The Dawn Patrol

Mud wrasslin and airplanes.


My wife, Sharon, and I were sitting in our folding chairs in front of her Airdrome Airplanes DH-2 replica in the Replica Fighters Association (RFA) area at the AirVenture 2010 fly-in at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Up to that point wed been having a great time talking to the crowds that came to admire the plane and ask questions about it. Her DH-2 replica is a people magnet. It always had a large crowd around it checking it over and reading the posters about it.

Then it happened.

There was a guy standing in front of us looking at the DH-2 with another guy who had strolled up with him.

That has to be the ugliest dang airplane I have ever seen, the first guy commented to his companion.

I actually saw the hairs on the back of Sharon’s neck stick straight out. (Her hair is red for a reason.) Sweetie quickly morphed into her Sasquatch mode and prepared for battle. When Sweetie is mad shes 9 feet tall and completely covered with hair. She bent over to strap on her climbing spikes. This was so she could start her ascent up his frame, grab him by his ears, and discuss with him his most unwise comment about her plane. I got out of the line of fire. I knew better through bitter experiences not to get between her and her chosen prey.

But then the guy also said, Boy, Id love to have it! Its so ugly its beautiful!

Sharon morphed back into her normal, sweet, cheerful, considerate, patient understanding self. She strolled over to him and asked if he had any questions about the plane. She picked up the builders photo log we had brought with us and started to turn the pages, showing him how shed built the plane. Things went back to normal.

It was a typical day in the RFA area. There were crowds, taking photos and asking questions, around all of the replica warbirds. By the end of the week there were dead grass patterns outlining where the planes had been displayed.

Getting There

Weve been going to Oshkosh since 1980, but 2010 was a banner year for building memories that last forever.

The planes were barely assembled before the crowd started gathering. You can see the trailers in the background.

First we had to get there. We were towing two aircraft this year. (Trailer Weenies Rule!) I had the DH-2 behind me with all the tools and camping gear in the back of my 2005 Ford Freestar. Sharon, in a 2003 Ford Windstar, was towing her Airdrome Airplanes Morane-Saulnier Parasol. She had the DH-2s four wing panels in the back of the van. With the drivers seat pushed all the way forward, the wing panels just barely fit. We had them separated by many swimming noodles to keep them apart. It was a method wed used successfully before.

Now there is some little doohickey sensor thingy up in the convoluted wiring and plumbing that make up the fuel system of Ford auto engines these days. I found out in the middle of Wisconsin that when that sensor gets plugged up, you are done! The engine on my van went dead in a split-second. I coasted to the side of the road, with Sharon close behind me wondering what was going on. There was nothing in sight for miles but fields of corn waving in the breeze.

I just sat there stunned at the sudden change in events. One moment we were 2 hours away from Oshkosh, and the next we were stopped in the middle of nowhere. I was in a blind panic. What was I going to do? Id need two tow trucks to take the van and the plane to wherever we needed to go.

A good shot of the extraordinary panel on Russ Turners Airdrome Airplanes full-scale Sopwith Camel.

Then I heard a ghostly, disembodied voice from over my left shoulder…Use the force, Dick. Use the Garmin!

With trembling hands I picked up the mighty Garmin NUVI 200w thats my constant companion when driving anywhere. The GPS suddenly became worth every penny Id spent on it. I pressed Points of Interest on the screen display. Then, when it prompted me to spell name, I typed in Ford and pressed Done. Well, hurray and whoop-de-doo! Old Obi-Wan Kenobi was right. There it was! A Ford dealership only 2.7 miles away in Dodgeville, Wisconsin.

The Ford dealer could send some trucks to tow our sorry selves in. Just for the heck of it, I turned the ignition key, and the engine started. It ran really rough, but it was running. I eased the car onto the road and was able to get up to a struggling 40 mph. We limped into the Hallada Ford dealership in Dodgeville. To make a long story short, Scott Schanke, service manager, and Noah Bocek, service advisor, placed me at the front of the line. They put their best technician on it. He found the problem, cleaned out the sensor, and had the car ready to go in a few hours. That was memory No. 1.

