Maybe it isn’t so wild these days, but I have always been interested in the practical magic of flight into the wild blue yonder. I think I understand the essential physics involved, but physics seems beside the point when a piece of wood, cloth, or metal leaps into the sky. When I was a kid I made flying model airplanes: lots of them. It is very satisfying to control a bit of wood and silk that you have assembled as it flies through the air. It is, of course, much less satisfying when the airplane you’ve made drills into the ground and goes home in a sack, but the lesson is well taught. No need for grades. And, I always got to walk away. Real pilots often don’t.
One of the most fun places to watch old airplanes fly, some of them original with the rest being faithful copies, is the Olde Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Red Hook, New York. I once lived and worked nearby and always found their shows great fun. Prior to WWI airplanes were curiosities. But with the advent of the war, their development rapidly intensified. Because of this many of the airplanes that they show date from that era. Others are more recent. It should be said that the ground show is beyond corny – lovely Trudy Truelove is rescued by a fearless aviator from the evil Hun – but the airplanes and pilots are wonderful. Plus, the airstrip, much different than an airport, is in a beautiful setting, making for a great afternoon.
The name, SPAD, by the way, is an acronym for Société Pour l’Aviation et ses Dérivés, literally “Society for aviation and its derivatives.” This particular airplane is a reproduction.
Although highly maneuverable, the British Sopwith Camel was considered to be difficult to fly and prone to uncontrollable spins if stalled. Only eight original aircraft remain; this is a reproduction.
Only two original German Albatros DV’s remain; none are airworthy. This is a reproduction aircraft, which itself is unusual.
The Fokker D-VII does not look like it would be good airplane, but looks can be deceiving. It was, in fact, an excellent airplane that lacked many of the problems afflicting other aircraft of its era. A great many were made during the war with the last version being made in 1929 for the Swiss air force. During the war it was flown by, among others, Hermann Göring who went on to Nazi infamy. This reproduction uses an original Mercedes DIII engine.
This airplane is an original and is powered by an original engine. The “Jenny” was built in 1918 as a trainer for the US Army, but was adapted for a variety of other uses, although none were used in combat. Just over 6800 were built.
With war’s end one could buy a Jenny for $50 in its original packing crate, making them the airplane most used by barnstormers and early airmail companies. It was also the airplane Charles Lindbergh used to solo and has been featured in several movies, including “The Great Waldo Pepper.”
The Fleet Finch was produced between 1939 and 1941 in Fort Erie, Ontario, as one of two trainers used by the Royal Canadian Air Force, the other being the Tiger Moth. This original aircraft is one of only five airworthy examples.
We saw this airplane at the Indiana Seaplane Pilots fly-in at Lake James, Pokagon State Park, Indiana. The weather was beyond awful. It was incredibly dark, gray, and rainy, but then late in the evening this fantastic sky appeared. The airplane itself, an Aeronca, was of interest to me because I made a flying model of one when I was in grade school. Of further interest, at least to me, is that this particular airplane was made the year I was born.
The weather cleared a bit before this AVIAT-A1 landed. They are popular for back-country fishing trips and when fitted with really big, fat tires can land on very rough ground.
Want to fly over the South Pole in 1929? Then you would need to do what Richard Byrd did and use a Ford Trimotor. Franklin Roosevelt used a Ford Trimotor in the 1932 presidential campaign. Trimotors made the first commercial flights over the Canadian Rockies and were used to evacuate Bataan in 1942.
When the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) flew their Trimotor (N8407) to our town, we knew that we had to take a ride. This is one of eight Ford Trimotors that has an airworthiness certificate out of the 18 still in existence. It was built in 1929 and is painted in the colors of its first operator, Eastern Air Transport. In 1930 the aircraft began Cuba’s first passenger & air mail service and later flew for the Dominican Republic.
It returned to the United States as a barnstormer in 1949, then became a crop sprayer, and finally was used to fight forest fires by dropping both smoke jumpers and borate onto fires. In 1973 it was severely damaged in a wind storm, ironically while on the ground, and was restored by the EAA.
If you look closely you can see the control cables that go around the steering wheel (see the right wheel, especially). Taking off requires that the wheels are pulled all the way back to your chest. Once we were airborne, the pilot let me fly it for a bit. (No passenger screams were heard.)
On the side of the fuselage are the bellcranks that control the airplane, just like with my model airplanes. Cables attach to a control horn which then rotate the bellcrank so that they can pull the control surfaces in the desired direction.
Finally, we saw this airplane, which was originally a WWII trainer, flown by Susan Dacy at the Chicago Air and Water show. (I included it because I just like the curve that her smoke traces.) She is an amazing pilot who does incredible things with her airplane. Her day job involves flying a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.