Our finest hour

Boy, was it a sight to see. One for the history books. Forty-four Ercoupes lined up along the taxiway of Runway 22 in Sheboygan. A half-mile chain of planes. Twin tails gleamed in the afternoon sun. Engines rumbled. The excitement in the air ran high. Once lined up, we cocked our craft at 45-degree angles, so the prop wash from our run-ups wouldn’t blast the plane behind us. We advanced our throttles, checked our mags, our carb heat, oil pressure, and the rest. Imagine the roar of 44 Continental engines at once. I tweaked my mixture control, not sure if it really made a difference so close to sea level, and we were ready.

This was finally it. After two postponements due to weather, it was time to practice our mass fly-in to Airventure at Oshkosh. Hopes were still high that some late arrivals would give us 75 planes to mark the 75th Anniversary of the ’Coupe. Rio and I had flown over a thousand miles to take part in making, and marking, history. Others came from as far away as Oregon and California.

The plan was simple. Elegant. Well tested, at least on smaller fleets of airplanes. We’d fly in 500-foot intervals in one long chain of planes. The lead plane, to be flown by conference organizer and Ercoupe guru Syd Cohen, would taxi onto the active runway and begin his takeoff roll. As soon as he started rolling, plane two would taxi onto the runway and hold. When the pilot of plane two could see light under the landing gear of plane one, he’d advance his throttle to the firewall and start his takeoff roll. As soon as he started moving, plane three would taxi out and hold until he could see light under plane two. And so on. We’d climb to 1,000 feet AGL and follow the plane in front of us. If the plane ahead started getting bigger, we’d slow down. If the plane ahead started getting smaller, we’d speed up.

Of course not all Ercoupes are created equal. Some have 65-horse engines. Some have 75s. Others still 85s or 90s. Some engines are young and strong. Others, old and weak. To level the playing field, a number of 90-degree turns were built into the flight plan. If you were lagging behind, you’d cut the corner to catch up. If you were paced right, you’d do a sharp “pattern turn” right where the plane ahead of you turned.

Our mission briefing was clear. No maps. No GPS. And no frickin’ selfies. Eyes outside, and follow your wingman. It sounded simple enough.

Rio and I were plane seven. I looked back over my left shoulder. Ercoupes as far as the eye could see. It reminded me of the grainy black-and-white newsreel footage of World War II bomber fleets readying for take off.

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It was our finest hour.

The next hour… Not so much.

Because within 30 minutes, instead of a well-managed fleet of World War II bombers, we looked more like a World War I combat mêlée with planes soaring, diving, and swooping across the sky. It was truly a flying circus, minus the shooting.

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Our finest hour dissolved into an epic disaster that will be the talk of the Ercoupe community for decades.

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

What happened? Well, that’s next week’s tale, right here, at Plane Tales.

 

Next time: Baron Von Syd and the Flying Circus

 

The flight home

If all has gone according to plan, Rio and I are at the big airshow at Oshkosh this weekend. For today’s post, for the first time in print, is Rio’s report to his school on his summer vacation 2013, the year we bought the Plane Tales Plane. Rio, then eleven-years-old, traveled to California with me to co-pilot the new plane home. Things didn’t go exactly as planned. Here is the story through his eyes, as recorded by him at the time….

Chapter 1—The trip to LA

A guest post by Rio A. F. Dubois

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We woke up early in the morning and started on our way from Denver. Me, my Dad, and my Grandma are going to Los Angles to pick up an airplane and ferry it back home. We drove and drove and drove and drove for hours and hours and hours through the breath-taking scenery of Colorado and then through the many faces of Utah. Then across small corners of Arizona and Nevada, ending up in Las Vegas. We had decided to spend the night in there, but the only rooms available were in casinos

“Casinos are much too noisy,” said Dad, “we would never get a restful night’s sleep.” We all agreed and we continued on our way. We planned to stop in Primm, Nevada, but that turned out to be the last batch of casinos before we hit the border. By this time we were all grumps, tired, and hungry.

We crossed the border and we got to Baker, California, but there wasn’t a decent hotel in sight. Continuing on through California, we hit Barstow, stopping at a 50’s-sytle all-night diner for a malt, but ended up with a shake. We finally stayed at a Hampton Inn there in Barstow.

In the morning we drove on to LA and in Redlands met Bobby, the pre-buy mechanic. Bobby let us in through the airport gates. It was time for him to go to lunch, so it gave us a chance to look at our airplane. When I first saw the plane it was without its frontal cowling on, so we could see the engine of the aircraft. The front of the plane looks sort of like a triangle and it has very long wings which sort of tilt up. It has a dual rudder tail, tricycle gear, and an old fashioned war-style canopy.

