My Benny Howard “Ike” replica recently arrived at Fantasy of Flight.  It is a faithful reproduction built by Kim Kovach of Detroit, Michican and is powered by a 4-cylinder Menasco engine.  The original airplane used the impossible to find 6-cylinder Menasco so the two rear exhaust pipes on this airplane are dummies.  Kim did a great job building it and it will make a great addition to the Golden Age racers on display at Fantasy of Flight.

Benny has since been assembled and is now on display with all his friends from my illustrated children’s book All of Life is a School. I have now collected seven of the ten characters in the book!

Benny as depicted in my book All of Life is a School

I first saw this airplane several years ago at Oshkosh and made a mental note it would be great to acquire one day.  Surprisingly, Kim called me and we tentatively cut a deal on the phone based on whether or not it would fit me.  I flew through Detroit on a trip and barely squeezed into it.  The only deviation from the original was to continue the 18-inch width at the instrument panel back to the rear of the cockpit where your shoulders are.  I’m glad he did this as there was no way I would have fit into the 15-inch original!  Even now I have to roll my shoulders forward to get in.  To fit in height-wise, there are not only detents in the floor for your heels but a cushioned seat that also allows your butt to sink below the floorboards!

Benny's Cockpit

On a side note, I’ve written my next book in the Gee Bee series called and recently began the process of working with the artists.  I got smart this time and only wrote in new characters, which I already had in the collection!  Look for more about this new book with some preliminary drawings in future blog posts.

Kermit

On my way home from Down Under I got a chance to stop in New York City and see my first ever Red Bull Air Race.  I had seen pictures of them in magazines but really didn’t know what to expect. It turned out to be an exciting way to deliver this type of aviation to the public in a way they could really follow and enjoy.  The job they did with lipstick cams, commentary, quick judging, scores, and instant slow motion replays on jumbotron screens for the crowds was nothing less than amazing. I was blown away by the marketing machine they’ve created!  If you ever see it advertised on the televison, it’s worth checking out.

I had been invited to attend the race as a Living Legend of Aviation and spent a couple of mornings at the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy display helping kids fly the simultors.  They had printed a cool coloring book with all the Red Bull Air Racers as well as ten of the Living Legends, including me, so I got to sign them for the kids as well!

Signing Coloring Books as a Legend!

One of the reasons I was looking forward to attending was to hook up with some old friends I had not seen in decades.  Competitors I used to know from past World Aerobatic Championships.  It was great to see they had finally gotten the chance to earn a real living doing something they loved, although they did say it was a lot of work.

Kermit with Matt Hall from Australia

One new person I got to meet was Red Bull pilot Matt Hall from Australia.  He was sitting the NYC race out after “touching” the water with his airplane at the previous race in Windsor, Canada.  You can find the somewhat heartstopping clip on Youtube.  He told me I had inpired him when he was ten years old watching me fly the Weeks Solution on television flying during the Australian Phillips Super Challange, which I won in 1984!  Now, how cool is that!

Nigel Lamb (2nd), Kermit, and Peter Bonhomme (1st) in New York City

After the race was over, the top three finishers came to the VIP tent and I got a chance to catch up with some old friends.  Peter Bonhomme was the winner with Nigel Lamb in second place.   I had met Paul several years ago but had not seen Nigel since competing in a contest in South Africa . . . twenty-five years ago!

You know you've hit the big time when . . .

I couldn’t help but imagine how much fun it would be to compete in this and actually checked into it.  Unfortunately, it soon became apparent I would not be able to justify the time and commitment required.  Oh well, it doesn’t hurt to keep imagining!  Let’s see . . . they all fly aerobatic airplanes with symetrical airfoils . . . what if I designed a wing with a better L/D for high “G” turns . . . . . . Yeah, yeah . . . that’s the ticket!

Kermit

I recently returned from a trip Down Under and got a chance to check up on several projects.  My first stop was New Zealand where I got to visit Peter Jackson and his staff.  Two of the three Mercedes engines I sent down were overhauled with one destined for my Fokker D-7 project.  I have several other exciting engine/airplane deals going at this time with Peter which I will report on at a later date.

Kermit flying a brand new Be-2c reproduction

I first met Peter through Gene DeMarco whom I had known from vintage aircraft for many years. Gene used to fly at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in New York State and I got the chance to dogfight Gene flying a Sopwith Camel while I was picking up and flying my Fokker D-VIII on a show weekend. Peter shares a love of WWI aircraft and hired Gene when he began collecting airplanes.  Between films the technical specialists build airplanes and it’s amazing to see what they’re doing.  I only wish I had the wherewithall to do what they’re doing at the same level.  Maybe one day Gee Bee will be as big as King Kong!  In success, not size. Anyway, what they’re doing for WWI aviation history is awesome and very inspiring!

Kermit flying original Avro 504 with 100hp Gnome rotary engine

Most of the time I was there the weather was not very good, but it cleared up one day and we headed up to where they keep their flying airplanes.  There I got to fly one of their scratch-built Be-2C’s, including a scratch-built RAF engine.  I also got to fly an Avro 504 with a 100 Gnome rotary, as well as, be a gunner in their amazing Fe-2B reproduction with an original Beardmore engine!  Talk about a blast.  It was . . . literally! I also got to taxi around their amazing WWI Albatross reproduction with an original Mercedes engine.  It sounds like a John Deere tractor and I can’t wait to be the first kid on my block to have one running!

Kermit, the Fe-2b Gunner, with Gene at the controls!

