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!

Taxiing out

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!

Head On!

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!


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.


I recently added a new character to the list of real airplanes kids can see when they visit Fantasy of Flight.  It’s a replica of the Benny Howard airplane “IKE” featured in my illustrated children’s book, “All of Life is a School.” I acquired it from Kim Kovach who faithfully built it up to original standards after having the opportunity to measure the real one, which still exists.

One deviation from the original is that it’s powered by a 4-cylinder Menasco engine instead of the very rare, and impossible to find, 6-cylinder version used on the original.  The only other modification was to continue the width of the fuselage at the instrument panel (18″) back to the seat back.  The original airplane was actually 15″ at the shoulders!  I went up to see if I could even fit in it before I purchased it and just barely fit!

“Benny” is safely stored in a hangar in Michigan with plans are to truck it down and put it on display sometime this June!  This will bring the number of on-site characters from the book to seven out of ten.  Had I known I would be collecting them all in the long run, I would not have written so many into the book!