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

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

I arrived home late evening from my trip to Egypt on a Wednesday and had to wake up early the next morning and hit the ground running.  This was the day of the Sun ‘n Fun Splash-In at Fantasy of Flight and I was scheduled to pick up an important visitor on the Sun ‘n Fun ramp at 9:30am.  It was none other than Jeff Skiles, the copilot on the US Air Flight 1549 that successfully landed in the Hudson River in January of 2009.  It was billed in the media as the “Miracle on the Hudson” and all 155 people aboard survived.

We had arranged for Jeff to come over to Fantasy of Flight and speak about his experience at a special luncheon in the Orlampa Conference Center.  Since it was the day of the Splash-In, I thought it would be great to bring Jeff over in the Duck for a grand arrival on the shores of Lake Agnes.  Jeff and Sun ‘n Fun officials greeted me and, after some pictures, we both jumped in the Duck to head back to Fantasy of Flight.   Cruising over, and talking on the intercomm, I was not too surprised to learn that Jeff had never been in a Grumman Duck.  But what did surprise me was we were just about to make his first ever water landing in an airplane that could actually take-off again!

I let Jeff do the flying on the way over and he did a great job.  It’s not very easy to see out of the back (let alone the front!) and the controls are not as pilot friendly as in the front cockpit.  Anyway, after landing the Duck in the lake and getting out, I made him sign the airplane logbook stating this was his first successful landing in an airplane he didn’t have to swim away from!

Kermit

We recently held a symposium with four WWII Women’s Air Force Service Pilots who came and spoke about their experiences.  Visitors got to listen to great stories and ask questions of how they overcame the predudice of the times in pursuit of their love for flying and helping support the war effort.  The gals help test and ferry military aircraft around the United States, which helped relieve the guys for combat duty.  Everything the guys flew, the gals did as well; including our first P-80 jet-fighter and our large B-29 Superfortress bomber, which ultimately ended the war by dropping the atomic bomb!

Taking a break during the symposium for Aircraft of the Day, I flew our North American AT-6 Texan trainer painted in WASP colors to honor them.  The aircraft markings at their training base in Sweetwater, Texas included red wings stripes, a red nose and tail, and the Disney-designed WASP mascot named “Fifinella” on the cowl.  Never one to miss an opportunity, I strapped one of the gals in the back seat and, after making a few passes for the crowd, flew off to let her do some flying of her own.  She did great!

Not only did the gals help inspire what later became the women’s movement for equal rights, they were babes as well, which still continues to show!  There is no question that when the guys came back from the war, they came back to a different type of woman!  I’ve had many opportunities over the years to get to know many of the gals and am saddened we are slowly losing them over time.  My hats are off to them for what they did, as well as their continued interest in sharing their inspiring stories.  I think it was a great trip down memory lane for everyone in attendance.

I am also excited to annouce that we have completely a long-awaited project honoring the WASP’s in a very unique way.  Women patrons visiting our center hangar restroom facilities will be surprised to find a new addition.  One wall now has a life-size famous picture of four WASP’s walking down a flightline, parachutes in hand, with a saying written backwards above them.  You initially don’t exactly know what’s going on until you stand by it, turn around and read the saying in a large mirror.  You become part of the picture, in front of the gals, and read the throught-provoking message, now correctly written.  Click on the picture above, read it backwards with a mirror, imagine yourself lifesize in front of the gals, and you will get the basic effect.

Plaque on Stall Door

To take the “facility experience” to an even greater level, each bathroom stall now has a different airplane picture and its name on the door.

Spitfire cockpit on bathroom stall door

Once seated you find yourself looking into the cockpit of one of the famous planes the WASP’s flew, which are on display!  I hope all the gals reading this will come out to Fantasy of Flight to check-out in our new immersive experiences!

Mustang cockpit from "seat" POV!

And, while everyone else will remember these gals as the WASP’s . . . to me, they will always be my “Honeybees!”

Kermit

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