A close-up of the Camels front office. The data plate is from an original Sopwith Camel, as are some of the restored instruments.

Now for memory No. 2. Two days before AirVenture was going to start, Oshkosh got more than 7 inches of rain. The whole airport was a swamp! All of the campgrounds were closed, and aircraft parking in the grass was closed. Incoming aircraft were directed to go to other fields. The aircraft already on the field were jam-parked on the concrete taxiways. In other words, it was absolute chaos.

Campers and motorhomes were parked all over Oshkosh in shopping-center lots and alongside roads. The Valley Engineering crew we were going to camp with called and told us to do what they were doing: Find a motel, hunker down and wait for word on Tuesday. Let me tell you, the Super 8 Motel in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, is pretty darn nice.

Being There

Now we get to Oshkosh memory No. 3: getting there. Tuesday morning we got a call from Larry Smith of Valley Engineering. He told us that we could come by, drop our stuff on the driveway, and walk it down to the camp area. Getting their campers in and parked had pretty well torn up the ground. We could not drive in until it had dried out. So we made a lighting stop there, threw our camping gear off to the side out of the way, and drove down to the RFA area. It was drying out, but it was still pretty soggy, and we had to be careful not to spin the wheels in the grass. The cars didn’t get stuck, there was plenty of help, and both airplanes were assembled and tied down in 2 sweaty hours.

Now, No. 4: the worst memory of Oshkosh, and my most embarrassing. I mentioned that there had been a lot of rain. Well, summer heat and moisture are the perfect conditions to bring out the Wisconsin State Bird: the Moosequito. (No, thats not spelled wrong!) They breed them big, agile and hungry up there. Oshkosh had almost settled down to normal Tuesday when radar showed a really nasty line of heavy thunderstorms heading our way.

The Valley Engineering guys had their Swing-Wing Back Yard Flyer staked out in the ultralight aircraft area. They decided that with the threat of big storms, the plane needed to go back into its enclosed trailer.

Thus, it transpired that about five of us were squishing around in the soggy ground, in the dark, swinging the wing on the plane to its stored position so that it could be eased into the trailer. Did I mention it was dark? We were only able to see what we were doing by holding flashlights in our mouths.

The Wisconsin Moosequitos love the lights. It shows them where the really tender cuts of meat are. I was helping Larry Smith when it suddenly felt like my back was on fire. I asked someone to start beating on me. They said it looked like my back had been sprinkled with large chunks of pepper. I was covered with the voracious little critters.

But ah ha! I had come prepared. Before we had headed to the plane, I had grabbed our spray can of bug repellant from the side panel of the car. I sprayed everyone in our group and even a few interested onlookers.

It was about 5 minutes later that all of us began to look like we were in Riverdance mode. We were gyrating around, beating on ourselves and one another. It seems that in my haste, Id grabbed our can of sunscreen instead of the repellant. Im pretty sure the sunscreen was basically a kind of salad dressing for Moosequitos. I got many bitter looks and comments about this mistake later, and I was called some names Id never heard before. I think they must be terms used only in the local dialect.

The storm came through with a 60-mph gust that upended a few tents, but there was no hail, and to the best of my knowledge, no aircraft were damaged. From then on Oshkosh was as normal as ever.

Sharon Starks gets her 1st Place Award in the WW-I division of the Replica Fighters Association. Tom Preuss presents the award.

In The Dawn Patrols low-and-slow milieu there was one plane that raised the bar to new and incredible heights. It was the unveiling of Russ Turners Airdrome Airplanes full-scale Sopwith Camel.

Robert Baslee was approached by Turner and asked if he was interested in doing the project. Baslees response was his usual, Sure. When do you want to start? Turner used Baslees builder-assist option, where he goes to Baslees shop and builds the plane there, using shop resources. Sharon and I did it when we built her Morane-Saulnier parasol and the DH-2.