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When Bobby returned he asked us if we would take his invoice to Professor Peterson, the plane’s previous owner. It took forever for Bobby to write his invoice, but once he was done we went on to Flabob airport.

In Flabob we met Professor Peterson and purchased the plane. Then the professor took us to the Flabob guest quarters. I opened the door and it was so hot I ran out before I could even see the place. I found a drinking spigot, but accidently turned the knob too hard. Water poured on my face and into my head.

Then the Professor took us out to dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory.

Chapter 2—The night in LA

After dinner my Dad and I explored the airport were we saw an old-fashioned DC-3 and probably one of the most shiniest Cessenas you’ve even seen. And it must not have been flown a lot, because somewhere on the plane it said “airport bum.”

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We saw another Ercoupe, a lot like ours, but this one was painted black and yellow and said “Texas Bumble Bee.”

Flabob looks like one of those older military airports, in fact, I was expecting to see a giant B-17 flying out of one of those hangars.

The night at Flabob was not a pleasant one. The bed was a hard as sleeping on a wing. I gave up and moved to the couch. On the couch I lied awake feeling like the house was cold, ratty, and lifeless. I wondered if it bothered me that right outside the door was an airplane graveyard—a place filled with trashed up planes that hadn’t been flown for years—or if it was just the feeling of the place.

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In the morning we moved to a hotel called the Ayres Hotel. The place was very nice, Mexican-themed, although after Flabob, even a box would have looked nice.

When Dad got back from his flight training he came back sweaty and covered with oil. Me and Grandma asked what happened. He changed his pants and old us. “When we got back down, the plane’s engine would not stop. My instructor said turn off the mixture, turn off the mixture, but the mixture would not budge for it had been wired shut. My instructor went to go get Bobby. We tied everything, eventually it came to cutting off the fuel shut off.”

Bobby quickly fixed the plane.

The instructor also said that the radio was weak. So we took it to an avionics shop, where the man tested the radio and the transponder. But during that time we forgot to turn off the master switch. And then Bobby said that after that repair we never did test the engine, so Bobby said lets test it now. But since the master switch was still on, the plane’s battery was dead.

Bobby removed the battery and put it in his charger for the night. Bobby and the radio man then pushed Dad and the plane back over to Bobby’s hanger like a go-cart.

Chapter 3—The takeoff day

The next morning we showed up before the sun had even arisen. It looked like LA was completely asleep. We opened up Bobby’s hangar and turned on the lights. Dad put the battery back in while grandma “supervised.” While Dad was putting in the battery I was trying to get his camera to work right. I tried every possible angle, but still, I couldn’t get the camera to work. But Dad figured out it was apparently in video mode. So instead of getting a great picture I got a video of grandma supervising Dad putting in the battery.

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Then we fueled up the plane. After doing an engine test, we took off. It was a very nice view. We had the canopy closed. About ten minutes later, we opened the canopy to cool off. The wind rushing into the cockpit of the plane was awesome. It was quite a rush flying with an open canopy.

We landed in Twenty Nine Palms, the best landing we had ever done, and ate a nice breakfast bar at the airport.

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After adding a quart of oil that we bought on the honor system at the unmanned airport, we took off and left for Lake Havasu. We were flying at first with our navigational instruments, but then the mountains got so high we could no longer read them on our VOR. So we had to do what was called “dead reckoning,” using maps. But we made it to Lake Havasu and had a fairly good landing.

It was very hot there. A nice gentleman brought us two bottles of water, while I was still trying to get out of the airplane. We fueled up the plane. It was so hot we scrambled into the plane like one of those old fashioned movies where they are rushing to get into the car to make their getaway.

We fired up the plane, but the engine went THUMP.

I left dad in the dust in the airplane, trying to get out a quickly as I could. The plane’s skin was so hot it was like touching hot rocks. I’m amazed I didn’t burn my hand. They told us it was 117 degrees that afternoon.

Then we waited hours in the mechanic shop. When the plane was fixed we took off.

The turbulence was so bad, we got bounced around like a basketball being dribbled. Our little Ercoupe could not take it anymore, we turned back before we could even make it out of Lake Havasu.

We stayed at a Hampton Inn, again, strangely. We got up in the dark and went the airport. It felt a little cooler, but it was still very hot.

