I recently had the opportunity to fly a beautiful Albatros reproduction in the Shuttleworth and Duxford Airshows just outside of London. My good friend Gene DeMarco from TVAL (The Vintage Aviator Limited) invited me to fly it while he flew an Re-8.  His boss Peter Jackson had them both built for an undisclosed trade with the RAF Museum at Hendon.

Flying a TVAL built Albatros destined for the RAF Museum  (Photo by Keith Wilson)

By the time I got to England, Gene and the mechanics had assembled both aircraft and we soon were test-flying them over the English countryside.

Gene in the Re-8 and me in the Albatros over the English Countryside!  (Photo by Keith Wilson)

We got to stay in a wing of the Shuttleworth Mansion, which was owned by Richard Shuttleworth, who began collecting and flying vintage airplanes prior to WWII.  Unfortunately, he was killed during the War but his collection continues to be displayed and they fly shows during the summer months.

The Shuttleworth Mansion!

I had visited the Shuttleworth Collection many times in the past but had never been to one of their shows!  This was to be a first of memorable proportions!

We flew a Sunday Show at Shuttleworth and then the following weekend at Duxford about 20 miles away; home of the Imperial War Museum.  The airplanes were still technically owned by The Vintage Aviator Limited but, much to the delight of the local aviation enthusiasts, Peter had offered to let them fly for the public before they actually changed hands.

Gene and I in front of the Re-8 about to go on a sortie!

Gene had the capability of taking up “tail gunners” and gave a number of rides to the mechanics and volunteers at Shuttleworth and the RAF Museum, which is something they rarely get to do.  Of course, I took every opportunity to fly the Albatros to give them the exerience of what it must have been like in WWI with an enemy aircraft bearing down on them. 

Gene and I give Re-8 riders the experience of a lifetime!

Gene and I both brought several GoPro cameras each and used them on every flight, changing locations many times to get different perspectives.  There were plenty of other cameras in the air and on the ground and we all got a chance to share photos as well as video footage.

A gunners view from the Re-8!  Fortunately for me, he was out of ammunition at the time!

The original Mercedes engine used in this Albatros was supplied by the RAF Museum.  Since the airplane was not meant to continue flying, they kept as many original parts in the engine that might have been replaced.  Consequently, it tended to leak a bit of oil and I always took several rags with me flying, continually having to wipe the windshield down soon after takeoff.

An oily windscreen is not helpful when engaging the enemy!

It was a great experience and a lot of fun doing photo missions and dogfighting with Gene.  During the actual shows, we would alternate following each other for the crowd in a figure-eight pattern.  Unfortunately for Gene, he could not take a passenger (tail gunner) with him during the actual show flights so, he was pretty much a sitting Duck for the Albatros!  :-)

An easy kill!

One gorgeous evening I spotted a giant hot air balloon overhead at about 2000 feet.  We were about to fly anyway, so I took off early and started climbing with two cameras rolling; one on my tail and one on my right strut, both looking forward.  It turned out to be a ride balloon owned by Richard Branson with about 15-20 people in the basket!  I had never seen such a big balloon and made several passes around it, sometimes with it in my sights.

I purposely didn’t venture as close as I would have liked but found out later the waving guests enjoyed every minute of it.  Without a parachute, I was a lot happier when I got back down to a lower altitude!  Later, Gene and I found out we had both made the Virgin Balloon website!  I sent them several shots from my “gun cameras,” including this one, which they later posted.

Bagging my first balloon . . . and a Virgin one at that!

One of my more memorable flights was a photo mission over the original WWI Airship Sheds at Cardington.  This was a Restricted Area and we had to get special permission to fly over them.  I can only imagine this had to be the first and only time this ever happened!

Not only did I get the opportunity to shoot down the Re-8 many (actually many, many times) but I also got to shoot down a balloon and bomb enemy Airship Sheds!  The Kaiser would have been proud!

Over enemy Airship Sheds at Cardington (Photo by Darren Harbar)

One fun thing that happened was that, at some point, one of the Shuttleworth pilots showed up with a ponytail hat; obviously as a subtle joke poking fun at mine.  Several tried it on for pictures and by the time we got to Duxford it was not so subtle, as most of the pilots were now wearing them.  Here’s a shot after one of the pilot briefings!

Ponytail Row!

While I’ve heard that “imitation is the most sincere form of flattery,” I think there was some plain fun going on here as well.  One thing is for sure . . . they’ll be talking about those two crazy Americans that showed up adding some spice to their airshow season for quite some time!

I did a lot of Facebook posting while I was there and was surprised to discover during my visit that my “Most Popular City” was London, England!  Too cool!

