Fly Baby Anniversary Gathering

Arlington, Washington - July 11-14, 2002

The second of the 40th anniversary Fly Baby Gatherings was held in conjunction with the Northwest EAA Fly-In at Arlington, Washington.  This report is by the Fly Baby Home Page webmaster, Ron Wanttaja.

I flew to Arlington on Thursday morning.  I tuned the radio to the ATIS frequency about forty miles out, then to tower when I got within ten miles.  The airwaves were surprisingly busy...the tower was giving instructions nearly continuously. 

I eventually worked my way into the pattern and was cleared to land on the grass beside the main runway.  Cross the runway to the main Fly-In area, and I was at the show.

“Arlington ramp, tan Fly Baby to taxi to show parking.”

“Roger...what kind of plane is that?”

“Fly Baby.  This is the fortieth anniversary of the design.  I’d like to park with the other Fly Babies.”

“Uhhh... we don’t seem to have any listed.  That’s a metal airplane, right?”

Huh?  No one had EVER mistaken my Fly Baby for an RV before.  A T-6, yes, but an RV, never.  “No, it’s all-wood.”

“Roger.  Just follow the scooter.”

I followed the guide to one of the parking rows in the main area.  I could see a Fly Baby parked right at the entry to the row, and a couple more inside.  The row was already half filled...but the airplanes parked there were an Avid Flyer, a Super Cub, and a Champ.  It sure didn’t LOOK like it was a dedicated homebuilt row...especially when they taxied a shiny Luscombe into the row.

My arrival made four Fly Babies on-hand.  Included were Bob Hesse’s, Wendell Davenport’s, and Tom Staples’.

Hesse had a clean little yellow bird.  He’d flown up all the way from his base in Eureka California *in one day*.   Just three hundred miles in a Fly Baby in one day was enough to practically kill me, and Bob is 75 years old!  He did say he got a bit stiff.  When he arrived at Arlington, the staff had asked him if he needed help parking.  He answered, “No, but get a shoe horn and help me get out of this thing!”

The second plane was Wendell Davenport’s Fly Baby with a pre-war Navy paint job...yellow wings, silver fuselage, with blue highlight stripes.  Wendell had traveled to Arlington in a couple of stages.  Interestingly, he lives in Hawaii, but commutes to the mainland several times a year to fly his Fly Baby.

Tom Stapes’ machine needs little introduction...he won the Custom Classic Grand Champion award last year.  His plane has a squarish canopy that looks like it came right off a Messerschmit.  Like Moonraker, his plane also has a full electrical system.

I went to the registration building, and signed in.  I came to the block asking whether I wanted my airplane judged.  I hesitated a bit...I hadn’t really done much to spiff up the airplane, other than washing it the night before.  But what the didn’t cost anything.  They gave me a prop card with a “Judge Me” sticker on it.

Back to the row to slide the sign on and stake Moonraker out for the show.  I had two new additions for this year’s show.  I’d replaced my baggage door mural with a new Anniversary one, and added a placard to the panel:  “SOLO FROM FRONT SEAT ONLY.”  I pulled my pack of Beeman’s gum out of my logbook case and slipped it into the panel (in front of the “Funmeter”) and pulled the sectionals out of the map pocket (leaving only the 1962 Esso road map).  With that, Moonraker was ready for the show.

One thing I didn’t like is that my plane wasn’t next to any of the other Fly Babies.  Tom and Wendell were next to each other, but Wendell was also all by himself, at the end of the row.  I wandered around the show, greeting a bunch of friends, and eventually wandered back to the Fly Babies again.  I got to talking with Tom Staples, about how it was too bad our planes were separated.  We both started eyeing the parking zone on the other side of our arm of the Fly-In.  Not only was there a spot that looked big enough for all four planes, it went right to a corner by the road leading the main entrance.  We’d have expansion capability...if we needed it.

Tom and I talked it over, and decided to scarf up the open parking spot.  I rolled Moonraker over to the corner slot, and Tom fired up his and taxied to the spot next to me.  We hauled his tent over without folding it, and staked our planes down.  No one came over and complained.