We waited for civil twilight, and when it was time, the engine went THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP and did not start. I said to dad, “Did you remember to turn the key?” It turns out he had not. So the engine fired up. It was powerful roar. The sweetest sound in the world.

We took off and flew over London Bridge. That was kind of fun seeing it from the air.

On the trip south, I ate my first meal on an airplane, a sack breakfast from the Hampton Inn. It turned out to be less of a nightmare than I originally thought. It was a glass-calm morning and we seemed to be moving pretty fast. It was nice and cloudy over the sun, so it wasn’t very hot in the cockpit.

I was a little nervous about the fuel and kept asking dad, “How’s the fuel? How’s the fuel?” For some reason I felt nervous that we might run out of fuel. A lot of the time I kept staring at the belly tank float. Dad kept reading me off the fuel gauge, which seemed fine. But suddenly it started dropping.

Over Gila Bend, it seemed like our fuel was dropping like a rock. We circled Gila Bend airport to see if we could see fuel tanks. We could not, so we radioed one of the airplanes that was taking off. We could hear them, but they could not hear us. That’s when we found out that the radio was not working. The fuel was already too low, we had no other choice but to land in Gila Bend.

We came in high because there were two other planes waiting to take off and we couldn’t talk to them because the radio was dead. The first plane took off while we were lining up for landing and we worried the second plane would pull in front of us.

The landing was probably one of the worst ever. We hit the ground and thumbed back up again, then we hit the ground again. We even worried about the tires. It’s a good thing Ercoupes have such good shock absorbers. We were going pretty fast. I was a little worried we would run out of runway. Dad hit the brakes. My shoulder belt held me in place. In fact, if we had no belt at all on that landing I would have been flung out of the canopy.

Chapter 4—Abandon ship

It turned out there was no fuel at Gila Bend. We called the airport manager, who was quite grumpy because he said we woke him up. He said to talk to Jesus, the airport keeper. But we could not wake up Jesus.

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We had decided this trip was beginning to become a nightmare and took a town car into Phoenix, and hopped on the next Southwestern flight home.

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Dropping Chickens, Chapter 2

Depressed at our total failure, we brainstormed “the bombing problem” around our kitchen table as we sipped from bottles of Lisa’s homemade beer. I grilled her over and over again on her observations. We looked at the data she collected and recorded, the compass sightings of each falling chicken.

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It was clear that the chickens were traveling a much shorter forward distance than we’d expected, but we weren’t sure by how much. Lisa was stationed at the edge of the target zone, observing the drops at an oblique angle as we approached.

Realizing that this was going to take a long time to work out, but happy to have an excuse for frequent flying, we developed a new test protocol. It was time to get scientific. This time, instead of targeting the center of the apron, we’d fly well south of it. In fact, we wouldn’t aim for it at all. When we were abeam Lisa’s location on the ground we’d release the chicken so she could get more precise measurements on the distance of the forward motion.

We also lowered the bombing altitude from 1,000 feet AGL to only 500 foot AGL, and decided to slow the plane to 80 miles per hour. We were removing as many variables and difficulties as we could. Once we understood the basic physics involved, we’d slowly increase altitude and develop a comprehensive strategy for hitting the target.

When the second batch of rubber chickens arrived, we packed a picnic and headed for the airport. I was fully prepared to lose another full batch of chickens, and had bookmarked the eBay seller to make it easier to reorder. This time Mom joined Lisa as a second official observer.

Debs chickened out.

Our observers on station and the bomb bay fully loaded with rubber chickens—OK, you got me, we put the chickens in the baggage compartment behind the seat—Rio and I barreled down the runway and lifted into a cool, calm early morning sky. We leveled out at 500 feet, banked right in a long lazy turn to get lined up with our target and made a radio call warning any other planes that might be in the area that we’d be conducting low-level operations over the airport.

I reached back behind me and grabbed the first chicken for Rio. He unwound the long, red plastic surveyor’s tape streamers that were tied to each talon. We knew that the streamers would change the aerodynamics of the fall, but decided that the benefits of actually observing the fall, and (hopefully) recovering at least some of the $9.00 chickens outweighed the change in performance. Our idea was that once we were coming close to hitting our target, we’d do away with the streamers and make whatever adjustments were required.

