Bleriot Medal Winners

I’m almost done with another Amazing Aviation Tale, but in the meantime, here’s a picture I took tonight of Arnold along with another Bleriot Medal winner, Norm Howell, at our Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Chapter 84 meeting. Since only 62 people have ever been awarded the Bleriot Medal, having two awardees in the same place at once is quite unusual (although it did also happen last summer when Gary Hertzler and Arnold gave their presentations at AirVenture in Oshkosh).

Norm Howell and Arnold Ebneter, Bleriot Medal Awardees (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Norm Howell and Arnold Ebneter, Bleriot Medal Awardees (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Norm is a test pilot at Boeing, and I’ve known him since the early 90s at Edwards AFB. He received his Bleriot medal in 1987 for straight-line distance in a 300 kg “Quickie” airplane. According to the FAI website, Norm has held thirteen aviation world records at one time or another, and he currently holds seven records, including one which has been retired by rule changes (meaning it will never be broken).

The Louis Bleriot Medal was established in 1936 in memory of Louis Bleriot, who was the first to cross the English Channel in an airplane and was also a former Vice-President of the FAI. Three Medals may be awarded each year to the respective holders of the highest records for speed, altitude and distance in a straight line for airplanes weighing less than 1000 kg. The medal is not awarded every year; in fact, the medal awarded in 2014 to William Yates for an altitude record is the first one since Arnold and Richard Young received theirs in 2010 (Arnold for distance and Richard Young for speed).

You can also read more of Arnold’s F-100 adventures in the March 2015 issue of Aviation History (available in stores now). Unfortunately, the article isn’t available online — sorry! The article starts on p.54 and is called “Cold War Airpower Laboratory.”

Getting Some Tools for My RV-8

But first, the E-1 status update. Arnold got the parts this week for the engine repair, but then he found he needed yet some more parts. He was also looking at some engine operating data from some previous flights, and now he thinks he might have yet another problem, so ….

Long story short, he is reviewing his options, including possibly replacing the engine altogether. I’ll keep you posted!

I’ve been matching my tools and Arnold’s tools against the Van’s recommended list, and I just about have everything I need to start working on my RV-8 kit. I took advantage of an online sale at Grizzly to pick up a 1″ belt sander and some unibits (see picture below — the unibits are in the small box).

My new toy

My new toy

There just happens to be a Grizzly store near me in Bellingham, so this project may require a trip up there to see what other sorts of interesting things I might need (make that want). While I’m at it, maybe I’ll just go ahead and cross the border into Canada and do some Christmas shopping … oh wait, I’m supposed to be building an airplane!

I hope to start setting up my workshop in about two more weeks. Stay tuned!

E-1 Status Update

We are still hoping that Arnold will be able to fly the E-1 back to Oshkosh this fall so it can enter the EAA Museum. However, he is still waiting for an engine part to arrive, so we don’t have a good estimate on when the engine will be repaired. I will keep you posted!

In the meantime, I didn’t have enough to do in my life already, so I decided to start building an airplane. I visited Aurora, Oregon two weeks ago planning to just fly an RV-7 or RV-8 at Van’s Aircraft to help me decide whether to buy a kit. I had so much fun on the demonstration flight that I drove home with an RV-8 empennage kit in my trunk! The empennage consists of the elevator, rudder, horizontal stabilizer and the vertical stabilizer.

The first order of business was to unpack everything and take inventory of all the parts. The picture below shows all the pieces. Some assembly required, but just think of it as a giant piece of IKEA furniture — anyone who has dumped out a bag of 1,000 small parts from an IKEA box knows what I’m talking about!

RV-8 Empennage Kit Unpacked in My Basement

RV-8 Empennage Kit Unpacked in My Basement

The packaging material makes for a good cat toy as well.


Next up is to get my workshop set up, make sure I have all the tools I need, and then do a little practice riveting on some scrap sheet metal. With all that, it will probably be at least another month before I actually start doing any real assembly on my RV-8. Wow, it feels good to say “my RV-8!”

Heading to AirVenture at Oshkosh!

Arnold and I will be heading to Oshkosh and AirVenture Thursday morning. We’re going to be driving this year, so I hope I find something really heavy to buy and drag home!

