The Dawn Patrol

Air Venturing.


Early in the morning at the RFA display area. Left to right: Sharon’s Morane, DH-2 and Butch Witlocks impressive Fokker D-7. All three are Airdrome Aeroplanes replicas. (Photo by Dave Carl)

Mark Pierce had a smile on his face that went from ear to ear. Well…Thats one more item from my Bucket List taken care of. Ive flown my Nieuport at Oshkosh.

He had just come in from his landing on the ultralight runway at AirVenture 2009, having trailered his Nieuport up to Wisconsin with just that goal in mind.

Sharon Starks is doing what she likes to do best: talking about her new plane.

Mark was giving us his flight debriefing by the fence when one of the pilots that was in the air while he had been flying strolled up. Well, that was interesting, he said. Ill never fly up close behind a Nieuport again! Hed been in the pattern behind Mark and had flown into the unbelievable wake turbulence the Nieuports leave behind them. While the Nieuport weighs only 700 pounds gross, the wings and short buzz-saw props on the direct-drive VW leave some invisible swirling tornadoes that must be flown into to be believed. Youd think your wings had fallen off.

Memories in the Making

My wife, Sharon, and I had trailered her movie star (used in the film Amelia) Morane-Saulnier L Parasol to the show. Wed also taken up her brand-new Airdrome Aeroplanes de Havilland DH-2 replica. Both planes were displayed in the Replica Fighters Association (RFA) area at the north end of the field. We were camped at the south end of the field, and only the existence of the Wild Snorting Piglet (our new motor scooter) kept us from having a really bad case of Oshkosh knee while we were there.

When we arrived late Sunday afternoon, the sky to the north was purple-black with a fast-approaching storm bearing down on Wittman Field. We were lucky this time. When we drove up to the RFA area, a mob of men had poured out of the building ready to help put the planes together. It worked, too. In less than an hour we had both planes assembled and tied down.

Sharon gets her Peoples Choice award from Charlie Zue, acting president of the Replica Fighters Association.

I was working on the Morane, because its the easiest of the planes to put together-all clevis and safety pins. The DH-2 is a lot more complicated: four wings, clevis pins out the wazoo, cables like a spiders web…a real fun assembly. Sharon and the guys from the RFA were working on it, and she was barking orders like the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. The poor RFA guys were snapping to and trying to keep up with her shouted insults and demands. (She comes by that red hair and freckles for a reason.) The storm had held off just long enough. When it finally hit with heavy gusts of wind and horizontal rain, both planes were snug-and safe.

The next four days were just swell! Sweetie and I went up every morning to the Replica Fighters Area, getting as close as we could riding the Wild Snorting Piglet. We were able to park along with several hundred other bikes, scooters and motorcycles in one of the many lots specifically set aside by the EAA for those modes of transportation.

Wed spend the mornings with the planes visiting with the many people who came by to talk, look and dream about flying a replica warbird. With real warbirds selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and in some cases in the millions of dollars, a replica WW-I or WW-II warbird is Joe Normals only way to build and fly a piece of history. Most replica WW-I planes can be built for less than five figures. When Tom Glaeser and I built our Nieuport replicas in 1985, we had $2859 in each when they first tasted the joy of flight; 24 years later they’re still going strong. Our Nieuports are living proof that there’s nothing wrong with aluminum tube and gusset construction!

Admirers Welcome

We had many prospective builders and pilots stopping by to look at the little warbirds. There’s something about WW-I planes that inspires anyone with an interest in flying. They have romance. They’re attention getters. They make you think of the early Knights of the Air. In short, they are pilot magnets.

U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Joe Lanni checks out the DH-2s cockpit. General Lanni has over 800 hours in the F-22 Raptor. He also tried out the Moranes office.

Three members of the Thunderbirds crew stopped by, and several of them tried out the cockpit of the DH-2. The grins on their faces said it all. While they were doing that, we noticed a tall, distinguished man watching from the sidelines. We found out from one of his companions that he was a Brigadier General in the Air Force. Not only that, he was a Raptor pilot with over 800 hours. To make a long story short, Brigadier General Joe Lanni ended up sitting in the DH-2 with a big smile on his face. Guys like that make trips like this worthwhile.