We debated on the other two planes.  Neither Bob nor Wendell were around, and we felt reluctant to move their planes without permission.  We realized, though, that Wendell’s airplane wasn’t tied down yet, and, unlike Bob, he hadn’t set his tent up yet.  So we decided to risk it with his airplane.  I lifted the tail and rolled the plane back to the center of the row, and Tom and I rolled it into the slot next to him.

It *looked* like there was enough room between Wendell’s airplane and the next one to fit Bob’s Fly Baby in there...but we weren’t completely sure.  To save the spot, we plopped Tom’s tent down in the middle of it.

Right about then, I noticed something funny going on around my airplane.  There were guys with orange baseball caps standing around the engine.  They were the judging crew.

Gulp.  All the sins of my airplane flashed through my mind.  They actually *were* judging my plane!  Why hadn’t I wiped the cowling down after I parked?  Why hadn’t I tucked my cockpit cover into the baggage compartment rather than balling it up on the seat.

I waffled.  Should I stay near the airplane during the judging, and try hear what they had to say?  No, no, the suspense was killing me.  I walked away.  But...but I couldn’t walk far.  I had an insane amount of curiosity.  What were they finding?

A friend of mine with a Sequoia Falco had parked down the row from us.  I went by to talk to him, to get my mind off the judges.  But I couldn’t help thinking about them.  I mentioned it to Dave, the Falco owner.  “You should be there, to answer questions,” he said.  He should know...his plane took Grand Champion a few years back.

So I walked back to Moonraker.  “Hi, I’m the owner.  Got any questions?”

Wrong start.  “Where’s your compass card?”

Ugghhh.  “Ahhh...I’m afraid I haven’t got one.  I’ve been MEANING to spin the compass....” I babbled on like this for a few moments, then wound down.

I soon got into more familiar territory, though, talking about the various features of my airplane, about how the construction is good, but the plane is way overbuilt.  “...For example, look at that inspection panel under the horizontal stab.  Bowers says to use four screws to hold it on, but the builder of this one used thirteen!”

The judge crouched and peeked under the stabilizer.  “I see thirteen screw holes,” he said, “But only eleven screws.”

Time for Ron to shut up. :-)

Anyway, the ordeal was soon over.  I had been looking for Chris Brown to taxi his plane over, but there was no sign of him.  The way things had been going, I was expecting him to get parked in the east 40 somewhere.

Bob came by as the afternoon wound down.  He was initially a bit reluctant to tear down his campsite and drag his plane over to where Tom, Wendell, and I were parked, but we offered to help and the job was soon done.  The day finally came to an end, and I caught a ride into town to grab a bus home.

Friday morning, I drove my car to the Fly-In.  I’d loaded up the car with a bunch of stuff...some chairs, my soft-drink cooler, a tool kit with my tensiometer, safety wire, and some pliers (in case anyone wanted to check their flying wires), and a 2 foot square sign explaining the history of the Fly Baby.  I illustrated the text with a bunch of photos of planes from my web page.

With my two cameras and other gear, I had a TON of stuff I was going to have to lug in from the parking lot.  Fortunately, I ran into two friends and dragooned them into helping carry the stuff in.

Anyway, not long after getting in place, Chris Brown finally taxied up.  The parking people wanted to argue with this point, there weren’t any open slots in our row.  But I told the CAP cadet we’d take care of it.  We rolled Chris’ plane up behind mine, facing the opposite direction, with the tails of our airplanes someone like a herringbone pattern.

Chris’, Tom’s, and my plane formed a sort of Fly Baby nest... we had sort of a tight quadrangle formed by the fuselages and wings of the three airplanes.  We set up my chairs inside...and it really turned into a nice little refuge.

Right afterwards, though, our happy little nest was almost broken up.  The representative for the Light Sport Aircraft booth came over.  He wanted Chris’ airplane for display in his booth, as a typical plane that would come under the proposed rule.  Chris politely turned him down...he wanted to keep his plane with the other Fly Babies.  Turned out the guy had asked Bob the same thing the previous day...but Bob had also turned him down, for the same reason.

