Volume VII, No. 4, Summer 1980
Edited by Mike King and Chris Cotrel, Photography by Mike King and John Shore
Many of men's wildest dreams were ones of wanting to be free and able to fly through the air among the birds. After much trial, error, and frustration, the Wright Brothers made this dream come true. Since then, modern technology has advanced us into the era of space satellites, supersonic jets, and even men walking over the face of the moon. But even in the midst of our world's search for more advancement, there are still some, like my uncle, Ray Flannary, who want to take their flying back through the years to the small, cloth covered airplanes of the early forties.
I started flying in Columbia, Missouri over here when they had the old airport there in town. They moved it over thirty years ago. My flying has been just for fun more than anything else. It is all just a hobby to me.
When I was learning to fly, landing was the hardest part to learn to do. An airplane's not hard to fly once it's in the air. A stable airplane will just about fly by itself, but getting that airplane to do what you want it to do, that's something else.
It might be like I read in some flying books we got from Washington, D.C. The way one fellow explains flying, he said it is the hardest thing to learn and the easiest thing to do. Maybe that's a pretty good answer. It takes time and experience to get so you can do it, but after you learn it's just easy as can be. There's just no effort to flying.
To fly an airplane, you must, of course have a pilot's license. Also, you can't do any work on an airplane unless you have an aviation mechanic's license.
I took flying under a licensed instructor. I believe you have to be eighteen years old to get a private pilot's license. A boy can solo when he's sixteen on a student permit. As a requirement, you have to have forty some hours of flying time before you can get a pilot license. Then you have to pass a flight check. A flight check is when you just get in there with an FAA [Federal Aviation Association] instructor. He sits in the other seat and tells you what kind of maneuvers he wants you to make, and you have to do them. In other words, you have to demonstrate your ability to fly to get a license.
I also have a mechanics license called an A and P rating. That's an air frame and engine license. I'd been a mechanic for years, working on heavy equipment. I was shop foreman over here at Davis Construction Company for I don't know how many years. To get this aviation mechanics license, you have to take a written exam under Federal Aviation but you can't take it until you put in thirty-six months under a licensed mechanic or go to a school.
I worked with another mechanic in his shop working on other people's airplanes. He had to sign papers so I could go to the FAA and take the written exam. When you pass the written, you're eligible to take a practical test under an FAA inspector. It was all fairly easy to do.
Ray keeps his antique planes in open hangars on a private airfield near his town. As Ray began to show off his airplanes, it was obvious he loves his planes.
Some of the features on these old planes aren't much compared to now, and then some others are hardly different at all. On the underside of these wings there are inspection plates. They are used to check the insides of the wings to make sure that everything is okay inside and out. Gas tanks have a hose on top of them for vents just like most tanks of today. The glass in the airplane is thin but it won't break like regular glass. You can crack it but you can't hardly break it.
To start these old planes you just get hold of that prop [propeller] and crank her till she starts. Older planes like these have a 65 horsepower engine in them, while the smallest made today is 108 horsepower.
As for speed, each airplane is designed to cruise at a different speed. You can't gain much over that speed because drag builds up with the wind resistance. But, say if you added twenty horsepower to your engine, you wouldn't gain the twenty. It would only give you around five.
You really don't need that much power to fly. The lift of the wing will carry the airplane from the top side. The gravity is pulling it down. Here, think of it this way--the bottom is practically flat. But see up here on the top of the wing, this rounded edge arches up and then takes a long slope down to the back edge. As the airplane is going through the air, the air will hit the wing and scoop up over and follow the contour down the back of the wing, but the air will go up. So what it does, it makes a vacuum on the back of the wing.
And that wing is going to lift up in that vacuum. This lift is what pulls up the airplane into the air.
When your engine fails, you still can glide for awhile. One time I had engine failure and had to make a forced landing. My wife was with me, and she was kind of scared. She just said one thing, "The thing went dead." She never said another word until we was on the ground. I wasn't nervous. It didn't bother me any. Besides, I was high enough and in range of the airport, so I got it on the runway. It didn't hurt my plane at all. See, even when your engine does fail, you still have all the controls. You just don't have any power.
A plane has to be thirty years old to be called an antique. I have a Cessna 172 which is not an antique, a Piper J-3 Cub, an Aeronca 7-A-C Champion, and a Piper PA-17 Vagabond. The J-3 Cub and that Champion are 1946 models. The PA-17 is a 1948. I don't have the first airplane I owned, but I do have one of the same make, model and year.