Rio fed the streamers out of his window first. I looked back over my shoulder and could see the twin six-foot snakes of plastic dancing and snapping in the wind, as if trying to grab our rudders. I lined up on the south side of the apron and as we approached told Rio, “Get ready… get ready… not yet…” Then, with Lisa off my wingtip below I called out, “Drop, drop, drop,” and Rio shoved the rubber chicken out the window. I banked sharply right, shoved the throttle to the firewall, pulled the nose up, and craned my head over my shoulder, but I couldn’t see anything.

“Hot damn!” crackled Lisa’s voice in my earphones. Then, “Uh… I meant to say, Chicken Ground to Chicken Air, you scored a near miss. The ordinance fell nearly straight down.”

“Say again?” I radioed.

“Near miss. Hold on.” I rolled the plane back over to the left and orbited the apron. I could see Lisa, in her bright orange vest and green hardhat, jogging across the pavement. She reached the corner and went out into the weeds, no more than five feet. I could see her jumping up and down and waving, then saw the bright red streamers at her feet. “To heck with the science, she radioed. Just drop right over the target and see what happens.”

“Give me another chicken,” said Rio. I reached back to grab another, throttled back to slow the plane down, and turned tail on the airport to get back in position for another run. Rio unwound the streamers and fed them out the window. This time I put the spinner dead center on the tarmac, then leaned forward in my seat to peer down over the leading edge of the left wing, trying to judge when to order the drop. The target would be out of sight when I was right over it. As the apron disappeared from view I counted five seconds to myself and gave the drop order.

“You sunk my battleship,” radioed Lisa.

We ran two more runs, and both hit the tarmac. Then we landed to admire our handiwork. I pulled up to the fuel pumps and shut down. I hauled myself up out of the deep cocoon of the cockpit and sat on the back of the seat. Leaning forward and resting my arms on the top of the bubble windshield, I took in the view. Three crumpled piles of surveyor’s tape sat in lumps on the pavement, hints of yellow rubber chickens peaking through the tangled masses. I had expected the tape to splay out from the chickens, but each one was buried by its own streamers. Lisa was already measuring the distance from the target to each pile. One missed by 154 feet, a second by 154. The closest of the tarmac strikes was 130 feet from the center of the target.

Now we were getting somewhere. From total failures who couldn’t even hit the airport to a 75% success rate in hitting the apron, the First New Mexico Chicken Bombing Squadron was well on its way to victory.

Post flight, hangin’ in the hangar and eating our picnic, Lisa, once again the scientist, tried to make sense of the day’s successes. While Rio happily munched on chips and salsa, fresh veggies and onion dip, nuts, and beef jerky, Lisa studied her data and “flew” over her notes with a Hallmark Sky’s the Limit Ercoupe Christmas ornament as a visual aid.

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Of course, none of us had really expected the chickens to travel 747.58 feet forward from the drop point, but they had to have some forward motion. Or so we thought. But the observations and the day’s successes indicated that the chickens—contrary to all laws of physics—might actually be falling behind the spot where we released them. Up range, instead of down range.

That should not be possible in this universe. But it sure looked to be the case.

Finally we developed a theory. Maybe… Maybe… Maybe the rubber chickens were so light, and had such a large surface area that the slipstream—the vortices of wind coming off our propeller—was actually cancelling out the forward motion of the rubber chickens and blowing them back behind us, where they then slowed down and fell more or less straight down, like a chicken dropped from a hot air balloon, rather than a record-fast Ercoupe.

On the drive home we happily made plans for the next weekend. With the new data we had, I was now confident not only in being able to hit the airport, and the apron, but in being able to strike the very target blanket itself, laid out in the center of the tarmac.

Of course, I warned Rio that despite our hard work and practice, no doubt some fool who signed up at the last minute and never dropped a thing out of his plane would likely get lucky and win. Ever the optimist, he ignored me and cleared room for the rubber chicken trophy on one of the bookcases in his bedroom.

But the next day I got an email from the conference organizer. The airport fathers had put the kybosh on our fun. They decided to prohibit the chicken drop from going forward. They felt that so close to the big gathering of airplanes at Oshkosh, it might be unsafe.

I say that is chick-shit of them.

 

Dropping Chickens, Chapter 1

You’ve seen the classic movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, right? The story of how an empty Coke bottle thrown out of a light airplane changes the fates and fortunes of a band of bush people living in the Kalahari? It’s probably one of the funniest movies ever, but of course you aren’t really allowed to throw things out of an airplane, right?

