It hit me like a bolt of lightning! Oh, no! I thought. Please… not again! Not now! My spirits plummeted. Somebody shoot me! I cried. I want to build another plane.
Some people would say, Jeez, wasn’t four enough?
My response would be, Hey, when the urge strikes, don’t fight it.
But first, let’s back up a few weeks.
We stalwart members of the Kansas City Dawn Patrol were on another of our infamous road trips. We don’t need a reason. We just wake up bored, with the urge to explore new worlds and have adventures. This particular time wed decided to visit one of Missouris two Skunk Works. This is where new aviation ideas that are usually totally unorthodox are being contemplated.
One of our favorite places to visit is Robert Baslee’s Airdrome Airplanes plant in Holden, Missouri. So Tom Glaeser, Mark Pierce, Sweetie (my wife, Sharon) and I loaded up the Dawn Patrol stealth van and headed east on I-70.
It’s only a 45-minute drive from Liberty Landing International Airport, and we make this drive a number of times during the year. Because Roberts place is so close, we don’t have to tell him we’re coming, which adds just a bit more spice to the pudding. An unannounced visit is a lot more fun.
In this case, we knew that Robert was in the middle of building a full-scale replica of the 1911 Bleriot XI. It’s a replica of the first plane to fly the English Channel, and it’s also being built to fly across the Channel on July 25, 2009, 100 years to the day from that first historic flight.
Robert was contacted at Oshkosh last year by the guy who is now building one. Robert had the half-scale Bleriot that was used in the upcoming movie Amelia on display in the Replica Fighters Association area at the show. Sharon’s Morane L Parasol was also on display. There was always a crowd on hand around both of the planes, asking questions and reading the posters we had about the planes and their history. Well, Pascal Kremer, from Luxembourg of all places, kept hovering around the Bleriot, examining it from front to back and from side to side. We finally asked Pascal if we could answer any questions for him. He was keen, so we called Robert on the cell phone and told him we had a live one in the RFA display area, sniffing around the Bleriot. The upshot of the whole deal was that Pascal decided to take advantage of Roberts builder-assistance program and made arrangements to build the plane at Roberts plant.
Before we go any further, I should make it clear that if you decide to spend a week or three at Bullwhip Baslee’s House of Pain, you are not going to sit on your duff and watch him build your plane. You are going to build it. Robert and his merry band of road-gang, slave-driving thugs are going to make sure that you do. They’re going to help, and you’ll get to use all of Roberts tools, but by golly you’ll work your fuzzy little tail off. Sweetie and I went through the ordeal when building her Morane replica, and the physical and psychic scars still run deep.
Robert starts work at 8 a.m. and finishes at 6 p.m.-if you’re lucky. One short lunch break is all thats allowed. The rest of the time you’re running from job to job. Of course, it’s worth it. In five days we had the Morane ready to cover. Heck, we had the fuselage standing on the gear halfway through the second day. But when it’s all over, you’ll need a week or two to get your strength back.
Enough about that. The Dawn Patrol stealth van coasted up to the plant. We all quietly got out of the van, gathered at the door, made a count of three and then erupted through the door of the shop at the same time.
Roberts face went white.
Good grief! Robert said. Not you clowns again! History has shown that when The Dawn Patrol shows up to help on a project, progress either slows to a crawl, comes to a complete stop or in some memorable instances, even gets backed up a bit. We were proud of those particular events. In this case, though, we just sniffed around the Bleriot fuselage (what a monster!) and tried not to hamper progress.
It was while we were fondling and exploring the Bleriot that I noticed the framework of another project in the shop. Approaching Robert, I asked him what it was. He told me that a bar owner had contracted him to build an 80%-scale replica of a 1915 de Havilland DH-2 to hang over his bar. It didn’t need to fly either. It was just going to hang there to add color to the bar. Robert said he’d do it, but he builds planes to fly, and before this one was going to get hung from a ceiling, it was going to get some real air between its wheels and the ground without the use of cables or a winch to lift it up.
Bottom line: About a month later Robert called and asked if wed like to see the taxi tests of the DH-2. That was a no-brainer. On January 2, we all gathered at a wonderful little grass strip close to Warrensburg, Missouri, for the unveiling of the DH-2. It was a perfect winter day. Winds were calm, and the temperature was just a tad above freezing. (Note to all you Southern fellers out there: For northern Missouri in January, this was the equivalent of a tropical heat wave.)
The DH-2 was put together, and dang was she pretty! Cute, too! I started to breathe heavy. This was not a good sign.
The DH-2 was pushed along by the Valley Engineering 40-horsepower, four-stroke Big Twin engine. A Culver prop was used to beat the air into submission. The engine was started, and with Roberts chief test pilot Harvey Cleveland at the controls, the DH-2 waddled out to the 3000-foot grass runway.
Harvey has more than 23,000 hours in many different types of aircraft. He’s flown all of Roberts designs. He’s also our resident movie star. He was the one who flew Sharon’s Morane in Amelia (KITPLANES, November 2008).
Harvey’s first run was a fast taxi with the tail up. The DH-2 went down the runway like it was on rails. Harvey turned around at the end, and without a moment of hesitation, poured the coals to the Big Twin and here it came. After about a 200-foot run, it lifted off as sweet as you please.
As the plane came by the cheering crowd standing beside the runway, we could all see the ear-splitting grin on the pilots face. Harvey made four or five runs up and down the runway. Wed only put a pint of gas in the tank because runway hops were the only flights planned. He did explore the full control envelope and said it was just a perfect little fun airplane.
Thats when it hit me. I wanted one. I wanted one-BAD!
Actually, I wanted one for Sweetie. After we had put the DH-2 on its trailer (trailer weenies rule!), Harvey came over and said, This is the plane we should have made for Sharon. It flies just like her Kolb Twinstar.
With my head hanging low, I stalked Robert. Then when no one else was around, I asked if he would consider having us for another of his Bullwhip Baslees House of Pain building sessions with Sweetie and me building her a DH-2.
Robert said what he always says: Sure. When do you want to start?
We are now on his schedule. The DH-2 has been delivered and is hanging over the bar. A full-scale IFR-capable Nieuport 28 has been delivered to Texas.
Whenever Pascal comes over from Luxembourg (he flies for a major European airline), they work on the Bleriot. Between Bleriot sessions, Robert is busy sending his kits all over the world.
Lastly, Robert has a full-scale Sopwith Pup almost 95% finished that needs the final tweaking before delivery. This is for another of his House of Pain victims. Once the owner of the pup comes and it’s finished, were next. Pray for us.