Did I have a good time?  I think this picture says it all!

 

One happy Albatros Pilot!

Kermit

I am very fortunate to have recently acquired an airplane I’ve had my eyes on for a number of years . . . a Sikorsky S-38!

Sikorsky S-38 currently sitting in Amsterdam!

This particular airplane was built up by Buzz Kaplan and Born Again Restorations in Owatonna, Minnesota with an original upper wing and original tail booms.  They had previously built one for the late Sam Johnson who re-enacted his famous father’s trip in it through South America looking for the Carnuba plant, which was used to make Johnson’s Wax.  Since they had all the jigs, and had come up with original parts, they built this second one and painted it in the colors of Osa Johnson’s famous zebra-painted S-38.

The airplane was owned by Tom Schrade, who had actually flown it across the Atlantic several years ago using the tailwinds as his reserve fuel.  He enjoyed flying the last three airshow season’s all around Europe.  I just happened to be in England at the time while he was buttoning up the airplane  for the winter.  He told me he was thinking of putting the plane up for sale and I jumped on a plane the next day to Amsterdam and we cut a deal!  The whole thing seemed to unfold like destiny!

Interior of the S-38

Martin and Osa Johnson were famous explorers in the early part of the last century and captured the imagination of the general public.  They were probably the first-ever documentary film makers.

The Johnson’s Sikorsky’s in Africa circa 1934-1935

Since I was fortunate to have already acquired Dick Jackson’s beautiful Sikorsky S-39 painted in the giraffe colors of Martin Johnson’s S-39, it was another confirmation that seemed like destiny!

My S-39 restored by Dick Jackson over 40 years and 40,000 man hours!

Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia describing the Johnson’s exploits -

In 1932 the Johnsons learned to fly at the airfield in Osa’s hometown of Chanute, Kansas. Once they had their pilot’s licenses, they purchased two Sikorsky amphibious planes, a S-39 ”Spirit of Africa” and S-38 ”Osa’s Ark”.  On their fifth African trip, from 1933 to 1934, the Johnsons flew the length of Africa getting now classic aerial scenes of large herds of elephants, giraffes, and other animals moving across the plains of Africa. They were the first pilots to fly over Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya in Africa and film them from the air. The 1935 feature film “Baboona” was made from this footage.  

Their route in 1934-1935!

When everyone else was killing animals for sport and trophies, the Johnson’s were educating the general public about their plight and trying to save them.  Someday . . . their story needs to be told in a major feature film!

The plan is to disassemble the plane using one of the original builders, ship it back to Owatonna, and reassemble it.  I’m not sure when I might bring it to Fantasy of Flight but it will be late Spring or early Summer as I’ve got to figure out where I’m going to put it!  It might make sense to take it to the Oshkosh Fly-In next summer on the way to down to Florida.

The S-38 is an amazing addition to the collection and, now joining the S-39, represents two great historic airplanes together on display.  Now all we need is a great script, a director, some funding, and I’m off to Africa!

Kermit

 

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!

Kermit

I headed out to the Canadian Rockies again for my annual Heli-ski Trip with family and friends.  The Bugaboo Lodge was where Heli-skiing really all got started back in 1965 by an Austrian mountain and ski guide named Hans Gmoser and his company Canadian Mountain Holidays.

One of the Bugaboo Spires on the first run of a very cold morning!

They originally began flying with Bell 47 helicopters (MASH-type) but now fly twin-engine turbine powered Bell’s.  The scenery is breathtaking and the famous Bugaboo Spires can be seen above the lodge at the head of the glacier at the end of the valley.

One of the great things about the Canadian Rockies is the altitude we ski at is lower than in the States.  The lodges are around 2500′ and the tops of the highest runs are around 8000′.  As a comparison, the bottom of the mountain I ski at in Utah begins at 8000′.  This translates into more oxygen for the Heli-skiers and thicker air for the helicopters to operate more efficiently.

Our chariot arrives to take us closer to heaven and more fresh powder!

There are a number of lodges to choose from and several offer Heli-hiking in the summer, which I want to check out one day.

Everyone goes through safety training upon arrival and goes over the details of  the avalanche beeper training, which we all wear.  Everyone now carries a backpack with a radio, a snow probe, and a snow shovel in case of an accident.   Once this is done, it’s off to the slopes for fun in the powder!

What it's all about!

We eat lunch out on the mountain, which is delivered by a second smaller helicopter. Guides also use this helicopter for checking snow conditions and occasionally blasting to set off avalanches under controlled conditions.

Lunch on the mountain!

