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.

 

Amazing Aviation Tales: Miracle in the North Sea, Part 1

Here’s another tale from the late 1970s, as told to Tom Mead by Captain Bob Keeney, an F-15 pilot stationed at Bitburg Air Base, Germany at the time. It’s an incredible story involving quick thinking, top-notch talent, and some angels steering one pilot’s eyes to save another.

F-15A, photo courtesy of USAF

F-15A, photo courtesy of USAF

Keeney’s squadron was deployed to RAF Alconbury, U.K. for training and he was getting ready to depart for a flight with a reporter in his backseat to demonstrate the capability of his F-15 against a flight of Aggressors, USAF fighter pilots flying F-5 aircraft and simulating Soviet tactics. He and his wingman had just started their engines when they heard a radio call on the “Guard” emergency frequency that another F-15 pilot had ejected over the North Sea. The downed pilot’s flight lead had maintained visual contact with him as he descended in his parachute, but the flight lead ran low on fuel and had to return to Alconbury. At that point, the two F-5 pilots who had been tangling with the F-15s just minutes earlier maneuvered to keep track of the pilot, now a speck bobbing in the chilly waters below.

F-5, photo courtesy of USAF

F-5, photo courtesy of USAF

The ejected pilot’s nightmare had gotten worse during his descent. His life raft had been damaged during the ejection sequence and failed to inflate; fortunately, he had the presence of mind to cut the raft away, or it would have dragged him under the water. But without the raft, his lifespan had dropped from several hours to under an hour as he floated in the water in his life vest. And in losing the raft, he had also lost his survival radio and homing beacon, so he couldn’t even help his would-be rescuers find him or tell them he had lost the raft. If the F-5 pilots lost sight of the downed pilot before a rescue ship or helicopter arrived, it would likely be fatal.

Keeney had previously been an A-7D “Sandy” pilot in Southeast Asia, which involved locating downed pilots using radios and direction finders and then coordinating a rescue mission with helicopters, so he knew how time-critical the situation was. From the radio transmissions, he also could hear that the F-5 pilots were running low on fuel.

A-7D, photo courtesy of USAF

A-7D, photo courtesy of USAF

Eager to help his fellow pilot, Keeney normally would have had to wait for an instrument flight clearance to be issued by the tower before he took off, but knowing that every second was precious, he ordered the reporter, “Turn off your microphone and don’t say a word.”

Next, he called the control tower and said, “We need to make an emergency takeoff and join the search and rescue operation.”

The startled tower controller agreed, and issued a clearance for one of the few emergency takeoffs in the history of aviation. Keeney and his wingman were airborne within minutes and heading to the downed pilot at near supersonic speed.

The F-5 pilots, with help from some superb U.K. air traffic controllers, had managed to pinpoint the downed pilot’s position within ¼ mile, but the Aggressors had run short on fuel and made an emergency landing at RAF Sculthorpe to the south, stranding the pilot without a set of eyes. After Keeney and his wingman took off, the U.K. controllers vectored them to the position the F-5s had marked. But when the two F-15 pilots arrived, they saw no raft and heard only an ominous silence. Where was the pilot?

Up next (in a few days, I promise!): Finding a speck in the sea.

 

Amazing Aviation Tales: Homeless French Fighter Aircraft

I’ve been caught up in moving so have been away from the blog for a while. But I’m back with another Amazing Aviation Tale, this one brought to you by Tom Mead, a retired Air Force colonel. Tom was a fighter pilot and later a test pilot, and he once stumbled across an interesting sight while visiting his 1970’s stomping ground in Europe. I think this one is best told through Tom’s words, and then I’ll add my thoughts at the end. Here’s Tom’s narrative:

In 1986, while I was attending Command and Staff College, I had the opportunity over the Christmas break to take a quick trip to the Headquarters of the United States Air Force in Europe (USAFE) at Ramstein Air Base (AB), Germany, to research some material for a school project. During my stay, I had time to visit my old squadron at nearby Bitburg AB for a day, and while winding along the flight line, I noticed two ragged-looking French Etendard fighters parked near the end of the runway, well away from the transient aircraft ramp where visitors would normally park. [Eileen note: The photo below is not from Bitburg — the aircraft below is on display at Fréjus Saint Raphael, France.]

Etendard IV Fighter ("Dassault Étendard IVM" by www.netmarine.net - Courtesy of http://www.netmarine.net. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dassault_%C3%89tendard_IVM.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Dassault_%C3%89tendard_IVM.jpg)

“Dassault Étendard IVM” by www.netmarine.net – Courtesy of http://www.netmarine.net. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dassault_%C3%89tendard_IVM.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Dassault_%C3%89tendard_IVM.jpg

I drove on to see my old squadron, and during that visit, I asked a pilot in the squadron what the French aircraft were doing on the base. He explained that one day, two French fighter pilots flew the airplanes in, parked them on the transient ramp, shut down, and walked into the Base Operations building (like all visitors). However, unlike most visitors, this pair each carried a two-foot stack of aircraft maintenance forms. They found the Dispatch Office, entered, and dropped all the forms on the desk, saying, in that understated way that only the French can pull off, “Here are your aircraft back.”

Before any of the stunned airmen at Base Ops could think of what to do, the pair had disappeared.

It turned out that these aircraft were part of some very old loan agreement with the French military and when the loan period was up, the French returned the aircraft per terms of the agreement. No one on the US side (at Bitburg, anyway) was aware of this, so were totally caught off guard. With no way to fly the airplanes (no mission, no trained pilots, and no spare parts, among other things), the base leadership decided to use the aircraft as decoys. At some point, they were finally disposed of.

Eileen here again. I love this story, but after scouring the Internet, I can’t figure out what the US was doing leasing/loaning French airplanes to the French! There were some programs back in the sixties where the US was trying to help NATO forces acquire more equipment like tanks and fighter aircraft to help achieve a better balance between nuclear and conventional forces, but I can’t find any evidence that these aircraft were part of that.

I looked on some website pages for Bitburg AB, hoping to find a photo of the “Bitburg Etendards,” but came up with nothing.

Does anyone out there know anything more about this story? Please pass the story along to others who may have been stationed at Bitburg AB in the 1980s. If anyone has any more information or some pictures, please pass them along and I will post them with the next tale!

 

Local History: Paine Field in Everett

Some of you may remember that Arnold took off from Paine Field in Everett, Washington, to set his world record. Although he normally flies from Harvey Field in nearby Snohomish, Paine Field offered a longer runway for the fuel-heavy E-1 and a control tower in case there were any problems with the take off.

Paine Field is also home to the plant where Boeing manufactures their wide-body aircraft — 747, 767, 777 and 787 — so I see big airplanes flying around here all the time.

There’s a new book out about the history of Paine Field, and I learned that the airport was originally constructed in the 1930s. It was planned to be a large passenger airport, but during WWII, the Korean War and much of the Cold War, it was mostly a military facility, housing P-51s, F-86s, and F-89s at one time or another. Boeing didn’t move to the airport until the late 1960s.

I also learned that Paine Field is named for Topliff Olin Paine, who was a local airmail pilot. Most airmail pilots who have airports named for them died in plane crashes, but Paine was killed by an accidental gunshot wound in 1922, just a few days after his 29th birthday. He is buried at a cemetery near my house, so I walked there on Saturday with my sister and found his grave. From the marker in the picture below, you can see that he was also in the military during WWI. The larger headstone behind his marker is for his parents.

Paine Grave

Topliff Olin Paine grave marker — Paine Field in Everett is named for him

Up next: Another Amazing Aviation Tale!