We’re going to be stopping by Felts Field near Spokane to deliver Arnold’s BD-5 plans to Clark Taylor, who acquired a used kit with no plans.

Arnold and Gary Hertzler, who holds the current closed course distance world record for C-1a aircraft and formerly held the world record that Arnold now holds, will be talking about their records at an AirVenture Forum on Friday, August 1 at 1000. I’ll be attempting to moderate the conversation, if that’s possible. If you’ll be at AirVenture, please stop by for what should be a very interesting conversation with lots of time for questions and answers!

Also, I’ve posted all the material from my manuscript that I planned to, so I’m going to scale back on my posts to about once every two weeks. I’m planning to provide posts about other record setters and general aviation topics of interest. Also, if anyone has anything specific they would like to ask Arnold, please leave a comment or send me an email at and I’ll post the answer in a future blog post.

Arnold Ebneter Awarded Bleriot Medal in 2011

In 2011, the FAI awarded Arnold the Louis Bleriot Medal for his 2010 distance record. Gary Hertzler, Edgar Lesher, and Junni Heinonen, the previous holders of Arnold’s record are also Bleriot Medal recipients for their respective flights.

Here’s a picture of the awards ceremony in Southern California in November 2011:

Bleriot Medal

Bleriot Medal Award Ceremony (Eileen Bjorkman personal collection)

The ceremony took place at the Flight Path Learning Center and Museum near LAX, which explains the flight attendant statue in the background!

Many EAA members have received Bleriot medals, so Arnold is in good company. In addition to Hertzler and Lesher, some of the EAA members include Dick Rutan, Robert L. “Hoot” Gibson, Brian Bohannon, Jon Sharp, Norm Howell, and Steve Wittman (this is by no means an exhaustive list)!

Arnold Ebneter and Gary Hertzler to be Featured at AirVenture

If you’re going to AirVenture in Oshkosh this summer, please join us on Friday, August 1, 1000-1145, at the Forum 2 tent for a “World Record Holders Chat” that will feature Arnold along with Gary Hertzler. Gary is the current world record holder for the C-1a closed-course distance record, and he previously held the C-1a straight-line distance world record that Arnold and the E-1 currently hold.

Here is a link to the website for more information about the forum:

Both Arnold and Gary will provide short presentations on their respective flights, and then I’ll moderate a discussion in a question and answer format that will include plenty of questions from the audience. The presentation is sure to be both informative and entertaining!

The World’s First Aviation Record: 722 feet at a blazing 26 MPH!

Alberto Santos-Dumont, a wealthy Brazilian coffee heir, set the first official aviation world record in 1906, three years after the Wright Brothers took their inaugural flight. In 1905, even though most airplanes could barely get off the ground, let alone sustain any sort of forward momentum for very long, aviation visionaries founded the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, or FAI, with the stated purpose “to regulate the various aviation meetings and advance the science and sport of Aeronautics.”

Santos-Dumant made his European aeronautical debut in 1901, when he flew a dirigible around the Eiffel tower; on September 13, 1905, he became the first person to fly an airplane in Europe. On November 12, 1906, still in Paris, Santos-Dumant took off in a craft of his own design, the 14-bis, climbed to a lofty fifteen feet above the ground and flew across a field for a distance a little longer than a city block.

Here’s a picture of the airplane.


Photo from Wikimedia Commons

He claimed he could have flown farther, but landed early because he feared his propellers might injure the boisterous crowd that cheered him on. Because the FAI had observers present, they recognized his distance of 722 feet in 21 seconds as the first-ever aviation world record. At 26 miles per hour, the record paled when compared to the land vehicle record at the time, 128 miles per hour.

In 1994, the FAI established the Santos-Dumont Gold Airship Award in honor of the aviator’s many accomplishments.

What Does the E-1 Have In Common With the B-17?

Well, beyond the obvious wings and a tail and so on, I was surprised to find that the E-1 and B-17 have an interesting design characteristic in common. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

I recently had the opportunity to do a second-in-command (co-pilot) check out in Aluminum Overcast, the B-17 that belongs to the EAA Foundation. Here’s a picture of the airplane:


Aluminum Overcast
(Eileen Bjorkman personal collection)

It’s a big taildragger, about 40,000 pounds — much bigger than anything I’ve ever flown before, but I had a great instructor, and after about eight tries I managed to make a decent landing.