Most lodges have four groups of 11 skiers and a guide per helicopter but a few have three groups.  There maybe a few times where you wait for a lift while the helicopter refuels but you then get the opportunity to take a rest and enjoy the scenery.  As long as the weather conditions are good, I’ve always gotten more than my share of great skiing.

Bored waiting for the helicopter? I made a face in a Snow Cookie!

Heli-skiing is not without it’s hazards.  One of the really fun aspects is tree-skiing.  To me, it’s the ultimate video game because every run is different and you never know what’s coming up next.  You follow the technique race car drivers use in a car crash.  Don’t look at the wall (or the trees) . . . look for the open spots!  Sometimes they’re a bit narrower than you’d like and you end up catching a thorny branch or two.

A hazard of skiing in tight trees . . . thorny branches!

There’s a basic rule they tell us that I’m pretty good at following, “If you can’t see over it . . . don’t ski over it!”  

Of course, everyone thinks about avalanches.  The weather and snow conditions can change quickly over the week but the guides are well-trained and alert to the current conditions.  They’ve learned much over the years and their knowledge has increased safety.

Several years before I began heli-skiing, some of my family came to the Bugaboos for their first ever trip in 1994 and witnessed the worst accident in CMH history.  They had just finished a run called Bay Street as Group One and, while waiting at the bottom, watched Group Two begin to come down from the top.  Several of the skiers, with limited English, went a bit beyond where they were told to ski and the whole mountain slid from the top.  Fortunately, the slide stopped just short of Group One at the bottom but, unfortunately, nine skiers in Group Two lost their lives.  Out of respect, they’ve never skied the run again.

Bay Street!

While there are still dangers, the risks have been minimized over the years and thousands of skiers still flock from all around the world every year to enjoy the great sensation of skiing lots of untracked powder.

Last run of the week with the Bugaboo Lodge (and the Bar) waiting at the bottom!

At some point I may have to give it up but, at 58, I still feel I’ve got a few great years left in me!

Kermit

 

After the Living Legends event in Beverly Hills, I was able to hitch a ride out to Salt Lake City with aviation supporter Tracy Forrest. He let me fly his Citation Mustang out of Santa Monica to Salt Lake City where I was going to kill some time before the Quail Hunt the following weekend at my family’s ski condo.

The Mustang is a great entry level jet, very economical to fly, and has the same Garmin 1000 radios I used in the Cessna 172 I got my Instrument Rating in. The weather was great until we got close to SLC and we then went on instruments, picked up some light ice, and shot the approach. Having just got my Instrument Rating, this was a great experience for me!

Citation Mustang in the rain at SLC

I used the quiet in the mountains to catch up on my blog and never made it out to the slopes! I’ll talk about that in a later blog post. I was happy to be invited back to the Quail Hunt and headed off to Dallas/Ft. Worth five days later by airline to hook up with my ride out to the Ranch.

Last year I got to fly a Cessna Citation Jet out and back and this year was no different. Since I now had my Instrument Rating, I had all sorts of questions. And lo and behold . . . guess what supplies they picked up for me for the weekend? My current favorite rum!

Looks like the beginning of a great trip!

After the Living Legends event, I was beginning to notice a subtle pattern forming! People were going out of their way to supply me with some great tasting rum. At least . . . until my Naked in Jamaica rum comes out! (I feel the need to insert a disclaimer here – I love to drink socially with friends and don’t do this on any kind of regular basis. The only problem I have with drinking is when all they’ve got is that nasty white rum available! I won’t name the label.)

Everyone was kind enough to let me fly up front in the right seat so we headed off to pick up Dick Cole about halfway. Dick was Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot on the “Thirty seconds over Tokyo” raid and the beginning of WWII in one of sixteen B-25 Bombers that launched off the deck of the aircraft carrier Hornet!

With Famous Doolittle Raider!

Two people are really responsible for Quail Hunt. John Agather organizes it and is the son of Vic Agather. Vic ran the Boeing B-29 program in WWII for America and was responsible for getting the B-29 Fifi for the CAF. Herb Kelleher is the other and is part-owner in the 200,000 acre ranch we explore in west Texas. Herb is one of the principals behind the success of Southwest Airlines. John and Herb together have created a great event to bring together aviation notables together for a weekend of fun and camaraderie.

With famous round-the-world Voyager Pilot Dick Rutan!

If you remember, last year, country music star Aaron Tippin was my roommate. He showed up late this year so I bunked in with a new fun guy named Perry out of Reno. He brought a load of guns for everyone to play with and we literally had a blast! The next picture pretty much sums up the whole trip!

Bullets - 2000 / Quail - Zero / Fun - Priceless!

Can’t wait ’till next year!

Kermit

1 2 3 8