The E-1 Moves to Oshkosh

Last Tuesday, October 18, was a big day for Arnold and the E-1! Several helpers loaded the disassembled E-1 onto a truck for transport to the EAA Museum at Oshkosh. I just got word that the E-1 arrived safely in Oshkosh two days ago (October 25). The current plan is for the museum to put the E-1 on display in a few months.

When I was at AirVenture, we discussed the possibility of the E-1 being displayed along with Ed Lesher’s Teal, the aircraft that held the C-1a straight-line distance record from 1975 until Gary Hertzler broke it in 1984. Gary is still flying his VariEze, but maybe it will be in the museum someday also (don’t worry, Gary, I’m not trying to rush you).

The other homebuilt aircraft to hold the record (set in 1957), Juhanni Heinonen’s HK-1, is in the Finnish Aviation Museum near Helsinki; it is still the only Finnish aircraft to ever set a world record. But back to the E-1!

Here are some pictures of the loading at Harvey Field in Snohomish (all photos are courtesy of my sister, Kelly Mercier). First, lift the fuselage out of the hangar and load it.

Fuselage loading

Picking up the fuselage with a forklift

Next, lift the wings and load them:

Loading the wings

Loading the wings

Will they fit?

Will they fit?

Will they fit?

No sweat!

No sweat

Wings and fuselage in the container — not even close!

Next, tie everything down and add padding where the parts might contact the sides of the container. Say goodbye to airplane. Sob!

All tied down

All tied down and saying one last goodbye

Wave goodbye. Now I think my father must know how my mother felt when she waved goodbye at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix as he left for Vietnam in 1968.

Truck leaving for Oshkosh

Onward to Oshkosh!

I should be getting the proofs for the book in the next couple of weeks. More work, but I’m really looking forward to this last stage of the production process. I’m also working on a book trailer and will give you a peek at that once it’s respectable (many thanks to my niece, Mary Skomerza, for her help on that).

Editing, Editing

As I type this, Arnold is getting the E-1 ready to ship to Oshkosh, where it will become part of the collection in the EAA Museum. He had originally planned to fly the E-1 back to Wisconsin, but he’s been having some engine problems, so he decided to ship it instead. It will have to be disassembled for shipping, so I’ll try to get some pictures for posting!

I had a great time at Oshkosh in July, as usual (I can’t imagine NOT having a great time at Oshkosh). About thirty people showed up for my presentation on the history of homebuilt aircraft, and they seemed to really like it. Please let me know if you are interested in a presentation for your organization (e.g., EAA chapter or anyone interested in aviation). I can easily do something in Ohio or Washington State, and with some advance notice, I can travel to other places as well. The presentation is about 45 minutes long, but I can adjust to fit other time requirements.

I’ve been working with Propeller‘s copyeditor for the past couple of weeks and am down to the last three chapters. I hope to have everything completed by the end of next week so I can enjoy my long Labor Day weekend!

The next step in the process will be to review the proofs, which is the first time I’ll see what the book is going to really look like. If everything goes right, that should happen in November.

From there, I have to prepare an index. I’ve never done an index before, so that might be a bit of an adventure! Fortunately, I got some guidance from UW Press and I also found a book about preparing an index. I had no idea that preparing an index would be popular enough to warrant a book. These days, it seems there is a book on just about everything!

Publication Date and Oshkosh

Just a quick update — I’ve been very busy finishing up my manuscript and getting ready for Oshkosh! If the publication schedule stays on track, Propeller will be available in the spring of 2017. The title is now The Propeller Under the Bed: A Personal History of Homebuilt Aircraft.

I’m going to be giving a presentation at Oshkosh, A Brief History of Homebuilt Aircraft, on Thursday, July 28, at 8:30 a.m. in the Homebuilder’s Hangar (near the flightline). The presentation is based on material from the book. If you’re at Oshkosh on Thursday, please stop by!

I have also been in touch with EAA about being part of their Author’s Corner next year. It should be an exciting year!

WACO Air Museum & Historic WACO Field

Historical sign for the WACO Aircraft Company, Troy, Ohio

Historical sign for the WACO Aircraft Company, Troy, Ohio

First, just a quick update on my manuscript. My editor got back to me a few weeks ago with some suggested revisions and I hope to have those finished by the end of March. Then the manuscript will be sent out for a peer review, since the University of Washington is an academic press. So I continue to inch toward publication!

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you a gem I tripped over this weekend in my own backyard, the WACO Air Museum and Historic WACO Field. There’s so much to say about this place that I can’t do it justice in a single blog post, so please visit their website for more information. Better yet, stop by if you are in the Dayton area! Admission is only $6 for adults ($5 for military).