Well… Actually… It’s perfectly legal. Here in the USA we are bound by the Federal Aviation Regulations, called FARs by pilots. The FARs take up quite a few pages of dead trees or megabytes of disc space, but buried in part 91, section 15 we find this delightful tidbit:

No pilot in command of a civil aircraft may allow any object to be dropped from that aircraft in flight that creates a hazard to persons or property. However, this section does not prohibit the dropping of any object if reasonable precautions are taken to avoid injury or damage to persons or property.

So don’t throw your Coke bottle out over the Super Bowl, but the Kalahari (or its American equivalent) is probably fair game. So it’s legal, but still, pilots don’t really throw things out of airplanes, do they? Absolutely we do! Most commonly, paper sacks of flour and—believe it or not—rubber chickens.

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Yup. Precision object dropping, a.k.a. “bombing” is a competitive sport at many small airshows. Not that I’ve ever done it. But when I got the email saying that there was to be a rubber chicken drop contest as part of the annual Ercoupe Owner’s Club meeting, I was all over the concept, and determined to win. But having never done it before, I knew we needed to practice. So I filed a flight plan straight to eBay and searched for rubber chickens, where I discovered there were dozens of models in a full range of sizes. Apparently, rubber chickens are as varied as airplanes.

So I emailed the conference organizer to ask what kind of chickens we’d be using, and responded saying, “You have got to be frickin’ kidding me, right?”

In the end, I bought the most common type, assuming this would be the closest thing to a “regulation” chicken. About a week later a package of eight Gallus gallus domesticus plasticuses arrived on my doorstep and our first problem became apparent. Do we drop them out of the plane beak first or talon first?

To save time, and Avgas, we decided to start close to home.

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Yes, we spent an afternoon dropping rubber chickens off the roof of our house to study their aerodynamics. Much like real chickens, it turns out that rubber chickens have no aerodynamics whatsoever, exhibiting a high propensity to spin beak over talon, regardless of drop orientation. Still, it seemed they fell a tiny bit more smoothly when dropped beak first.

And yes, my wife was convinced that I’d fall off the roof and spin beak over talon to the ground myself, but it didn’t happen.

Next, I enlisted the help of my college professor friend Lisa, as I knew we were in for some math. After all, if you drop something out of an airplane traveling 90 miles per hour, the object is initially also traveling 90 miles per hour. This means it won’t just fall straight down where you drop it. Instead, it will strike the ground “down range.”

Lisa crunched the math and told me with great confidence that bombardier Rio should release the chicken 747.58 feet up range of the target. Apparently she did a lot of multiplication of fractions to get the units to cancel out, whatever that means, and said that knowing that the speed of gravity is G=9.8m/s2, the calculations, according to Lisa, were, “Simpler than I originally thought.”

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Alrighty then.

Of course, I had no way in hell of knowing how to tell when the plane was 747.58 feet from the target. I was too busy trying to figure out how to put the target on Rio’s side of the plane while still trying to place the plane over the target.

Then Lisa went on to point out that the complicated math only works in a vacuum and doesn’t take into consideration drag or ambient wind direction that will slow the chicken down and modify its trajectory in its 5.6-second plummet to Mother Earth.

Clearly, this was going to take some trial and error.

We tied six-foot lengths of red surveyor’s tape onto the chicken’s legs to increase their visibility when dropped, and headed out to the airport. We laid a tarp down in the center of the empty apron to serve as a target (one of the advantages of being based at a lightly-used airport).

Then, Rio and I loaded up the bomb bay…

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Lisa stationed herself at her observation post atop the jet fuel tank on the apron…

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Wearing a helmet to protect her noggin from falling chickens…

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And aloft we went. We reached 1,000 feet above ground level (AGL), slowed to 90 miles an hour… Well, OK, you got me, that’s our normal speed throttle to the firewall… leveled our wings and made our first bombing run. At what I judged to be exactly 747.58 feet up range I gave Rio the command, “Drop, drop, drop!” and in a flutter of red plastic tape he shoved a rubber chicken out the window. Poof! In a flash it was gone. I banked steeply to the right to try to catch a glimpse of our ordinance, but spied nothing.

I keyed the mike button on my yoke, “Chicken air to chicken ground, how’d we do?”

There was a long silence.

Then Lisa’s voice cracked through her handheld radio, “I think you missed the airport.”

“Say again,” I transmitted, “we missed the apron?”

“Uh… no,” said Lisa, “I said you missed the airport. Completely.”

Rio and I looked at each other in disbelief. “Uh… roger that. We’ll release closer to target on the next run.” I did a lazy 360-degree turn and rolled out for a second bombing run.

