One of my mechanics recently found a really old spark plug in our spare parts that was apparently made by the “Wizard” Spark Plug Company. He brought it to one of our aircraft meetings and presented it to me because of the “Wizard of Orlampa” title of a DVD years ago that’s for sale in our gift shop.
I immediately got the idea to create a little stand for it, which another mechanic made for me. The spark plug combined with our mission statement, Light that Spark Within, now resides on my office desk!
A Wizard of an Idea!
Light that Spark Within refers to the potential that lies within each and everyone of us as it manifests into reality. Kind of like the Universe coming from a Big Bang singularity.
Flight is the most profound metaphor of pushing our boundaries,reaching beyond ourselves, and freedom: not only in the world around us but also within, for we each, in our own way, can relate to reaching for sky and reaching for the stars as well as soaring in our imagination and flying in our dreams. This will be the Fantasy of Flight future concept and product, where people self-discovery themselves for themselves through entertainment as they Light that Spark Within! Now how cool is that!
I recently got the opportunity to fly the Commemorative Air Force’s Boeing B-29 Fifi from Lakeland, FL to Tallahassee! It was my third flight in a B-29 and my second flight in Fifi. I had the opportunity to fly Fifi the first time when I was bringing my B-25 Mitchell Bomber home from California and stopped at the CAF show in Midland. I’m a life-time member of the CAF and applaud them for what they do keeping their airplanes flying for the public and keeping the history alive.
On the ramp after Sun 'n Fun preparing to head north!
My first flight in a B-29 was in mine back in 1984 when we tried to move it inland from Oakland, CA and the salt air to Stockton, CA. We were on a ferry permit but had a few problems about ten minutes after take-off and had to turn back. In the end, it had some corrosion in the wing and I decided to disassemble it. I later traded the US Air Force out of two spare airframes they had sitting at the China Lake NAS so we now have plenty of spares to help in the restoration.
Flying right seat in Fifi!
I’ll never forget taxiing out to the runway at Oakland on three engines because we were having trouble getting #3 started. We thought we may have over-primed it so decided to taxi out and try to start it when we got out to the run-up area. This time period was right after they had de-regulated the airlines and, as we cranked away trying to start the last engine, a large 747 airliner bound for Hawaii came taxiing by. With smoke billowing from #3 as we cranked, a transmission came over the radio from the 747 querying Oakland ground control. I could imagine the pilot peering down from his lofty perch with glasses down on his nose as he questioned, “Is this one of those new airlines that started up since the de-regulation?” I cracked up, as even I thought it was funny!
My view from the co-pilot seat!
A few years ago I loaned the CAF one of our QEC’s (quick engine change). They were doing a complete engine conversion to later engines and I think this was a nice way to repay me. The new engines are really working well for them and I’m sure we’ll do the same when the time comes to restore ours, which unfortunately won’t be anytime soon.
On the flight to Tallahassee, I got to do the take-off and the landing and pretty much did all the flying. Of course, we made a fly-by at Fantasy of Flight shortly after take-off. The best way I can describe the experience is that it’s like flying the Empire State Building!
Our 1932 Pitcairn Pa-18 Autogiro has finally arrived from a Museum in Ohio and is now on display at Fantasy of Flight! It’s powered by a 90 hp Kinner engine and has a maximum speed of about 95 mph.
The Pitcairn arrives!
I had seen this aircraft first at Oshkosh several years ago and then after the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In when it was flown over and disassembled in our Fantasy of Flight hangars before heading back north. I remember mentioning to the owners that if they ever wanted to sell it to give me a call. Well, that day came last summer and we quickly cut a deal!
The Assembly Process
Once it was all put together, it was time for the final inspections, paperwork, checking the oil, and fueling.
Fueling and final preparations.
Andrew King, who had been the only person flying it and who used to work for me in Miami, went up for a twenty-minute test-flight and put it through its paces. It was the first time I had ever seen an original autogiros fly and it is surely a sight to behold! Here’s a link to a video clip of Andrew’s test-flight.
After Andrew landed, we all looked it over carefully and put some more fuel in it. I jumped in the front passenger seat and, after Andrew took-off, he handed me the flight controls. It was a bit different than what I expected and tended to jump around a bit. When I asked Andrew this, he said it had been smoother early on and that maybe there was a blade out of track.
Here’s a link to a video clip of my view from the front seat. This was all happening during the Sun ‘n Fun Splash-In at Fantasy of Flight and you can see the activity on the lakeshore as I pan over that way with the camera.
Once we landed, we swapped seats and it was my turn! This was a first for me and a first for Andrew, as he had only flown from the back where MOST OF THE CONTROLS WERE! Talk about trust!
I taxied down to the end of the runway, spooled the rotor up to about 90 rpm, unset the parking brake, disconnected the clutch that spins of the rotor so it will free-wheel, added the power, and off we went! It needs to move forward on the runway a bit like an airplane to get the rotor blade speed up to about 125 rpm where it lifts off.
We climbed up and did some maneuvers, one of which I thought would be a bit disconcerting for your average airplane pilot. I slowed down to zero airspeed, held the stick back all the way, and came down vertically like a parachute! The rotor continues to spin because of autorotation! Then when you kick in the rudder, the wing drops and it starts to spin! Whooa!
