We were recently was visited by Dawn Holland, the granddaughter of Lowell Bayles, who was the famous Golden Age pilot that won the Thompson Trophy Race in 1931 in the Gee Bee Zee.

Presentation of Dawn's artwork

Dawn never got to meet her grandfather who, unfortunately, he was killed later that year trying to break the world speed record in the same airplane with a more powerful engine.  Dawn came out and presented me with a painting she did herself of the aircraft in honor of keeping the spirit of her grandfather alive.

Our reproduction of the Gee Bee Zee

I acquired a very faithful reproduction of the aircraft, which is on display at Fantasy of Flight.

Kermit

I just got inducted as a Legend in the World Acrobatic Soceity for my participation in Extreme Sports! In this case, “Acrobatics Society” doesn’t relate to airplanes . . . it relates to gymnastics, circus performers, high divers, etc., although my award in the “Extreme Sports” catagory did relate to my aerobatic flying.  The event was held in Las Vegas at the Circus Circus Hotel and I got a chance to meet a lot of really fun and interesting people, including some from my High School days that started Miami Gymnastics and coached at different schools.

While I was building my first airplane my senior year of High School, I competed on our first year Gymnastic Team.  Since I was learning how to fly at the time and flipping around in the gym, it only seemed natural to begin flipping around in the sky!  After High School, I competed several years in college gymnastics.  It was during this time I began to compete in airplane aerobatics.

My early college formal education was somewhat lack-luster because my interest was in working on my airplane, NOT studying.  When I finished my airplane, I got serious about school and got accepted at Purdue University to pursue an Aeronautical Engineering degree.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have a men’s gymnastic team.  And while this was the end of my gymnastic career, and my formal education, it was when my aerobatic career really began to take off.  I dropped out of school and, with no formal training, designed and built my own competition airplane, making the US Team when I was twenty-four years old!

While I realize I never would have gone to the top in gymnatics, it became a stepping stone to a great flying career!  In two airplanes I designed and built myself with no formal training, I flew in six World Aerobatic Championships, winning twenty medals at the world level, becoming two-time US National Champion, as well as winning several invitational contests around the world.

So, while the award was for my aerobatic accomplishments in the sky, I was accepted into this prestigious group of acrobats because of my gymnastic background and am the first person in my type of sport to even be considered!  What a cool honor!

Kermit

I just got notice they posted a link to my speech from the Living Legends of Aviation Gala last January and wanted to share it with everyone.  Not so much for  the Award, which I already posted on my blog, but for the message it conveyed.  If you watch it you will see why I’m so passionate about what I’m doing with Fantasy of Flight.  I had typed my speech out for reference prior to the Gala to use for reference but when I arrived early at the Beverly Hilon, I poked my head in as they were setting up for the event and they asked me if I wanted to use the teleprompter!  I had never seen one before and got a chance to practice my speech once.  It was a lot of fun and I thought I went on to do a great job later that evening!

The link includes an introductory video they played to set me up, introductions from Sean Tucker and Bob Hoover, and then my acceptance speech.  Check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQ5xEX9nyGw.

Kermit

An empty "North Forty" due to soggy ground a day into the Fly-in!

This year’s Oshkosh was a great one, even though it got off to a soggy start.  With a lot of rain prior to the event, they kept the “North Forty” closed to general aviation traffic for several days, only allowing show planes to arrive aand park in the dry areas.

I got a chance to hook up with an old friend, the World’s Greatest Aircraft Collection’s DeHavilland Mosquito!  We were very fortunate it was on display at the EAA Museum and not in Miami when Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992.  It has been many years since it has flown (1989) and once I get some additional hangars built at Fantasy of Flight, I intend to truck it back to Florida where we will go through it and get her flying again.

I got the chance to stop by and visit the KW Research Hangar where they keep all the aerobatic show planes during the fly-in.  This was the first building EAA built at Oshkosh (1983) that wasn’t a shower or a toilet.  What a legacy!  I have been an EAA member since I was sixteen, joining in 1969, and have been on the Board of Directors for almost twenty years.

One of the cooler things I got to do this year was attend a press conference where it was announced that my long-time friend and Heli-ski partner, Sean Tucker (right), and I got accepted to be on the Board of Directors of the Lindbergh Foundation.  As Charles Lindbergh began to fly around the world, he began to notice from the air how technology was beginning to impact our environment.  The Foundation was set up to promote balancing technology with the environment on the 50th anniversary of his famous flight.  It’s a great group of people with lots of opportunities to help out and network with a whole new group of friends!

I also got to read my All of Life is a School book to the kids at Kid Venture.  We had a great time and every kid got to keep an autographed copy!  Now how cool is that?  I finished writing my next book in the series called The Spirit of Lindy (how timely) and have begun the process of developing the artwork.  We hope to have the work finished by the end of the year, which might allow enough time to get it published before Sun ‘n Fun in April.  We’ll see.

With Ray Bensen!

Someone I had not seen since our Wings & Strings music festivals days many years ago was Ray Bensen from Asleep at the Wheel.  They played several times in the seven years we held the festival at Fantasy of Flight and got the crowds swaying and dancing one night at the Fly-In.  It brought back a lot of many fond memories.

With 7/8 scale homebuilt "Storch"

Another cool thing I got to see was the scaled down Storch that was part of an article in the latest EAA Sport Aviation magazine comparing this scaled down homebuilt with my original WWII German aircraft.  They did the photos and interview during Sun ‘n Fun last winter and I found myself on another cover, although I still find myself wondering why no one’s ever asked me to be a centerfold!

Kermit

July Cover of Sport Aviation magazine

1927 Curtiss Robin with an OX-5 engine

On my way up to the Oshkosh Fly-In I got the chance to stop by and visit a long time friend of mine, Henry Haigh, and thank him for the donation of his gorgeous Curtiss Robin to the World’s Greatest Aircraft Collection. Henry lives just outside of Detroit, Michigan and I had not seen him in many years.

I first met Henry in 1973 at the US National Aerobatic Championships in Texas. It was my first Nationals in the beginning Sportsman Catagory and he was flying Unlimited in a modified Pitts. Having already built most my first airplane in High School, I was already fascinated with developing and building an aerobatic airplane of my own design.  Since Henry was in the process of modifying his plane and trying new things, and at age 20, I spent a lot of time asking questions.

Curtiss Robin Cockpit

I had not seen Henry in many years and felt I needed to stop by and reminisce about old times as we’re not getting any younger.  He’s now 87 and has recently had some health problems.  On the way to his house, I got the chance to stop by and see his son Henry Jr. whom I had also not seen in years.  He  just happened to have a 40% R/C scale model of my Weeks Solution, which he says flies great.  Now how cool is that!

With 40% R/C Weeks Solution

Anyway, not only did I want to catch up with Henry Sr. and reminice about old times, but personally thank him  for the donation of the Robin.  We recently assembled the aircraft and ran its OX-5 engine with the intent of getting it flying soon.  It will make a great addition to the displayable aircraft at Fantasy of Flight and will one day make a great character for my series of illustrated children’s books!

Thanking Henry for the Robin with his 18 WAC medals in the background

Henry and I became great friends over the years and flew on six US Teams together.  At the 1988 World Aerobatic Championships in Red Deer, Canada he bested me by 35 points out of 17,000 to become Overall World Aerobatic Champion!  I was happy for him and can’t complain for the second place finish because I think I’ve won more medals than anybody in US Aerobatic History with a total of 20!  But I will always wonder if the Robin donation was a way to help make me feel better.  No complaints from me Henry, and a big thanks for not only the Robin but for being such a great long-time friend as well!

Kermit

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