The Dawn Patrol

Just think of Mayberry, but with more dogs.

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Youll get a lot of perks from building and flying your own WW-I replica aircraft. Many different venues will ask you to bring your little plane to their fly-ins, air shows, museums and other locations. Now I should stop and explain that ask you to attend might not be the most apt description. Beg you to attend might be more like it.

Sharon Starks finishes the vertical fin installation on her Airdrome Airplanes Morane-Saulnier Parasol. The schoolhouse that General Pershing taught at is in the background.

In the universal scheme of all things aviation, there are not a lot of WW-I aircraft, and even fewer of them are actually flying. As Ive said several times before, Robert Baslee and the late Graham Lee opened the door to WW-I replica aircraft that Joe Normal can build and fly. These planes will not bust the family budget. In fact, many of them can be built for less than the cost of a set of wheel bearings for a P-51.

Many of the places you get invited to provide you with lodging, food, auto gas, aircraft fuel, hangar space, smoke oil and choice spots on the flight lines. They really do like having these aircraft on the ramp. The icing on the cake is that you actually fly during the shows. Of course, we have to make it clear up front that flying will be totally determined by: 1) the weather and 2) how friendly the FAA decides to be. But when we do get to fly, its always swell. Yep, we’ve ground-looped our little airplanes in front of crowds numbering in the tens of thousands.

We never fail to entertain.

The stalwart stud muffins (and stud muffinette) of The Dawn Patrol receive a lot of invitations to the bigger air shows in the Midwest. We get to rub shoulders with the real men and women of the big-time air show groups. We have met the Canadian Snowbirds, the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds. We’ve had pilots of those prestigious teams sit in our planes and talk flying with us. Over the past 22 years, rubbing shoulders with these wonderful men and women has given us treasured memories.

One of my fondest recollections is of the hard-as-nails Marine Harrier pilot who flew into a show where we were displaying our canvas falcons. He looked like a medieval knight as he walked up to me, his flight suit with all its attachments clanking at his side. He looked my Nieuport over, asking questions about it. He was so interested that I finally asked, Would you like to try her on for size? A minute later he had shucked off all of his Harrier pilot accoutrements and was climbing into the Gray Falcon. He spent about 15 minutes in the airplane working the controls and asking questions and was just a super guy. In fact, we’ve never yet met a Big Iron pilot who didn’t treat us as equals. I believe a few of them were jealous of the fun we have with our little airplanes.

The big shows at big airfields are a lot of fun, and we love them. But there is another side of the story. Because The Dawn Patrol is what some call a cheap act, we get invited to venues at the other end of the spectrum. Im talking small, grassroots airports, local fly-ins and picnics.

The reenactors camp. On Friday there was a thunderstorm of biblical proportions, but the reenactors never ran for cover. They spent the night in their tents and shelter halves. The author was warm and dry as he watched the action from the caretakers cabin.

Open Invitation

More than 17 years ago, I got a call from the curator of the Gen. John J. Pershing Boyhood Home State Historic Site and museum located in Laclede, Missouri, who asked if we would like to display our planes on the grounds of the museum for the annual Pershing Days Festival. We would also have our planes towed down Main Street in the big parade. There would be no flying because there is no airport close by. We would trailer our planes in and set them up on the lawn of the museum for two days. After the Saturday parade, wed put the planes back on their trailers ready to head for home. If we wanted to hang around for a while, wed get to watch the lawn mower drag races down Main Street. (By the way, lawn mower drag racing is a serious sport!)

One of the reenactors lays out his display of WW-I memorabilia. Of note is an original tin of Colgate tooth powder, Prince Albert in a can, eating utensils, corned beef in the can, hard bread, and assorted tools and weapons.

I had never even heard of Laclede or this festival. I asked the curator what kind of town Laclede was. He thought for a second and said, Just think of Mayberry, but with more dogs.

With the current state of the economy, the Pershing Boyhood Home has had its budget slashed to the bone. With those limitations to consider, we found that they would provide lodging for us in the caretakers cottage. Wed have to sleep on the floor, but there was a bathroom, shower, kitchen and a coffee maker (a must).

Weve been going to Laclede off and on now for the last 17 years. The event is always two weeks before the biannual Dawn Patrol Rendezvous at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on the grounds of Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. On years when we go to Dayton, we have to pass on going to Laclede. You can only have so much fun.

Laclede is 20 miles east of Chillicothe on Missouri Highway 36 and only 90 miles from Liberty Landing International Airport, so for us its a pleasant four-lane, 2-hour drive.

