The Dawn Patrol

Return to the scene of the thought.

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Whatcha doin, dummy? Tom Glaeser asked.

I was standing in front of my incredibly cluttered workbench in The Dawn Patrols hangar, located at beautiful Liberty Landing International Airport. I had a serious, thoughtful look on my face as I stared down, searching through the jumble on the bench.

Im looking for something, I replied while scratching my rear. (My wife, Sharon, is constantly reminding me that thats where my brain is located.)

There was a companionable silence as he joined me to look through the clutter. The silence dragged on for a while as we both pawed through the collection of loose aircraft hardware. Finally, he surrendered and broke the silence.

Whatcha lookin for? he asked politely.

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I have no idea.

Returning to the scene of the thought usually works. Head scratching also helps.

There was another short silence.

Is it a tool? he queried.

I don’t know.

Nut, bolt, washer, clevis pin, safety pin, screw, rivet, eyebolt, Adel clamp? Glaeser went through everything that was visible on the bench, hoping to jog my failing memory.

I have no idea.

Curious about the gathering at my bench, Dick Lemons quit working on his Airdrome Aeroplanes Fokker DR-1 triplane replica, ambled over and asked, Who called this meeting? After getting the gist of the problem, he started mentioning tools and hardware I might have been looking for.

About then, a grease-covered Mark Pierce wandered over, wanting to know what was going on. (He hates to miss out on anything.) He had been working on the green lawn tractor that we use to mow the airport, and he was tired of messing with it and needed an airplane break.

With his arrival, the gathering of the coven was complete.

What are you three clowns looking for? Pierce inquired courteously.

Dummy here forgot what he was looking for, Glaeser answered. Lemons and I are trying to jog his memory.

There was another short companionable silence as we stood there solemnly pondering the problem. Pierce went through the same litany of aircraft tools and hardware that Glaeser and Lemons had already covered trying to help solve the dilemma.

The sound of giggling came from the corner of the hangar. Sharon was over there cleaning her Airdrome Aeroplanes Morane Saulnier Parasol replica. She snickered as the drama unfolded.

You four fools look like the Madagascar penguins standing there, she said.

We ignored her.

Pierce, Glaeser and Lemons listed basically everything mentioned in the Aircraft Spruce catalog trying to help me out. No such luck. Silence fell again.

Pierce finally said, Well…You should do what I do when this happens to me.

Whats that? I asked.

The break-time bunch makes fun of the author while he works. From the left: Tom Glaeser, Mark Pierce, Sharon Starks and Dick Lemons.

You need to return to the scene of the thought, he replied. It always works.

Wherever You Go, There You Are

I had been working on my beloved 24-year-old Graham Lee Nieuport 11, which was up in the front of the hangar. My workbench is at the back of the hangar. Its about a 50-foot walk from the plane back to the bench, and during that walk, as usual, I forgot what I was doing on the plane. These brain burps have been happening more and more frequently lately. The years have started flying by, and as I mature, Ive sensed Old Father Time lurking in the darkness behind me, sharpening his scythe.

All things considered, I was getting kind of worried about the situation. At this rate, in a few years Id be sitting in the cockpit of my Nieuport, drooling while wondering about the purpose of the pushy-pulley thingy with the red knob on the end.

They all went back to the table at the end of the hangar to take a short break and quaff a few cans of hearty Diet Dr. Thunder. I could overhear their conversations, and the words idiot and dummy were used a lot. I think they were talking about me. There was a lot of giggling and laughter. I ignored them.

Finally, biting the bullet, I followed Pierces advice. I went back to the front of the hangar where The Gray Falcon was sitting with its side panels off and the interior wide open for the work I was doing. The guys had finished their break and were back working on their individual projects.

I went up to the Nieuport, took a seat on the chair that I had been sitting on, and looked into the airplane. What had I been doing, and why did I need to go back to the bench? Inquiring minds wanted to know.