The trickiest part of flying the B-17 is the throttles. Here’s a picture of the throttle quadrant:

B-17 Throttles

B-17 Throttles — What Engineer Designed This?
(Eileen Bjorkman personal collection)

The top lever connects engines 1 and 4 to move together; the bottom lever connects 2 and 3; and in the center you have control of all four throttles individually or you can grab them together. It sounds good, but 1 and 4 are on top of 2 and 3 instead of all in a row, so at first I was forever grabbing the wrong throttle.

As to what the E-1 and the B-17 have in common, they both use split flaps, which I discussed in a previous post. As you can imagine, the B-17’s flaps are considerably larger than the E-1’s flaps. I didn’t make any measurements, but I think it would be safe to say that the B-17’s flaps are probably bigger than the E-1’s entire wing! And the B-17 flaps are powered electrically, instead of the simple manual lever that the E-1 uses.

Wisconsin Aviation from the 1940s

I’ve been on hiatus for about a week with preparing for and traveling to Wisconsin for AirVenture at Oshkosh. I’m having a great time so far and will be giving the Propeller presentation on Saturday (tomorrow) at 1130. Arnold will be there to answer questions as well.

While in Wisconsin, I’ve had the chance to go to the Wisconsin Historical Society and comb through old newspaper microfilms. I’ve also visited various places where Arnold did his early flying. From both of those, I’ve gotten some great tidbits to add to my early chapters and some wonderful photos, some of which will be in this post.

First up is a photo of a painting of Donald Rock by John Steuart Curry. Those of you who have been following this for a while know Arnold spent about six years of his early childhood on the farm depicted in the painting below. The rock made an attractive landmark that pilots used for navigation in the 1930s, so Arnold saw lots of airplanes flying over all the time. The painting was done in the 1940s and it now hangs in the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin, which I visited on Tuesday. The farm is now a county park, and I plan to visit that on Sunday.


The next two pictures are from the Portage Airport, Mael Field. I took these pictures on our visit to Portage today (more on that later). The first picture is of an old Mael Field sign and the current runway. The runway didn’t exist when Arnold flew there in the 1940s, but the picture gives you a feel for what the old airport must have looked like; just imagine all the concrete covered with grass instead. The second picture is of the hangar that Arnold helped to build in the 1940s — he figures he pounded about one-third of the nails in the hangar and it still stands today.



Next up is a corn field. Not just any corn field, but the field near Poynette where Curtis Airpark used to be. We drove to this field after we left Portage, using the same roads Arnold trundled along in Forrest Sommers’s Model A pickup truck as they traveled to work on airplanes and go fly PT-23s. The Curtis family still owns the property and a relative we spoke to said the airfield continued to exist until about 30 years ago.


The next picture is of Arnold in Vietnam with his brother Frank. Their tours overlapped briefly in 1968, and this picture was taken during one of Frank’s visits to Tuy Hoa. Frank was a forward air controller flying O-1Es, so he was happy to get to a real Air Force Base every once in a while! This picture came out of a short article in the Portage Daily Register that Arnold’s mother had saved in a scrapbook and that my Aunt Tere has now. Arnold is on the left and Frank is on the right.


I took the last picture today at a lunch with some of Arnold’s high school classmates in Portage. Fifteen people showed up — that’s pretty amazing after all these years. What’s even more amazing is that they all get together for lunch once a month! The other gentleman in the picture (on the left) is Laverne Griffin, a distinguished aviator who also had a career in the US Air Force. He flew RF-101s and RF-4s, so I know he has some great stories that I need to get at some point! Laverne was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame last year, and this year Arnold is being inducted into the same place. What do you suppose the odds are that two guys from a small high school class would both get inducted into a state Aviation Hall of Fame?


Propeller at AirVenture!

I’m taking Monday off for the Memorial Day holiday in the US, but I wanted to let everyone know I was notified Friday that Arnold and I will be giving a presentation on “The Propeller under the Bed” at AirVenture in Oshkosh! We will be presenting on Saturday, August 3, 11:30 AM – 12:45 PM at the Forum Pavilion 08/NATCA J09. I hope to see all of you there!

And please remember those who gave their lives for our freedom.