WACO (pronounced, “WAH-CO,” unlike the Texas city) was the Weaver Aircraft Company in Troy, Ohio, about 20 miles north of Dayton. The company built aircraft in the 1920s through the 1940s, and a handful of flyable airplanes still exist; some even give rides and perform in air shows. Here is a picture of the “Cootie,” the first airplane they manufactured; it’s hanging from the ceiling of the museum:

WACO Cootie

WACO Cootie

As you can see, it wasn’t much, with it’s two-cylinder engine. Next up is the WACO 9, which was manufactured in 1926 and uses a World War I-surplus OX-5 engine. These engines were very plentiful and powerful for their day, having been built for military trainers, but they had a major drawback — like most early engines, they were water-cooled, like your car. Notice the box that resembles an air conditioner perched behind and above the engine. Not only did this make it hard for the pilot to see forward, the radiators and their hoses were prone to breaking in flight and, once all the coolant drained out, well, it was time to start looking for a place to land!

WACO 9, an example of a water-cooled engine

WACO 9, an example of a water-cooled engine

The next airplane is the WACO UMF-3, a later model that used an air-cooled radial engine. This particular aircraft was owned by the mayor of Moraine, Ohio, which has an airport where I used to keep my first Decathlon airplane.

WACO UMF-3, with air-cooled radial engine

WACO UMF-3, with air-cooled radial engine

One of the more interesting displays is about the cockpit remnant in the picture below. This is one of the few metal parts from a WACO glider used during World War II to insert Army troops into France. Click here for more information about this amazing story.

Remnant of WACO glider used during WWII

Remnant of WACO glider used during WWII

These are just a few of the airplanes on display. This is the first aviation museum I’ve visited that has only aircraft from one manufacturer, and I found it very interesting to watch the progression and advances from model-to-model. Unfortunately, WACO went out of business after WWII, at least partly a casualty of the market saturation by surplus aircraft.

The site isn’t just a museum, though. It’s also an airfield (WACO Field Airport, identifier 1WF) that you can fly into, and they have fly-ins and other events when the weather is warmer. Click here for more information about the airfield. The last picture below is an old gas pump that looks good enough to still work, although I don’t think it does.

Old time gas pump at WACO Field Airport, Troy, Ohio

Old time gas pump at WACO Field Airport, Troy, Ohio

Across the Continent in a Homebuilt

The Air & Space/Smithsonian article at the link below is a mini-version of “The Propeller Under the Bed.” The article describes Arnold’s record, along with the previous records set by Juhani Heinonen, Ed Lesher, and Gary Hertzler.

Click here to read the article: http://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/across-continent-homebuilt-distance-180957787/

The print version of the magazine should be available in stores next week!

What Happened to 2015?

I can’t believe 2015 is almost over! As you have probably guessed from my lack of recent posts, the last half of 2015 was quite busy as I did tons of research and finished the draft manuscript for The Propeller Under the Bed, which I emailed to my editor on December 13th. I then collapsed for a few days before getting ready for Christmas.

I plan to start posting some of the material from my research that isn’t used in the manuscript. Many of the stories will be about the history of homebuilt aircraft, but I’ll try to relate it as much as possible to Arnold’s experiences and the E-1. My goal is to start posting once a week again.

A new article about homebuilt record-breakers, which includes Arnold and the E-1, is scheduled to appear in the next Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine, which should be out in late January 2016. I’ll post a link to the article when it comes out online!

Here is a link to the Air & Space article I wrote about the F-8, which was a contemporary of the F-100: http://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/11_on2015-f8-crusader-at-60-180956611/?no-ist

I’ll also keep you posted on the progress of the book as it makes it way through the editing and review process.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year!

Propeller Has a Publisher: UW Press!

Just a quick post to let you know that I have found a publisher for The Propeller Under the Bed! I met with my editor this past Monday and I should have a signed contract with the University of Washington Press within the next few weeks. UW Press is primarily an academic publisher, but they also publish general interest books, such as Four Thousand Hooks, a book about fishing in Alaska written by Dean Adams, who attended UW at the same time I did. Many thanks to Dean for encouraging me to pursue UW Press as a publisher.

The final book will be a bit different than what I originally envisioned. It will have fewer stories about Arnold’s youth and more emphasis on the history of homebuilt aircraft. I think it will be a great mashup of my original manuscript and research on homebuilt aircraft I had hoped to turn into a second book. This way, I get two books for the effort of one! Many thanks to my editor, Regan Huff, who had the vision to put the book together this way.

I have some additional research and rewriting to do, but the good news is I’ll be posting most of the material I remove from the manuscript that I haven’t previously posted — there are quite a few “Arnold stories” yet to be told!

The E-1 Gets a New Engine

The E-1 is finally getting its new engine! The replacement Jabiru arrived from Australia in May, and Arnold has been installing it over the past several weeks. Normally, it would have been a relatively simple swap out, but Jabiru has made some modifications (I assume they are improvements) to the engine, and it didn’t quite fit Arnold’s original installation.

The overall engine size is the same, so he didn’t have to make a new cowling, but he had to modify a bracket that holds the oil cooler, among other things. Here’s some pictures:

New engine installation in the E-1 (Photo Credit Kelly Mercier)

New engine installation in the E-1 (Photo Credit Kelly Mercier)

The oil cooler with new "features" (Photo Credit Kelly Mercier)

The oil cooler with new “features” (Photo Credit Kelly Mercier)

On the other hand, the challenge of making things work is some of the fun of homebuilt aircraft, so it looks like Arnold is having a lot of fun!

