Report from Sun-n-Fun 2012
Being sensitive to the still-not-forgotten tornado incident of last year, the Sun-n-Fun organization opened their doors to all with a newly founded mission. Although they recovered from last year’s weather event with a record response, they felt the need to make this Sun-n-Fun event so much better that it would overshadow the previous year’s adversity. They were completely successful. It was a much-improved event in every way. Customer service was the focus. And if I could scour the event to find something to whine about…well…there was some black dust stirred up by vehicles. I will get over that. It was a great time provided by a great organization. They are to be commended.
The weather gods were also on our side. Perfect light winds from the southeast kept any “skeeters’ from biting, and there was no need to display any “intrepid skills” in cross-wind landings. In fact, I don’t even remember sweating...and that’s something I’d always expect in Florida.
Breaking my train of thought, back home there was a forest fire within 3 miles of my home, but moving away…I hoped. As a result, my time at Sun-n-Fun was abbreviated. (I know, a “personal problem”), but I just could not let that keep me from this once-a-year event.
Every year there is something new…something to be amazed by. This year it was a system that would, in the event of a pilot incapacitation, take over and fly the airplane to a suitable airport (not necessarily the closest) and make an approach to a runway. Now I need to get my old Brittain autopilot working. It is not “steam powered” but very close. Bellows…air…leaks…you can guess how good this works. I have never turned it on in over 20 years. (I love to fly…not watch.) The new system would be worth its weight in platinum to my passengers.
When I arrived on Tuesday, I immediately ran into a number of old friends who are always there. It’s like a reunion. Do you remember “Virtual HUD”? William Steel has an amazing invention that projects any electronic guidance imagery to a reflective tape on the back surface of a propeller. You see the Garmin or Avidyne, or GRT, or even Aspen…depicting an HSI with ADF needles (how quaint)…on the reflective prop disc. Just look outside...and it is right there. No need to duck your head to see the instrument panel. Well…he has moved on to update older military equipment with his later developments. “Mostly military now” he says…and I am glad he is on our side. Still, the Virtual HUD system is something we all need.
Technology moves about ten times faster than FAA approval.
I have a synthetic vision system, developed by Mercury Computer Systems, (the folks who provide the Global Hawk/Predator UAV systems)…that you cannot buy (yet), in my 1950 Cessna 195. Honeywell/Bendix/King bought it from Mercury and is now hiding it from you. Look for it in the future…someday…maybe…after the 2D Aviator Ace has run its course. Meanwhile, I can see the runway in zero-zero conditions before I cross the FAF. If they ever let this go, it will save lives.
Wednesday I made a run through all of the vendors. My wall space is meager and there is always a new Sam Lyons painting that tugs on my heart. The Cub on floats with Spanish moss hanging from the trees, and the Cub nose just inside the hangar door…you’ve seen it…well…I guess I could take the photos of my children down to make room. Or make an art room addition to the house… Sam provides “Food for the Spirit” like no other artist can.
“FiFi”, the very last flying Boeing B-29 was a major attraction this year. Did you know the B-29 has NO nose wheel steering? That the original 1500 hp engines could not lift it off the ground if the cowl flaps were left open? That almost ALL systems were electric? That the “fire control “computer” was 18” by 18” and weighed about 50 pounds…and each one was unique…not interchangeable? What an honor to see it fly and circle over the area! It flew over the “Splash In” on Thursday, making sweet photo ops fly bys. Why didn’t someone save another? We need at least two.
Thursday’s “Splash In” is a hoot! I must confess something here…not only do I not yet have my “nose wheel endorsement”, but I have YET to get my seaplane rating! How did this happen? No excuse. In mind and soul I am with them…the “Waterbirds”…but I have not yet accomplished that rating. It’s not that I don’t know that the Sister Keelsons are NOT a Motown group…I just haven’t had enough of a chance yet. It’s first on my “Bucket List”.
With perfect weather, Kit Clews, from Sleeper’s Island on Lake Winnepeasukee, New Hampshire, launched to compete in the Short Landing contest. His craft, a French-built trike, sports a four-blade prop and a reduction unit to make his prop rpm slow to around 1,000 rpm. Very quiet. He had a radio problem…and even with some confusion, landed just a frog’s hop beyond the marker. He thought that it was a practice run, but they waved him off on his second approach. The others following him made short landings…and I think he may have actually been the winner.
Antique aircraft come first for me. The Larson family brought their brilliantly red Cessna Airmaster over from Sarasota….on floats. While it doesn’t take much to entertain me…(”Gollee! Spanish Moss!”)...their Cessna, the pre-cursor of the Cessna 195 is so very rare, so very fine, that I am spellbound when I see it. It has a Warner 165…same as my Fairchild. Someone once said…”Some men piddle their lives away on golf courses…while other men live their lives Grandly”. The Larsons, Brad and Glen, prove that to be true.
Kermit Weeks is living the life the Lord intended for me. He not only made fly by photo ops in a Fokker D VIII with the correct rotary engine…castor oil spewing…and burp, burp, burp sounds of either on or off ignition…but he also flew in and splashed down in “The Spirit of Igor”, A Sikorsky S-39, owned by Dick and Patsy Jackson up in New Hampshire. It “winters” in Florida at the Fantasy of Flight Museum.
As we all watched the waterbird activity, from the West, the last flying Boeing B-29 appeared. I did the two-lens-two-step and readied my camera. I was not disappointed as the B-29 make clockwise and counter-clockwise orbits over Lake Agnes. The cloud cover was just perfect to capture numerous photographic specimens of a piece of American history. Thanks to all of the crew…they knew that what they were doing for us was very special.
Later, in the still of the evening, I returned to the airport for some ground-to-ground photographs. There was a cumulous build-up to the East. I tried to position it properly across the B-29 canopy with it’s many window segments. I did not know at that moment, but a pilot of that same type airplane would be speaking later at the Antique Airplane Association of Colorado monthly meeting in Denver. What are the chances? Jim Loyd gave a wonderful and insightful presentation. After hearing of the missions up and down the N-S Korea border…I’m glad it was he, not me, on those flights.
The fire was still burning in Colorado. I elected to bail out and hurry home. Mrs. H. might have needed me to help evacuate (again) if the wind changed course. I really hated missing the Friday night air show, the hot wings and cold toddies, the fireworks display at the end…and being at the wind sock in the grass mid-field. It is a tradition for me. My priorities were shuffled by events beyond my control. Next year remember to be there…Friday night…the wind sock…and I’ll join you.
Photos and Story by Richard Hawley