Ah ha! There it was! I had to replace a hose clamp on one of the tubes from the smoke oil tank. This tube went from the tank to the little smoke oil distribution manifold. The manifold splits the smoke oil stream into four copper tubes that route the smoke oil to the four exhaust pipes on the engine. (The smoke tank is the windshield washer tank/pump combination from a 1992 Dodge Shadow.)

Bungle, Recover, Repeat

Filled with new resolve, I headed back to the rear of the hangar to get the hose clamp that was hanging on a nail on the wall over my workbench. I was halfway back to the bench when Glaeser, who was standing on his head in the cockpit of his Nieuport called out, Hey, Starks, come over here and hold this wrench while I tighten this *&(^&%^ nut. (I don’t think this was the correct nomenclature for the part, but that was only a guess.)

It took a few minutes of creative cursing and mumbling before we got that done. Then I continued my jaunt back to the bench. And there I stood, scratching my rear and wondering why I was standing there looking at the bench.

Yep, it was that old Deja Moo all over again. Id forgotten why I was standing there. With a sigh and a heavy heart, I made the long, sad trek back to the plane and returned to the scene of the thought. This time, I didn’t even have to sit down before I remembered what I needed and where it was. I ran back to the bench, snagged the hose clamp off the wall, and raced back to the plane before I forgot why I needed it. Ignoring the calls and pleas for help from the rest of the guys (and gal), I got it done. Progress staggered onward.

The other three members of The Dawn Patrol try to help the author think of what he was looking for. Left to right: Dick Starks, Lemons, Pierce and Glaeser ponder the problem.

And the Clouds Parted…

I know what you’re thinking: This guys a few ants short of a picnic. He needs to have his work by the bench. With his work right there, he can save a lot of time not having to walk back and forth.

Well, there’s a reason I have my worksite separate from my plane. Having to walk back there gives me a chance to experience what we in The Dawn Patrol call a Blue Sky Moment.

A Blue Sky Moment is a very important ingredient in working on your aircraft. Thats when you get to think, double-think and triple-think what you’re getting ready to do. There have been many times when Ive gotten halfway back to the bench and suddenly figured out that what I was getting ready to do was waaaay wrong and would result in an expensive mistake.

Measure twice, cut once is a mantra followed by builders since the dawn of time (though mine is usually, Well, poop. I cut it off twice and its still too short.) Anyway, heres another one: Think three times before doing anything. This is a good practice to adhere to. I cant tell you how many times that has kept me from turning a piece of expensive metal into a worthless pile of scrap. Those Blue Sky Moments have saved me from a lot of grief over the years.

Following Mark Pierces advice usually works too unless, like you just read, you get interrupted during the Blue Sky Moment. Then its back to square one.

Ah, Nuts!

There’s another popular aircraft myth that, at least for me, never held true. This is the old practice of replicating an action to find something you’ve lost. You drop a nut in the grass. You need that nut. You have only one more, and you need both of them. You search for it until you run out of patience. The common theory is to stand up, grab another nut and drop it in the same way you dropped the first one. Then you’ll find both of them in the same 3-inch circle. Yeah, right. That never works for me. All it means is that Ive just lost two nuts.

Most of the airshows and fly-ins we trailer weenies take our planes to have either hangars where we can assemble our planes or pavement to do the same thing. When you drop something on a hangar floor or on the ramp, you can usually find it. But in some cases, you’re still hosed. Those little items can bounce and roll a surprising distance on cement. A lot of airports we take our planes to are turf. For this reason, we always have a complete supply of tools and hardware with us to replace the items that are lost forever in the airport lawn.

When spring had finally sprung after one of the worst and longest winters I can remember, the airshow season was upon us, and the trailer weenies of The Dawn Patrol were starting to think of the shows wed attend. Planes were given their yearly condition inspections. Oil was changed. VW valve clearances were checked and adjusted. Trailer bearings were greased. And, most important, spare parts and collections of assorted miscellaneous aircraft hardware were inventoried and restocked.

The Dawn Patrol of beautiful Liberty Landing International Airport was getting ready to hit the road again. 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 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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