That Champion was just out of licensee and had a rotten covering on it when I got it in Kansas City. I got a ferry permit from the FAA and flew it home. My brother raised hell with me about that airplane. As I told you already, the covering was rotten. I went up there, and there had been an ice and snow on, but the ice had melted off. The airplane had a split about eighteen inches long down the wing when I got it. I just stuck a piece of duct tape on it--somebody had patched it already. When they were gassing up the plane, I said, "I bet that wing's got water in it." So I took my knife and just cut a slit in the bottom of the wing there, and that water ran out as far as from here to that runway. My brother said, "You flying that thing all the way to Boonville we'll get us both killed." When we got it home, I just started in and tore it down. Then I rebuilt the whole airplane--overhauled the engine, recovered it all. Then I had to pass FAA inspection before it could be relicensed for flying.
These airplanes are covered in an FAA approved synthetic material called Ceconite 101 which is stretched over the plane and formed to it with a warm iron. It's attached to the frame with special glue and with reinforcement tape, which is a long staple cotton. The wings have rib stitching in them which goes through the hollow wing to hold the covering down tight. These rib stitches are put in with a strong string and a needle which is about a foot long. All of the cloth is then covered with a special paint which draws the Ceconite tight. The fabric which covers the plane has to be able to stand forty-five pounds of pressure per inch to pass inspection. Ceconite will test about 120 pounds per square inch when it's new.
Ray's hobby can be an expensive one. As antiques of any kind show, their age boosts their value.
Now that Champion of mine down there, new, cost 2,370 dollars. Today, they'll bring around 6,000 dollars. That J-3 Cub over there, brand new, cost 1,900 dollars in 1946. Now it's worth eight to twelve thousand dollars. That just goes to show you how crazy people are. I don't know just how expensive it would be to have an airplane redone. This plane here, a Piper PA-17, I bought it from a man who had it stored in a hay barn. He had the wings off of it, and all the covering cut off of it. I gave 800 dollars for it, just the frame. I think the covering for it cost about 250 dollars, then the dope was seven dollars, the thinner six dollars per galloon. The paint cost sixteen dollars and seventy cents a gallon. These cylinders, I got them from G&N in Indiana, I gave 750 dollars for them. One of those props cost about 500 dollars. I added it up one day, and I had around 3,000 dollars in it, not counting labor. The labor would be a lot. I work on mine at home in the garage, and I couldn't even guess at how many hours I put in it. The inspector said that it would bring 7,000 dollars easy.
The monetary value is not the important thing about Ray's airplanes. The big payoff is the feeling he gets as he climbs into the small plane that he has restored to usefulness with his own hands, taxis down the long grassy runway, and finally, as the wheels clear the ground, smiles all the time while the man and machine, united as one, sail off into the blue Missouri skies.
THE JOY OF FLYING
Just knowing that I was soaring through the sky in a vintage airplane, once a pile of condemned junk, restored to beauty and usefulness, had a way of making me feel like a World War I ace, and put me in touch with the Spirit of '76.
Flying through the air provided me with one of the most beautiful sights I've seen. Surrounded by cloth and glass, I could see below left and right checkerboard fields and tiny dollhouses. Looking ahead I saw my uncle, a man in his seventies, flying this airplane with little more effort than tying his shoe. As I looked at the back of his head, I could almost see the devilish twinkle in his eye as he revved the engine and swooped almost straight up into this endless deep sky, and then shut the engine down to a mere idle. The plane hung in time for a minute, and then, as we swooped towards the earth, checkerboard fields rushing up to meet me somehow weren't quite so beautiful. At this point during this exciting plane trip my heart felt like I had just seen death itself.
As Ray leveled off the plane and we began making long lazy circles around the countryside, my feelings calmed down to a mere terror. Other thoughts than ones of my last will and testament and longing for the green grass of home began creeping into my mind.
I had noticed earlier how much painstaking importance Ray used in each of his pre-flight moves. We had untied the plane from its bed in the hangar and pushed it out onto the edge of the grassy field. Ray told us that most people use any knot that will hold. He uses the common slip and square knots. He then filled the tank with aviation fuel and reached inside the plane to set the controls for starting the plane.
Ray walked to the front of the plane and grasped the propeller with both hands. Raising his foot, and lifting the prop over his head, he pulled it down with all of the force he could muster. After a couple of tries at this, the engine finally sputtered and took hold. Ray walked around and got into the plane. When he adjusted the engine to a perfect smooth idle, he motioned me to climb in. I slipped my camera over my neck, stepping up on the vibrating wing, climbed into the plane. As I sat down in the single seat behind him, he revved the engine and we began to roll down the long, grassy runway. We began to build up speed and. with a slight jerk, we were airborne.
Ray's nudging me and pointing out the window stopped my daydreaming and I realized that we were flying over the Missouri River. We circled it and headed back to the airport. As it came into view, Ray made a few low sweeps at the runway for our photographers below. We finally touched the ground with a slight jolt and coasted to a stop.
After climbing out of the plane rather rapidly, my feet planted firmly on the ground, I turned just in time to see the devious twinkle in Ray's eyes as chris climbed into the plane behind him. If chris only knew what Ray had in store for him!
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