikes were for serious riders. He sold his bike business in 2016 and moved to Marceline, Missouri, where he’s now a gentleman farmer and raises cattle.
That’s enough about him. Any more and he’ll get a big head. Back to the phone call.
“Why are you bothering me today?” I asked.
“What would it take for me to become a member of the Dawn Patrol?” he asked.
“Well, first you need something that looks like a WW-I airplane,” I answered. “Have you got one?”
“No. I figured you and the rest of the Dawn Patrol clowns can help me find one.”
This particular spitfire was fully restored by Stephen Boultbee-Brooks, including turning the fuselage into a two-seater by moving the fuel tank. Willy Hackett has flown two veterans of the Battle of Britain in it. (Photo: Richard Paver)
After a rather spirited conversation peppered with insults better not related here, we decided to pay a visit to “Bullwhip Baslee’s House of Pain.” (It is also known as Robert Baslee’s Airdrome Aeroplanes workshop and airstrip, eight miles south of Bates City, Missouri.) Bullwhip has a hangar full of his planes and told Jay to try them on for size.
The bottom line is that none of Robert’s planes could fit the bill. Jay’s right leg just wouldn’t bend enough for him to get in any of the cockpits. When I suggested using an engine hoist to get him into a plane, I made sure I was far enough away from Jay to have a good head start. I was fairly certain I could outrun him. With disappointed faces we headed back home. The search was not over for a Dawn Patrol plane for Jay.
Dick Starks and Willy Hackett in his daily R.A.F. uniform getting ready for the Memorial Day parade in Columbia, Missouri. Dick is about to take Willy in the Trench Cat to his parade car.
A day or so later, I got an email from a retired Coast Guard commander, Ken Hines. Ken lives in Columbia, Missouri, and had just finished a beautiful Robert Baslee full-scale Nieuport 28. He asked about getting in the Dawn Patrol. Ken is also a scarred veteran of Bullwhip Baslee’s House of Pain. So, we gained a new member. This was a good thing.
Then I got another call from Shrek.
“I’ve got a plane!” Jay yelled in my ear. “It’s a Mariner amphibian in U. S. Coast Guard Colors.”
“Good deal,” I said. “You’re now in the Dawn Patrol.”
“It doesn’t have an engine on it,” he continued.
“You’re out of the Dawn Patrol,” I replied.
“Wait a minute,” Jay went on. “I may have an alternate to tide me over until I get an engine for the Mariner. I just bought a 1941 Vultee BT-13 with a nine-cylinder 450-hp Pratt and Whitney 985-cubic-inch engine swinging a nine-foot Hartzell two-speed prop.”
“Gulp…I think we’ll be able to stretch the rules a little bit to allow that in the Dawn Patrol.”
The bottom line was that after I’d contacted the HMIC (head momma in charge) of the Salute to Veterans Airshow, Jay got invited to show his plane there and give rides to selected vets in the crowd. The Dawn Patrol had gained another member.
Then I got another out of the blue email from a man in Washington, D.C. Willy Hackett introduced himself and said he had been reading my articles in this fine magazine. He was very interested in WW-I aviation and asked if he could come out some weekend and hang out with us at Liberty Landing International Airport.
“Sure,” I replied. “The more the merrier.” Then after a few more emails, Willy finally started giving me some of his history.
Gulp! He’s in the R.A.F.
Gulp! He’s a group captain in the R.A.F. That’s the equivalent rank of a colonel in the U. S. Air Force! (Our only experience with colonels of any kind has been getting our rears chewed on by them at different airshows held on different military fields.)
Gulp! He’s on detached duty in Washington, D.C. Willy, his wife Debb, and his two daughters moved to Washington, D.C., where he serves as the U.K. lead of the F-35 Lightning project.
Here’s our Wild Willy looking very tame indeed. This is his official work photo for his role as the F-35 British national deputy. Willy, Debb, and their girls moved to Washington, D.C., for him to take the position after beginning his work with the Lightning 2 project.
Final Gulp! He received an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for services to aviation personally from Her Majesty the Queen in 1999.
In his personal flying, Willy is a gliding instructor and member of the Yakovlevs display team flying Yak 50 aircraft. He is a Shuttleworth Collection pilot, flying anything from a Tiger Moth to a Hawker Hind and a German Storch. He also instructs in and demonstrates the Folland Gnat. And Willy currently flies two-seat Spitfires with the Boultbee Flight Academy at Goodwood Aerodrome, giving rides to members of the public.
Did you get all that? This guy’s the real deal! And, he wants to hang out with us? Doesn’t he realize what this would do to his reputation? I warned him, but he said he didn’t care.
Sharon Starks and Willy Hackett take turns turning the prop on Jay’s beautiful BT-13 trainer before cranking it up.
We set it up with him and the HMIC of the Salute to Veterans Airshow being held at Columbia Regional Airport over the Memorial Day weekend for Willy to be an honored guest at the show. Now this was an honor—not to be compared in any way with being an honorary member of the Dawn Patrol.