After some more airwork I landed in about 40 feet and then did two more take-off’s and landings to get comfortable. While I have a helicopter rating and would feel perfectly comfortable flying it, the FAA says I still need to get an autogiro rating. Talk about incentive!
The post-flight Hero Shot with Andrew, Myself, and friend Richard Bach!
The whole experience was an amazing flashback into aviation history and I’m excited about getting my rating and start flying it. Of course, after we track the blades!
As part of the deal, they surprised me with a book on its history and restoration, a flying suit like Andrew had been wearing, and my very own autogiro hat! Hey, maybe I can practice running around the ramp with just the hat! :-)
A Happy New Owner with all the Accessories!
I think it will make a great future character for my illustrated children’s book series as Pretty Polly Pitcairn and expect that she will probably pair up with my other autogiro Juan de la Cierva!
It now seems I have some incentive to get Juan, a Cierva C-30, down from the rafters and restored! Come on out and check them out!
We now have two new Sikorsky’s on display at Fantasy of Flight!
The first is a Sikorsky S-39. It had been on loan for a period of time but is now part of the collection! It made its debut to the public at the Sun ‘n Fun Splash-In that was hosted at Fantasy of Flight this past March.
Coming in over the trees!
Recovered from the Alaskan bush and rebuilt by Dick Jackson over 40 years and 40,000 man hours, it is the only example of its kind flying in the world. To my knowledge there are only three or four known to exist.
It's great on the water!
Dick brought the aircraft down several years ago for the Splash-In and left it on display for about six months. I couldn’t help but want to see it on permanent display and after the event we cut a long-term deal to purchase it. The aircraft is now part of the collection and is a joy to fly as well as operate on the water.
In its element!
It is truly a work of art and must be seen up close to be appreciated.
The next cool Sikorsky to arrive is an S-55 Helicopter!
A Grand Old Lady!
It was used in New York Airways as part of the first ever helicopter airline service in the early 1950′s and flew passengers between New York and the three surrounding airports – La Guardia, Newark and Idlewild (now JKF).
It’s powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-1340 engine that is similar to what is used in the WWII N.A. AT-6 Texan Trainer. It won’t fly anytime soon but I’ve been offered parts to help in the restoration from a local business that does turbine conversions. This one though . . . will stay as it is!
I’m hoping the S-55 will be seen by the public when we open our “Golden Hill” Storage Facility tour at Fantasy of Flight in a few months.
I finally got to fly my Benny Howard “IKE” replica a couple of times recently, but not before a few setbacks. It took us forever to sort out a brake problem, and then I had to figure out a way to fit in!
“Benny” is a character that shows up in my first illustrated children’s book called All of Life is a School that uses Golden Age airplanes to help tell the story.
Coming 'round a pylon!
The builder of this airplane, Kim Kovach, and the original pilot, were both smaller than me. I believe the original pilot flew barefoot while Kim modified a pair of shoes to get in. So I took his advice, grabbed an old pair of sneakers, and headed to the wood shop.
Modifying an old pair of sneakers!
After grinding off the heels down and sawing the toes off, I found that I could get in and operate the brakes without a problem. There’s not much room to spare, as I find my toes tickling the bottom of the fuel tank!
Heels and Toes ready for Action!
As in the original, your heels and butt actually go down below the floorboards. I had to wrap up a towel for a lumbar support so I could lean back and get my head down into the cockpit as well, which raised my knees to just below the panel and somewhat in the way of the throttle.
The only modification Kim made to the original dimensions was to extend the 18-inch fuselage width at the instrument panel back to the rear of the cockpit where your shoulders are. Without it, and even with my shoulders rolled forward and inward, I just barely fit. It’s hard to believe the original shoulder dimension was only 15 inches!
One of the things that became immediately apparent was how rough it taxies on my grass runways. As per the original, there is NO shock absorption built into the landing gear! Oh well . . . that’s the way it was so that’s the way I’ll fly it!
Currently, after about twenty minutes flying it, my arms and legs start to go to sleep so I end up landing sooner than I’d like. I don’t see any cross-country’s in my future but will keep trying to find a way to make it more comfortable.
The original racer had an impossible to find 6-cylinder Menasco engine so this one has an almost as hard to find 4-cylinder Menasco with two dummy stacks. It’s got a unique sound and I’m hoping we can fly it more for airplane of the day or special events.
I hope everyone gets out to Fantasy of Flight one day to see it fly!
“It was so great meeting Friday night and working with you on our event. First of all, a huge thank you. The event came off without a hitch and was well received by everyone. I received all kinds of compliments about how much fun everyone had and how good the event was. The room looked great and I loved the blue tablecloths and the centerpieces - you nailed it. Also, all of the staff was so professional and helpful. It was just right - and thank you so much for all you did to make that happen.
I am totally excited about how everything turned out. You, especially, made it all very easy for me. And I appreciate all your reassurance along the way that it would be perfect - and it was. Again, thanks for a wonderful event - you do great work.”