I spent a LOT of time answering questions.  No, it wasn’t built from a kit.  Yes, it was a lot of fun to fly.  I met several of the folks on the Fly Baby list, and a number of people who either had Fly Babies during the ‘60s, or knew someone who did.  I plugged my Fly Baby forum (scheduled for Saturday) as often as I could.

Since Bob was going back to Eureka on Saturday morning, we decided to arrange a little Fly Baby supper for that night.  Wendell already had plans with a friend, but Tom, Bob, Drew Fidoe, a friend of Drew’s, and I crammed into my car and went to a nearby restaurant.  Just as we were seated, my cell phone rang.  David Munday had arrived, and was waiting at the airport.  Unfortunately, we’d just ordered, and Sea-Tac airport was an hour’s drive away!

So David got to cool his heels at the airport for a couple of hours, until I finally made it to the terminal.  Back to my house, and gab a bit until it’s time to hit the rack.

We drove up together on Saturday.  The day started somewhat inauspiciously:  As we drove along the road toward the entrance to the parking lot, a Hiperlight ultralight came low overhead.  His engine had failed...and he force-landed in the parking lot!  Or, actually, the emergency strip in the middle of the lot...Arlington keeps an open patch in the middle of the lot for just such an occurrence.

Then it was back to the Fly Baby display.  Bob had left for Eureka by that point, and the parkers had plopped a Volksplane into his slot.

My forum was scheduled for 12:30, and the butterflies were pounding.  I had brought a briefcase with my presentation in it, and kept reassuring myself that all the charts were still there.  I had a fear that no one would show up, so anyone that asked the least sort of question was told about the forum.  I was also worried about the length of my pitch...I only had an hour, surely I couldn’t make it through 50 charts in that time?

As the time got closer, Dave and me headed for the forum tents.  The previous speaker was still going...and the crowd was overflowing.

“Who is it?” I wondered.  I checked out the schedule.  Great.  Dick VanGrunsven.  The tent was loaded with RVers, and they’d probably eat into my time.

Fortunately, Dick cut the session off right on schedule.  Drew and John Ousterhout, another friend of mine, had arrived there by then.  I was talking with them outside the forum tent as the crowd started to come out.

Then inspiration struck.  I get a lot of kidding from friends who are RV pilots.  Today, I could strike back.

You see, I was wearing one of my homemade Fly Baby T-shirts that day.  It had the V-formation image on the front...and the Fly Baby Air Corps logo on the back.  For those who aren’t familiar with the FBAC logo, it has a slogan printed underneath.

So when all those RV drivers started coming out of the tent, I turned my back towards the crowd and started a casual chat with my friends.

So all the Vancan drivers coming out could read the slogan:  “There are two kinds of aircraft:  Single-Seaters and Trainers.”  :-)

I don’t remember much of my talk.  I spoke too quickly (of course) and switched words around willy-nilly.  Still, we had a full tent (including some bleedover outside) and, wonder of wonders, I got through my charts in almost exactly the allotted time.

We went back to the airplanes after my talk.  We spent quite a while explaining Fly Baby stuff to the visitors.  I’d had a batch of business cards with my web page on them on the sign, and they were quickly snapped up.

Oddly, enough, I saw some more judges, too.  I had the three sets of initials on my prop card, supposedly protection from being inspected again.  But these new ones didn’t go deeply into the plane.  They just sort of wandered about, looking at it casually.

David and I were relaxing a while later, having a soft drink and eating some crackers.  A fuel truck pulled up opposite us, and the occupants got out to tank up an airplane.

But these weren’t your usual young male fuel-truck-drivers.  These were fiiiinneeee young women.  Young, tanned, wearing fairly short shorts, tanned, wearing fairly short shorts, and wearing their blonde hair in pigtails.

They were the Gas Babes.

David and I started looking around, trying to find a nice high-wing airplane for them to fill, so we could watch them climb the ladder.  Our Fly Baby nest had a dearth of high-altitude fuel caps, though.  In desperation, I decided I didn’t dare fly Moonraker back to Auburn unless the five gallons I’d burned to get to Arlington was replaced.