We extended an invitation for Willy to fly into Kansas City the Thursday before the Memorial Day weekend and hang with us throughout the weekend. He could have flown into Columbia, Missouri, and stayed there with the rest of the honored guests for the airshow, but in a classic momentary lapse of reason, he chose to hang with us and absorb the entire Dawn Patrol experience.
On with the Show
We picked Willy up at the airport after his plane landed. He was easy to find. Willy was wearing his official Dawn Patrol “I Don’t Need No Steenkin’ Nosewheel” T-shirt that I had printed up and sent to him.
We noticed one thing about Willy right off the bat…he talks funny. For a while we thought we were in the middle of filming Downton Abbey. People in the terminal were tripping over their roller bags trying to figure out where the foreign language was coming from.
Since Willy had told us he wanted to absorb the entire Dawn Patrol experience, we went straight to Liberty Landing and put him to work washing planes, disassembling planes to put in trailers, pumping up tires, gathering tools, and all the other tasks needing to be done so the Trailer Weenies could blast outta Dodge Friday morning early. While he was doing all this, Willy flew several different planes at the airport, proving himself a master pilot.
Friday morning we blasted off for Columbia. Once there, aircraft assembly started with a vengeance. There was a Fokker D.VII, Nieuport 11, Nieuport 16, Morane Parasol, Fokker E.III, SPAD XIII, full-scale Morane Parasol, full-scale Sopwith Camel project, and Nieuport 28 being assembled. While all this was going on, Jay roared in with the BT-13. He made a couple of ear-splitting passes down the runway and landed. Jay taxied up and promptly threw Willy in the back seat and away they went. When they landed, Jay came up to me with bugged out eyes and quietly told me that just as soon as they lifted off, Jay gave the plane to Willy. Willy flew the entire flight including a greaser wheel landing all by himself. Jay was way past impressed.
One little event happened on Saturday morning. One of the acts had to cancel, so the air boss came by the Dawn Patrol cluster and asked Jay if he’d be willing to give a little demo of the BT-13 for the crowd. Not a big deal.
Charlie Radford gets ready to aviate in his Airdrome Aeroplanes Fokker E-III as Carl Melin holds on.
We pushed the BT out on the taxiway and got it ready to go.
Jay came over and quietly ordered Sharon to get in the rear cockpit. Nobody asked why. When they were taxiing out, Jay explained on the intercom why he wanted her along.
The runway in use was Two-Zero. The fifteen-knot wind was a ninety-degree crosswind from the left. Jay figured he might have to kick a lotta right rudder on takeoff, which his right leg might not be capable of doing. He told Sharon over the intercom that if he yelled “Right rudder!” he wanted her to kick right rudder as hard as she could. She didn’t need to worry about too much rudder because he’d have no problem countering her with left rudder if needed…The takeoff was a non-event. He didn’t even need her on the rudder pedal.
The airshow, as usual, was a great success. Jay flew both days and was the only plane flying over the parade in downtown Columbia on Monday.
Willy was invited to come again in 2019. We sure do hope he’ll want to do it again (if the psychic scars aren’t too deep).
Now, a short note on pilot call signs. I found an excellent description of call signs on the internet. Basically, it said there are three rules of call signs: One, if you don’t already have one, you will be assigned one by your “buddies.” Two, you probably won’t like it. And three, if you complain and moan too much about one and two, you’ll get a new nickname you’ll like even less!
Every member of the Dawn Patrol has a call sign. Some, unfortunately, can’t be printed in this magazine. But one of the more socially acceptable ones is “Wild Willy” for Willy Hackett.
I’m the “Junkyard Dog.” I got that one the day a squadron of twin-rotor Chinook helicopters was flying circles over the airport getting staged for a flyover at a football game. I scrambled the Gray Falcon, and we started chasing them over the field. I never got close. One of the watching individuals in the crowd mentioned I looked like a tiny Chihuahua junkyard dog up there chasing a pack of pit bulls.
Sharon’s call sign is unique. At one of the Gathering of Eagles fly-ins at Gardner Municipal Airport, every pilot was given a real neat lapel pin saying, “You Need These to Fly a WW-I Aircraft.” Hanging from the badge were two brass nuts.
Well, this presented a challenge. What do we do for Sharon’s badge?
Fortunately, her call sign name came naturally. This came about right after her adventure in the soybeans where she ended up “gear up” in the beans. (That means upside down.) The repairs took a couple of weeks, but she was finally ready to fly again. A few of the more seasoned pilots in the crowd asked her if she’d like them to take it around the first time to check it out. Sharon snorted, jumped in the cockpit, fired up the mighty four-stroke Valley Engineering Big Bad Twin, taxied out, and blasted off. As she made her first pass down the runway, one of the watching crowd murmured, “That woman has leather ovaries.” Yup…a call sign was born. So when you see Sharon in her Dawn Patrol jacket, you’ll know what the letters L.O. stand for written across her shoulders.
Yup…the adventure continues.
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.