On that first day of “practice,” we dropped six rubber chickens. How many hit the target? Uhh… not one. Four fell outside the airport fences and two, we think, fell somewhere inside the perimeter fences. Maybe.

How many rubber chickens did we recover? Uhh… not one.

After six bombing runs we landed and tramped the weedy grounds of the airport until sunset, trying to back-walk compass headings Lisa recorded from the observations she made on her lofty perch. No joy. We didn’t find a single one. They disappeared as completely as Flight 19 did in the Bermuda Triangle.

But we did find a horseshoe. Which I took to be a good omen. I hung it up in the hangar as we clearly need all the luck we can get.

Six drops. Six losses. But I wasn’t giving up. That night, back home, I flew back to eBay to re-stock my bomb bay.

 

Next time, on Plane Tales, will this Chicken Outfit get better at bombing?

 

Meeting Cecil

There really aren’t that many pilots. At last count, there are about 500,000 licensed pilots in a land of 320 million people. That makes us fliers pretty rare. So it’s not too often that you bump into another pilot, unless, of course, you go to an airport.

Which is one of the reasons that pilots like to hang out at airports: To be with their own kind. To share in the kinship of the skies. To chat with people that speak the same language, that share the same passions. In short, to be with family.

Most small airports serve as hubs for communities of pilots. Aviators hang out in hangars (no doubt why they are called that), repair shops, terminals, and the favorite spot of all: The airport restaurant or grill, if there is one.

But sadly, the Plane Tales airport has no such community. Tessie is the only aircraft based there. There are no other pilots. And while that makes me by default the President of the Airport Users’ Association, it still leaves me an orphan.

Unless I fly somewhere.

And while that sometimes makes me sad, the wonderful thing about this small family that I’m a member of is that it’s always welcoming to its far-flung, wayward members. Walk into any terminal from the runway side of the airport, and you’re not a stranger. Pilots always welcome other pilots.

This week Rio and I decided to fly to Dalhart, Texas. It’s the first stop on our upcoming epic trip. We decided that it would be a good practice run and give us a chance to check out the fuel situation on the ground.

Plus, Rio had heard that there was a good restaurant at the field.

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I didn’t have the gas cap off the left wing before the first fellow pilot wandered up and started talking to us. In the restaurant, I hadn’t even sat down before a pilot at the next table asked us where we were from, and then started asking technical questions about our bird. I ended up having to scan my menu out of the corner of one eye while we chatted, and the conversation continued until our food arrived. I still can’t tell you what’s on the menu at the Red Barron. But I do know the complete list of planes my new friend has owned in his life.

I also got a great lesson in what a small world it really is. The pilot at the next table told us there was this amazing older pilot locally who probably had more flight hours than any other man alive and was an “awesome” aerobatic instructor. His name was Cecil Ingram. We also learned that he used to own an Ercoupe like ours, and had recently donated it to the Texas Air & Space Museum. I was delighted to learn that, as I visited that very Ercoupe shortly after landing in Amarillo at the end of my successful speed record flight. And I was even more delighted when my new contact said, “Oh that’s him over there” and pointed to a table looking out on the tarmac.

After Rio and I polished off our breakfasts—he had steak and eggs with a biscuit, and I opted for scrambled eggs with thick strips of bacon—we went over and introduced ourselves to Ingram. I told him I’d recently visited his Ercoupe.

Ingram is now in his early 90s, although he looks not a day over 75. But later, when I thought about it on the hour-and-a-half flight back home, I realized that he’s lived through nearly the entire history of aviation, which will be only 112 years old this December. He remembers Lindbergh’s flight. Ingram was four years old at the time. He started flying at age sixteen and spent his life in aviation. He was a flight instructor, crop duster, a Bonanza dealer, and even opened the first airport restaurant at Dalhart. As he chatted with us he waved a hand in the air to generally encompass both the restaurant and the airport and told me, “This is my legacy.”

Then he cast an eye out the big picture window at Tessie parked on the ramp just outside and said, “Well, my Ercoupe has a good home. But one thing’s for sure. I think that Ercoupe of yours would win the prize for best looking.”

I agree. But it’s nice to hear it from a family elder.

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PS: Good company, good service, and good food at amazing prices are all to be found at the Red Barron Restaurant on the field at Dalhart, Texas. If you go (and you should) be sure to pick up several jars of Very Berry jam. It’s an old-fashioned homemade paraffin-on-top small batch jam that’s Oh my God good. We made the mistake of only buying one jar and now we have to file a flight plan back to Dalhart for more!