Tuesday, October 8, 2013
The biggest or shiniest isn’t always the most amazing and impressive
This year was one of homebuilt anniversaries, and I had friends—mechanical and otherwise—among the bunch. For instance, the amazing little Wittman Tailwind is an impressive 60 years old. And there were lots of them in attendance. However, it was the lines of Thorp T-18s celebrating their 50th anniversary that really tugged at my heartstrings.
When I was still in undergraduate school, I decided I was going to build a T-18 and talked the engineering school into letting me use the lab and its workshop to build it. Further, I got them to agree to use the T-18 as our senior structural engineering project. In the course of doing that, I got to know John Thorp quite well and, when I graduated, he got me a job with the company in L.A. that was, at the time, building the Thorp Sky Scooter. Of course, as soon as I arrived in L.A., they declared bankruptcy, but I didn't care. I was in SoCal and up to my butt in neat airplanes.
I got my first flight in a homebuilt airplane at that time. It was at Van Nuys with Bill Warwick in his 180 hp Thorp "Tiger," and "Tiger" was the appropriate name for it. That one flight totally reset my definition of the word "performance." Wow! But, every time I see one of the airplanes, I always flash onto John holding court with local homebuilders Saturday morning over coffee. And I remember that many of my aviation roots started there.
Then there was the little V-tailed Davis DA-2A, and I envision Leeon Davis leaning across the front seat of his station wagon after he pulled over on I-35 south of Wichita. He was looking out an open window at me standing on the side of the road, duffel bag and guitar case in hand. He had an amazed look on his face, "Budd, hop in. I didn't know you were going to Rockford!"
I was hitchhiking from Oklahoma where I was in graduate school and rebuilding a wrecked C-195 at the same time. He tied his self-designed little DA-2A down next to my 195 (under it, if it looked like hail). When we got to Rockford (my first), I immediately became part of the action: He took me around the pattern in the Davis twice, pronounced me checked-out, and put me to work hopping passengers while he sold plans. I logged something over 15 hours in 15- minute hops around the pattern. That was the first homebuilt airplane I actually flew. So, when I saw one at Osh '13, how could I not have an attack of nostalgia? I still think it's one of homebuilt aviation's best-kept secrets.
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