So I contacted the head Gas Babe, and requested serv...uhhh, a fill-up.  She said they weren’t sure if they could fit me in, but they’d try.

Fortunately, five minutes later, they pulled up in front of my plane.  They gathered quite an attentive crowd.

One ran the hose to the plane while the other took my credit card.  She was filling it out, when I heard an unladylike set of curses behind me.  The one on the hose had pulled it out of the tank before shutting it off completely...drenching my forward fuselage with 100LL.  The gas combined with some old oil in my filler-neck gasket to run some yellow-orange streaks down my forward fuselage.

Sigh.  Story of my life, a little pleasure, followed by a lot of pain.

Dave and I were standing by the front of the airplane a little while later, when one of the Fly-In’s golf carts pulled up.  A man got out, and started to put an envelope in my cockpit.

“Hi, I’m the owner,” I said, and he handed it to me.

Inside the envelope was a note:  “Your airplane has been selected for an award.  It will be in your best interest to be present at the main tent at 10:00 AM Sunday.”

Gulp.  Guess my babbling hadn’t scared off those judges, after all.

David and I sat back down, discussing which award it might be, and watching the air show.  A little while later, a man walked up to us.

“Hey, do you guys like airplanes?”

It was all David and I could do to NOT look at each other.  Here we were, at the US’s third largest air show, sitting in the midst of some custom aircraft, with me leaning back possessively against one of them...and the guy was asking whether we liked airplanes.

Shields up, Mr. Sulu.

And yes, the guy was selling something.  Land, of course.  Lots on an airpark on the other side of the Cascade mountains.  The guy extolled the location, and the ability to live with your airplane, and asked if it sounded good.

“I might be interested,” I joked, “After my divorce was final.”

But the guy didn’t catch that I was joking.  He started railing about how he’d been ripped off during his divorce.  And how he’d married a woman from the Philippines, and was SO much happier.  “American women don’t even turn me on, anymore,” he said.

I don’t know about David, but *I* was having trouble keeping a straight face.  The airpark salesman obviously hadn’t caught sight of the Gas Babes.

But, by far, the weirdest happening came at the close of the show that evening.  Most of the air-show visitors had left, and the last few were heading towards the gate.  I moved a chair beyond the fence a bit, to take some pictures of the Fly Babies.

Then I heard a voice behind me.  “Boy, would I like to sit in that.”

I turned around, and saw three teenaged boys looking back over their shoulders at Moonraker as they walked towards the exit.

“You would?” I asked.  They looked at me.  “C’mon, then.”  I led them back behind the ropes.

They were somewhat rowdy.  One had both a pierced lip and a pierced tongue.  But they were all eager to talk about how my airplane, and what it took to get a pilot’s license.  They were flabbergasted when they learned they could buy a plane like mine for only $10,000, and undismayed to find out that flying lessons would cost nearly $5,000.  They were filled with questions...among, we suspect, certain substances.

But they behaved themselves around the airplane.  I plopped one of them into the cockpit, slapped my spare helmet and goggles on his head, and he and his friends posed for a picture.  And that was it for Saturday.

On Sunday, David had to get to Sea-Tac airport early for his flight home. My wife and I dropped him off on the way to Arlington.  We went to the awards ceremony, where Moonraker won the Reserve Grand Champion award in the Custom-Built Classic category.

Then...time to get ready to leave.  My wife and I hoisted the poster and the other gear for hauling to the car.  I’d been by the Fly Mart area earlier that morning, and found a C-85 starter they were literally GIVING away.  So we had a pretty good load.  My wife started home, and I started getting the plane ready to leave.

At that point, I met Chris Brown’s girlfriend.  Chris had had a bit of an accident the previous day.  I never did get a straight story on it...but I understand it had something to do with firecrackers, sparklers, and a bicycle.  I’ll HAVE to ask him, the next time we meet.

I hung around after the airshow to let the traffic die down.  Then it was mount up, and head back home to Auburn.

Questions?  Email Ron Wanttaja .