Goodbye, Fly Baby

Posted May, 1994

Well, it's gone.  The Fly Baby left town yesterday, in the hands of its new owner.  We had discussed delivering the plane by air, but the sale included the set of biplane wings.  The new owner found that shipping the extra wings would cost more than driving from Indiana to Seattle and hauling the whole schmeer back on a trailer.

He got it all on one eight-foot-wide, 22-foot long trailer, too.  Pretty amazing to look at... the fuselage in the middle, with three wings stacked up on edge on either side.  Huge wooden framework to carry it all.  He brought his twenty-year-old nephew to help... got in Wednesday night, did touristy stuff Thursday, then took all of Friday and half of Saturday to disassemble the plane and load it up.

His insurance got activated on Thursday, but he declined to take the plane up for a test flight.  He's been inactive for fourteen years, and just recently combined refresher training with a taildragger checkout. We talked him through what the plane's like to fly, but, like all of the club members, his first flight will be solo.  It didn't help that me and some of the club members DIFFER on the right way to fly the plane... we got into a "religious discussion" on whether to stall or wheel-land the plane.

Some random thoughts/observations:

1. NEAT STUFF: The deal with Bowers included a bunch of historical pieces... copies of Popular Mechanics that included the plane on the cover, a section of fuselage from the 1960-1962 version, etc.  The deal also included a long
swatch of fabric... the covering on the side of the fuselage of the award-winning airplane, complete with N-number.  The new owner was kind enough to give this to me as a momento.  I'm getting it framed, to put up in the entry of my house.  Bowers also gave him the 8-mm movie footage he'd taken during the early '60s.  The owner's going to get it converted to video, and send me a copy as well.

2.  PARTING SHOTS:  At some point, of course, I had to make a last flight. I decided to do so a week before the new owner was to arrive, three days prior to the insurace expiring.  Since the 'Baby was due for an oil change, I figured to do the new guy a favor and deliver the plane with fresh oil.  I'd change oil, then make a test/last flight.

But when I tightened the oil screen, I twisted off a brass fitting that worked as an adaptor for the oil temperature bulb.  Little fitting, the size of the end of my thumb.  I cussed a bit, but figured a new one would be easy to find.

Not to be.  I went to a variety of aircraft-parts stores and fitting/connector retailers.  Couldn't find it.  It wasn't even listed in the Continental catalog.  Finally, one of the aircraft parts stores suggested it was a Cessna part.


Given time, I could have worked out an alternative.  I could have contacted an aircraft junkyard.  I have several friends who are excellent machnists, who would have made me a replacement.  I even could have reworked the existing hardware to accept a low-cost alternative.

But I didn't have the *time*.  I *had* to test fly the aircraft after replacing an oil-system part.  There's no way I'd kluge together an adaptor when a new owner was just about to take possession.

I ended up driving about thirty miles to the local Cessna-parts stocker. They had it, of course.

In the eight years of ownership of the Fly Baby, the record for a non-wear part (i.e., other than tires) was $80, for a new magneto coil. Well, on the last day of ownership, the 'Baby broke the record:  $100, for a little fitting.

I am *not* considering a certified aircraft for a Fly Baby replacement...

3.  NEIGHBORS:  My airport neighbors have been quite nice, during the transition from airplane-to-no-airplane.  Many have commented that the airport won't be the same without N500F doing Stuka-slips toward the end of runway 34 at Auburn.  I've been getting rides in a number of aircraft. Two Stinson 108s, a Stearman, and an Aeronca Chief, so far.  A standing invitation from a Bonanza owner.  Yesterday, in fact, I shot a bunch of air-to-air footage of a T-6 from a Stinson... with an invite to ride the T-6 as well.

Of course, the fact that the hangar waiting list is five years long and I have a hangar sitting unoccupied might have something to do with it....

4.  LAUGHTER, BEST MEDICINE:  When I left in the Stinson yesterday, the new owner was putting the finishing touches on the trailer and storage. By the time I got back, he... and the plane... were gone.  A couple of buddies started joking to cheer me up.  "Put up a wanted poster."  "Or how about a sign saying, 'OJ was here'."  "Naw, just put its picture on a milk carton."

Then one of them offered the most momentous idea.  I stared at him for a second, then hopped into the car and sped off to the local toy store. Twenty minutes later, I was kneeling on the hangar floor, giggling.

If you happen to go by Auburn airport, stop and look at hangar 77. There's a chalk outline of a Fly Baby on the floor....

5.  THE FINAL INSULT:  The worst moment came when I got into the car to pull away from that empty hangar.  The radio was playing a song that was pretty popular, last year.  You all know the refrain:

"... just an earth-bound misfit, I....."


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