Clearing the skies of clouds and enemy aircraft!

One day, we hope to do a WWI show at Fantasy of Flight.  With the way things are progressing, it won’t be long before we could do a great one with just the airplanes we have . . . even if nobody else shows up!

Kermit

Teresa and I recently celebrated our 10-year Wedding Annversary.  But then again, that’s nothing new, for not only do we celebrate it every year, WE REDO IT EVERY YEAR!

When we initially planned the wedding, we wanted to invite family and friends out to Sedona but life had a different plan.  It seemed every time we tried to set up or plan something, it wouldn’t work out or the energy wouldn’t feel right.  In the end, we realized we were supposed to do it by ourselves.  I wrote the ceremony, came up with Teresa’s dress design, and was the official wedding photographer using a tripod and a timer.  NO ONE ELSE WAS THERE!

In Arizona, you only need five signatures to make a marriage legal: the bride, the groom, someone legally recognized by the state, and two witnesses.  We did the ceremony ourselves at sunset on our vacant property and toasted with some champagne as the stars came out.  We then visited the local magistrate’s house where we had pre-agreed to do the five signatures.  Unfortunately, only his wife was at home so we loaded up the magistrate and headed to the Rainbow’s End, a local bar where we had planned to celebrate with a band that night.  We grabbed two bouncers and, five signatures later, were legally married!

The next day we headed off to the South Pacific on our honeymoon, which included Turtle Island in Fiji, Bora Bora in Tahiti, and Easter Island.  When we came home three weeks later, it was then that we had a big party with all our family and friends.  Since our May 2000 wedding, Teresa and I have gone back every year to Sedona on our anniversary and redone our wedding!

The story of Teresa and myself has unfolded with a story that is beyond a fairy tale.  I hope to share much of it in my book The Journey Never Ends, which I’m still working on and will happen in its own time.  Our daughter Katie has been the only other person to witness our ceremony and it’s interesting that, as the fairy tale unfolded, we found out Teresa was pregnant with Katie the morning of our 3rd Anniversary! Initially, while redoing the ceremony, Teresa used to hold her, then, as she got older, would walk out with her.  Now Katie sits in a folding chair and takes pictures from afar.  She always asks, “Mommy, are you gonna cry again?” We always do . . . and once you know the story . . . you will too!

Kermit

I recently did a research trip for the Benoist Flying Boat we are building for the 100th Anniversary of Flight on January 1st, 2014.  Since there are no original drawings of the airframe or existing aircraft in exixtence, employee Ken Kellet and I took off to see what we could find.  As mentioned before, the Benoist uses a rare and unavailable 6-cylinder two-cycle Roberts engine of 75hp, which we hope to also recreate.

We first arrived in Washington D.C to visit the National Air and Space Museum and the Hazy Center to look at similar aircraft.  We were allowed to go through their historical archives, finding pictures and other bits of information that will help us.  They was very accomodating and allowed us to arrive before they opened and inspect a similar Hugo Eckner Flying Boat hanging in one of their galleries with a lift.  This aircraft also used the same engine as the Benoist.  I took lot’s of pictures.

We then took off by car to head up to Hammondsport, NY to visit the Glenn Curtiss Museum where there were two other similar period aircraft.  Continuing on we stopped to check the progress of the Fokker D-7 Fred Murrin is building for me.  The main structure is basically complete and it’s coming along slowly but nicely.

1913 reproduction Curtiss "E" Model Flying Boat at Curtiss Museum

1919 Curtiss "Seagull" at Curtiss Museum

After a day at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidental Library taking pictures of Roberts engine drawings we visited with Steve Littin of Vintage and Auto Rebuilds just outside of Cleveland, OH.  He builds early Rolls Royce Silver Ghost car engines from scratch and is willing to help our desire to build a new Roberts engine for the Benoist Flying Boat.  Steve recently visited Fantasy of Flight and, after discussing the project, took my 4-cylinder Roberts back to Ohio with him as well as all the drawings and manuals we took pictures of to begin the process of figuring out how we’re going to build a new one.

Kermit and Steve Littin with 4-cylinder Roberts engine

I was fortunate to recently acquire a second 4-cylinder Roberts from an auction in England, which just might end up in our 1910 Curtiss Pusher reproduction.  I figured since we’re going to be Roberts engine experts at some point, why not?  I also made an agreement with Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome to borrow their 6-cylinder Roberts, which is currently on display in the St. Pete Museum.  It will be sent to Steve for disassembly for reverse engineering purposes and we all look forward to learning about, building, and running this fascinating engine!  I can only imagine that it’s got to sound like a Harley on steroids!

On a side note, I got a chance to see the original Curtiss Seaplane Schneider Cup winner at the Smithsonian.  The land plane version of this with wheels (R3C-1) was the basis for the “Curtiss” character in my illustrated children’s book All of Life is a School.

"Curtiss" R3C-2 Schneider Cup Racer at NASM

I also got a chance to see the original “Roscoe” at the Crawford Museum in Cleveland, OH, which is also a character in my book.  I was somewhat surprised when I saw it to find it painted gold!  When I wrote the book, I must have got it confused with one of Roscoe Turner’s later racers, which was silver.  Since I was just about to put in the order for another 5000 books, I went to the trouble of changing the color.  I guess that makes the next batch the “Gold Edition!”

Original "Roscoe" Turner Racer at the Crawford Museum

I’ll post updates on the Benoist and Roberts project as we progress.  Once we get this research part done the fun part begins: building!

Kermit