No word yet on the transport of the E-1 to the museum in Oshkosh — I’ll keep you posted on that. In the meantime, Arnold and I are both planning to be at AirVenture in Oshkosh, especially since an F-100F is scheduled to fly. AirVenture dates this year are July 20-26, a little earlier than normal. My work schedule right now is a bit hectic, so I may only make it for one or two days, but I will be there!

Visiting an F-8

What does the F-8 have to do with “The Propeller under the Bed?” The Navy F-8 was a contemporary of the F-100s that Arnold used to fly, and the two airplanes used the same engine, the Pratt and Whitney J57. The F-8 was quite a bit faster in level flight than the F-100, and the F-8 set several speed records in the 1950s (which the Air Force snatched back as quickly as possible, of course).

The F-8 had an impressive record in Vietnam, racking up 19 MiG air-to-air kills compared to only three F-8 losses.

I’ve been doing some research on the F-8 for another project I’m working on, and I had a chance to see the very first F-8, designated the XF8U-1, which is being restored by Craig Wall for the Museum of Flight in Seattle. The work is being done at the MoF Restoration Center at Paine Field in Everett, so that made it easy to see it. Here’s two pictures of the aircraft, now repainted exactly as it was during its first flight in March 1955:

First prototype F-8, restored to paint scheme used during first flight in March 1955 (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

First prototype F-8, restored to paint scheme used during first flight in March 1955 (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

First prototype F-8, designated the XF8U-1 at the time (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

First prototype F-8, designated the XF8U-1 at the time (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

I think you can agree that Craig is doing an outstanding job. Interestingly, he’s a retired Air Force mechanic who knew nothing about the F-8 before he started working on it. You can see him in the above photo on the left (he and Arnold are behind the wing of another aircraft).

Arnold went along with me, and he just couldn’t resist climbing into the cockpit to check it out:

Arnold in the XF8U-1 cockpit at the Museum of Flight Restoration Center (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Arnold in the XF8U-1 cockpit at the Museum of Flight Restoration Center (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

I’m trying to get another “Amazing Aviation Tale” churned out in the next couple of weeks. Talk to you then!

Amazing Aviation Tales: Miracle in the North Sea, Part 2

[When we left off, Keeney and his wingman had just arrived at the last known location of the downed pilot in the North Sea …]

Keeney knew it would be difficult to find the downed pilot amid the 12-foot swells below, and he didn’t realize yet that the pilot wasn’t in his life raft, making for an even smaller target. A stiff wind whipped up white caps on the waves that masked smaller floating objects, including those of human size, and made it difficult to pick out even larger objects.

Keeney told his wingman to stay at a high altitude to conserve fuel, and then dove to less than one thousand feet above the water to search for a tiny fleck bobbing in the sea. It was akin to standing on a tile floor covered with ground pepper and looking down for a broken piece of lead from a mechanical pencil that had fallen into the fray.

And although no one knew it, things were getting worse by the minute for the downed pilot. The force of the ejection had ripped away his flight boots and the rubber “booties” that were part of his Anti-Exposure Suit, and 50-degree water was wicking its way up the suit’s flannel liner. He was rapidly losing feeling.

Despite the odds against finding the pilot, Keeney had one thing going for him – the weather was unusually clear that day. Also lucky for the downed pilot, Keeney’s call sign (nickname) was “Keeneyes,” a reference to both his last name and his unusually good eyesight. As he searched, a tiny dot suddenly jumped out from the sea foam and white caps, and when he flew closer, he realized he was looking at the pilot. But he also realized that he didn’t see a raft, and he feared the pilot was already dead. But, unwilling to leave behind a fellow airman no matter his fate, Keeney and his wingman kept a visual on the dot, and within a few minutes, he U.K. controllers had vectored a C-130 overhead, followed by a rescue helicopter, which plucked the pilot to safety using a parajumper lowered on a sling. [Click here to read more about parajumpers]

Many things went wrong that day for the downed pilot, but just enough things went right to keep him from becoming another accident statistic. From the F-5 pilots who stayed with him long enough for the U.K. controllers to pinpoint his position to Keeney for declaring an emergency takeoff that let him and his wingman arrive at the scene quickly for continuity to the helicopter crew that eventually pulled the pilot from the waters, there are plenty of heroes in this story. But one has to also wonder if the downed pilot didn’t also have a guardian angel that day, someone somehow tapping Keeney on the shoulder and guiding his eyes to the lone speck that mattered most among the mosaic sea below. Clearly he did, but we cannot forget the skills of those involved. Both Keeney and one of the Aggressors had learned search and rescue procedures from previous A-7 Sandy assignments in Southeast Asia, and the U.K. radar controllers were highly proficient in giving precision vectors that sent the flow of aircraft to the pilot.

And what happened to the reporter who had just witnessed probably one of the most amazing stories in his life? Keeneyes confiscated all of the reporter’s film to use in the upcoming accident board, and, being very cooperative, he never filed a story on the event.