We call the facility Bullwhip Baslees House of Pain. He helps, but you will build the plane. Anyway Turner went over-the-top with the airplane. He wont tell me how much just the instrument panel cost, and the data plate is an original Sopwith Camel data plate. Several of the flight instruments are originals that have been overhauled by an instrument shop, and they still work! Up front is a big old snarly Rotec radial. The original Camels were a real handful due to the incredible torque from the massive spinning rotary engine. The initial test flights of this plane were made by Baslees chief test pilot, Hollywood Harvey Cleveland. (He flew Sharon’s Morane in the opening scenes of the movie Amelia. You can read more about this adventure in the November 2008 issue of KITPLANES.)

Steven Lund stands with his over-the-top 75% Fieseler Storch replica.

Sopwith PIREP

What follows is Clevelands report about the Camel, taken from his email: Hi, everyone. Its Sunday the day after the flight test of the Camel. This gives me lots of time to reflect on how this plane compares to all of the rest of Baslees creations. All I can say is that the Camel is clearly in a class of its own. Several people have asked me how it compares to my other favorite, which is Butch Whitlocks Fokker D-7. They are both true classic art forms. Whitlocks D-7 is more Picasso with its bright colors and blistering flight performance: namely, a rocketing rate of climb and a snappy roll rate. His plane has the WW-I look with modern day performance and reliability.

Now this Sopwith Camel by Russ Turner would have to be a Rembrandt. With a welded chrome-moly fuselage, stainless rolled flying wires, and nine-cylinder radial, it becomes a time machine. The Camel is all that a replica builder could ever hope for. Its the real thing. This plane is truly a link to times past. It took me back to 1918 without the nasty realities that the real Camels had. This is a super sweet handling plane. No, it doesn’t do the typical Baslee blast-off, and its ailerons wont snap your neck. Instead, it just makes your spine tingle and gives you goose bumps. Here it is a day later, and I am still grinning like a hound dog eating briars. It has been raining all morning, so I may not get to fly it again until after Oshkosh. Im sure this plane has a lot more to say.

Cant get enough of Lunds Storch.

A Star Is Born

The other plane that grabbed me by the nose was Steven Lunds incredible 75% replica of the famous Fieseler Storch. This plane is just flat unbelievable. He spent more than 2500 hours in the creation of this masterpiece. Not only is the plane scaled to 75%, many of the aircrafts components are scaled down, too. His kit came from Criquet Aviation in Bogot, Columbia. The Storch (stork) was the small German liaison aircraft built by Fieseler before and during WW-II. It was produced in other countries well into the 1950s. It is famous for its excellent short-field takeoff and landing characteristics. Lund put a lot of effort into making his Storch look as authentic as possible without compromising safety or performance.

On Pigs and Kittens

Last year at Oshkosh, wed taken the Wild Screaming Piglet scooter to run us around and keep us from getting the dreaded Oshkosh knee. The piglet worked great but was not trailer friendly. It weighed more than 200 pounds and was almost too much for us to load on and off the DH-2s trailer. So we sold it.

After putting the planes on their trailers, once again working in the rain, Sharon takes a break before starting the trip home to beautiful Liberty Landing International Airport.

I then bought a Baja 1.6-horsepower minibike. With the help of Robert Baslee and the rest of The Dawn Patrol, I designed and built a sidecar for Sweetie to ride in. The final creation worked great and looked like it was from the WW-I era. Best of all, it only weighed 130 pounds. We call it the Trench Cat or the Little Squealing Oinker.

On Friday, after Sweetie and I had given our forum on why we do what we do, we took the planes apart (in the rain, naturally) and loaded them on their trailers. We made it back home to the steamy environs of Liberty Landing International Airport unscathed. We have two more airshows scheduled in 2010. Life is sweet.

By the way, last year at AirVenture the ultralight area was only half full. This year the ultralights and Light Sport Aircraft were back in force. It was great to see all of the booths filled.

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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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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