Reenactors Dean Venardos and Pablo Raum sit in the Trench Cat. Venardos represents a

Visitors to Laclede can tour Pershings boyhood home and the museum, which are dedicated to the memory of General Pershing and the soldiers who fought under him in WW-I. Before going to West Point, Pershing taught in the Prairie Mound School, which has been relocated to the museum grounds. Inside the school, a gallery displays different scenes from Pershings early childhood and military career. A statue of Black Jack stands near. Around the statue is a Wall of Honor, a semicircle of granite tablets inscribed with the names of war veterans. There are two photographs on the wall of the museum that really grabbed me by the nose. One was of Teddy Roosevelt, taken during the Spanish-American war. Beside Roosevelt is Lieutenant John J. Pershing. The other photo is of Pershing on horseback, crossing the Rio Grande when he commanded the expedition to find Pancho Villa. Riding on Pershings right, looking like hes having the time of his life, is Lieutenant George S. Patton.

Sharon answers questions from visitors interested in the Morane-Saulnier L Parasol. The replacement Trench Cat waits for its parade debut. It was not a pretty sight; 1.6 hp isn’t a lot of power. The author ended up pushing it most of the way like a kid on a skateboard.

The Pershing Festival Days celebration of 2010 was not the norm; it was Pershings 150th birthday, and the town went all-out for the event. Representatives from Australia, the United Kingdom, England and France were in attendance. The delegation from France was from the towns sister city of Souilly, where Pershing had his headquarters for the Meuse-Argonne campaign. The 399th Army band from Fort Leonard Wood Army Base was also there along with many state and local dignitaries. Even the governor of Missouri and the adjutant general of Missouri showed up.

This year we took Sharons Robert Bullwhip Baslee-designed Airdrome Airplanes Morane-Saulnier Parasol to display on the lawn by the museum. Also in attendance was a large contingent of WW-I reenactors. These guys go waaay beyond the extra mile in their hobby. Everything is authentic: uniforms, weapons, tools and food. They are a super nice bunch of guys, too. They will answer any questions about their clothing, weapons, tools and any other thing you might want to ask. I was really impressed with the efforts they make to keep everything as authentic as possible.

The Morane is pushed up Main Street. At the far left the author can be seen pushing the Trench Cat and trying to keep up.

The precision drill team from Eastern Kentucky University and the Pershing Rifles Company R-1 stand by the Pershing statue. These young men paid their own way and drove more than 600 miles to perform at the celebration. They put on an incredible display of rifle handling.

The Big Push

When it came time to line up for the parade, the Morane was towed down to where the parade was being marshaled. Then the tow tractor disappeared. The parade started. The WW-I reenactors marched by, and we were supposed to be behind them, but still no tractor showed up to tow the Morane. Sharon was to be in the cockpit steering the Morane while waving to the crowd.

Sharon, bless her heart, said, I don’t know about you but Im not going to miss out on having my plane in a parade! She muscled the Morane into place in the parade line and started pushing it down the street all by herself. I would have helped her, but I was on the Trench Cat. I was supposed to be throwing candy to the kids lined up on both sides of the street as I wove my merry way along.

A little side note here. We had a break-in at our hangar at Liberty Landing International Airport. Those low-life, bottom-dwelling scum-suckers stole almost all of our hand tools, power tools, toolboxes and, cruelest of all, the Trench Cat. The motorbikes sidecar was too big to go through the door, so the thieves took the time to unbolt the sidecar and take just the bike. I busted my rear getting a new one built for Laclede but didn’t have time to install the 6.5-horsepower engine upgrade. So in the parade, I was peddling the struggling cat along the street. Its 1.6-hp engines tongue was hanging out. Just to make sure you don’t think Im a real heel for making Sharon push the plane in the parade, I begged her to take the Trench Cat, and she twice refused. I offered, she refused, my conscience was clear.

Anyway, back to the parade. Sharon had pushed the Morane about two blocks and was rapidly regretting her decision to do it on her own. She was fading fast and looking for a side street to bail out on when two nice young men ran out of the crowd, took over the pushing, and finished the rest of the parade route for her. (Sharon and I are no longer spring chickens, and this kind of stuff wears us out pretty dang fast.)

Well, that ended the day for us. We got the Morane back on its trailer in record time and headed back down the road to Liberty Landing. Thirty minutes max from air to road and road to air. Laclede 2010 was over, and we would have great new memories to talk about during the frigid Missouri winter ahead.


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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