The Ultralight Area at the south end of the field was a sobering sight. It was more than half empty. (We couldn’t figure it out until we saw that almost all of the Light Sport Aircraft were now in their own area west of the control tower in the LSA Mall.) There were only two or three powered parachutes on display. As usual, we were drawn to Valley Engineering with Gene and Larry Smiths Swing-Wing Back Yard Flyer.

Several times a week when were out at Liberty Landing International Airport the same thing happens. A car drives up, and a guy gets out and comes in the Dawn Patrols hangar and asks if there are any hangar spaces open. We tell him there’s a list a mile long waiting for a hangar to open up. Hangar space all over Kansas City is in short supply, or its so expensive that a normal guy cant afford it. Several pilots have told us that theyve finally put their planes up for sale because they cant find a place to safely store them out of the weather. It takes only one Missouri Big-Black-Surly storm to totally trash a light fabric-covered aircraft.

Anyway, the Valley Engineering Swing-Wing is the answer to that problem. The wing rotates 90 on its vertical axis and bolts down to the vertical fin. The final assembly is 25 feet long and only 83 inches wide. You can change it from flight ready to trailer or garage ready in less than 2 minutes. Its also a legal ultralight.

The seaplane base slumbers under a gentle shower.

Wired, or Not

The wireless Internet availability at Oshkosh was upgraded, but its still not great in the south campgrounds. We could sometimes get two bars on our laptops wireless indicator. That would cause shouts of joy from everyone trying to get connected. Occasionally, we found that putting your laptop on the steel bed of a flatbed truck helped. The operative word being occasionally. If we absolutely had to get online, we went to McDonalds.

In my article about the full-scale Bleriot XI Channel Challenger (September 09) built by Pascal Kremer at Bullwhip Baslees House of Pain, I mentioned that the test pilots of the plane, Harvey Cleveland and Eric Presten, both said they liked the plane and wanted one for themselves. Well, Eric Presten crumbled first. A month before Oshkosh, Eric and Debbie Presten showed up at the House of Pain ready to start work; 21 days later the plane made its first flight. The second full-scale Airdrome Aeroplanes Bleriot XI was at Oshkosh in the Rotec radial display area. To make their plane even more realistic, the Prestens built it with wing warping instead of ailerons. (Eric and Debbie both shuddered when I asked them what that experience was like. From time to time, I noticed they both had that 2000-yard stare that soldiers too long in combat without a break get. Having gone through the House of Pain ordeal twice with Robert, I could certainly sympathize with them.)

Its time to head for home. The Moranes trailer is about to be hooked up to the car. Sharon stands next to the DH-2 trailer with the Wild Snorting Piglet tied down in front.

Sadly, we had to cut our stay short and get back home for the weekend. Thursday morning (in a rainstorm, naturally) we drove our trailers to the RFA area and took the Morane and DH-2 apart. Again, we had all the help we needed (in the rain, too!) from the RFA guys. We cant say enough about how great they were. We had both planes apart, parts on the grass and ready to load in their trailers in less than an hour. Having helpers that speak airplane really makes a difference. There was a short break in the rain that gave us enough time to get trailers loaded without filling them with rainwater.

The rest of the day offered our last chance to sightsee, and we made the most of it. With the rain coming down, the crowds were light (except in the four big display hangars), so we had a good time looking at all of the neat outdoor displays and aircraft. We also squeezed in the short drive to the seaplane base. If you’ve never visited there while at Oshkosh, its worth the trip.

Friday morning we blasted off at oh-dark-thirty and were back at comfortable Liberty Landing International Airport 11 hours later. Oshkosh was over, and we were already looking forward to 2010.

Next on our agenda is the WW-I Rendezvous at the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. How many pilots get invited to fly their aircraft off the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Museum? Well, we do! By the way, Sharon’s DH-2 replica was voted The Peoples Choice in the RFA area. The trophy is sitting on top of our television and she looks at it every time she walks through the room.

Dick Starks has written two books about the joy of flying; You Want To Build And Fly A What? and Fokkers At Six Oclock!! He was the recipient of Flyings 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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