The Fly Baby Debut

Posted August, 1996

Once the building's done, there are two reasons to own homebuilts:  To  fly them, and to show them off.

The building of Fly Baby N45848 was over long before I came on the  scene.  Son of Trigger has undoubtedly been to air shows and displays  before.  But last weekend was the first time *I* got to take her to  one.  Good 'ol N500F seemed to work magic back in the good old days.   I'm happy to report that the magic's in the genes.

The show was a small local one, a "Good old days" celebration that, in the last four years or so, has included a display of classic and antique aircraft.  The show is at Auburn, WA; my home field.   This year, they contacted our EAA Chapter and asked us to bring homebuilts as well.

A friend had left a message for me the night before, suggesting we arrive together.  Peter is a member of the Story flying club.  I've mentioned the Story Special's a Fly Baby lookalike built in 1954, operated from Auburn by a four-person flying club.  Pete Bowers was a member of the club at the time he designed the Fly Baby back in 1960.  The Fly Baby isn't really a wood Story, but Bowers used the same basic configuration and size.

That morning, I refueled 848 and waited for Peter to arrive.  Since it  looked like it was going to be awhile, I walked over to the fly-in area to see what was developing.

A few airplanes, but not many so far.  I saw someone I knew working the announcer's tent, and went over to say "hello."

"Are you having fly-bys?"  I asked.

"Oh, we'd *love* to.  What kind of airplane will you have?"

I filled out a card with a description of the Fly Baby and the Story.  "We'll be coming by about 11:45."

I trotted back to the hangar.  Peter showed up at about 11:00.  Between one thing and another (Steve, a former Fly Baby Club member, had to come by, and I had to have him Ooooh and Ahhh over 848), we weren't ready to start until 11:40.  "Let's just take off, make a couple of passes, and land," I told Peter.  Steve propped the Story, and the silver T-handle brought 848 to life.

We taxied by the fly-in area on the way to the runup pad.  I saw several friends wave...I'd told them about the new 'Baby, but for a couple of them, this was their first view. I took off first, holding 848 low while roaring past the fly-in crowd, then pulling up at the end.  Around the pattern I went.

"Auburn traffic, Fly Baby 848, turning final for high-speed pass, one-six, Auburn."

A voice on the radio was amused.  "How high-speed is high speed?"

"Ninety five knots," I proudly answered.

I flashed down the runway, banking slightly left then right to show a bit of planform.

"Looking good, Ron," said a voice.  I'd seen one friend with a handheld when I was taxiing out.

Peter's departure had been held up by departing traffic, and he was just turning downwind.  I cut the corner, trying to catch up.  Never did quite make it, but we zipped past the show in reasonably close order.

I followed him around the pattern.  My landing wasn't...well, TOO bad. Fly Bay 848, fly-in debutante, taxied up to the show area, metaphorically tugging up the drooping shoulders of its party dress.

They parked the Story and the 'Baby right at the public entry....we were the first airplane people saw as they entered the parking area.  The two guys who helped push 848 into its spot turned out to be fellow netter Nyall Williams and his brother.  We'd arranged to meet sometime later, but Nyall recognized the Fly Baby.

We'd barely got the plane positioned before I was answering the usual questions..."Well, if I rains, I get wet."  "The covering is just polyester fabric, like a leisure suit."  "Eighty-five horsepower."  "It's a homebuilt airplane, not an antique.  It's just fourteen years old."  "No, I didn't build it, I bought it from another guy."

I'm biased...of course...but it seemed like the Fly Baby and the Story gathered the lions' share of the attention.  Being right at the entry, of course, meant that everyone had to look at them.  But most of the antiques and classics never seemed to gather as much of a crowd.

I guess it's two things:  Appearance and size.  To the ordinary non-flying public, a classic Stinson really doesn't look that different from a Cessna 172. Biplanes and others that are *obviously* old are generally big.  The average-size person can just barely see what's around the top edge of the cockpit.

The Fly Baby looks antique, but is small enough that the average person can lean over and look inside.

I did change my mind about one thing, that day.  I've mentioned how the previous owner had glued a "Far Side" cartoon on either side of the nose, and that I'd planned to remove the cartoon and replace it with my own artwork.

The cartoon is a giant baby lying on an runway with two airline pilots sitting on its back..."Let's get this baby off the ground."  I was going to replace it because once you've seen it, the joke's over.  But kids *loved* the cartoon.  It's located low enough on the nose that they can walk right up and look at it.  Mothers brought their toddlers over to show them..."See?  It's a baby that's an airplane!"

I've had a change of heart.  The cartoon stays.  I'm still going to put my own artwork on, but it may go either on the turtledeck by the name itself or on the vertical stabilizer.  BTW, I've included the art on my Fly Baby web page (  Dave "Tandem Fly Baby" Munday spent a sleepless weekend trying to figure out what the name is.  I'll give y'all the same clues I initially gave him:  It's an object on the image, and it's coincidentally the title of a major motion picture released in the last 30 years.  Email your guesses.  Rusty, you're disqualified...I already told you. :-)

I had lunch with Nyall and his brother, looked at the other airplanes, but kept returning to stand proudly by the Fly Baby.

I should have stayed there.  Running along mid-afternoon, Peter and I decided we needed to get stuff out of our cars, back at the hangar.  He walked back and did his business.  One of his co-owners keeps an old bike at the hangar, and he  rode it back.  I got on the bike to ride back to the hangar, where I'd leave the bike and walk back.

Now, I'm a nervous nelly in an airplane.   Always have been.  Unfortunately, though, I've been utterly fearless on a bicycle since I've was five years old.

On the way back to the hangar, I met two friends.  They waved... and I decided to do a "Wheelie" to wave back.

A perfect "ten" on the wheelie.  But the, err, dismount left a lot to be desired.

I disentangled myself from the wreckage.  The left knee of my jeans was torn out.  A three-inch case of "road rash" ran down the front of my lower leg.

"Hey, Ron, are you all right?"  I appreciated the tone of concern in Terry's voice.  Especially considering that he broke his leg tripping over a bar stool four years ago, and I've never let him live it down.

"Ahhh, yeah.  Just a scrape."

"That's a lot of blood," said Bob, my hangar-mate.  He grabbed a bit of paper towel and moistened it.

"Thanks," I said, and started wiping the leg through the hole in my pants leg.  When you're as klutzy as I am, the sight of your own blood doesn't faze at all.  I've wrung more blood out of my socks than most people have in their entire body.  :-)

I started walking back to the show area.  "Uhh, Ron, you're still bleeding," said Bob.

I cussed a bit.  I'd hoped people wouldn't notice the torn pants leg, but it was obvious the underlying wound was too obvious.  Nothing for it but to drive home, clean the wound, slap some sort of bandage on it, and change pants.

I made it back to the show an hour or so later.  The aircraft had thinned out a bit.  As I walked by the announcing booth, I heard my friend there apologize to a young girl and an older man (probably her grandfather) about the shortage of aircraft.

I stopped.  "I'm sorry there aren't more planes left," I said.  "But how'd you like to sit in mine over there?"

Soon, she was in the cockpit of 848, grinning like crazy.  "I wish I'd brought a camera," said Grampa.  Soon I was cycling kids into and out of the pilot's seat.  Some sat cross-legged on the seat so they could see out, others went right down, stuck their legs toward the rudder pedals, and grabbed the stick.  I kept a close eye on the little hands, making sure none came close to the start handle.  They were all good kids, none of them tried to touch anything but the stick.

Peter came over.  "Let's go fly!"

One thing left.  When I'd arrived that morning, our chapter's Young Eagles photographer asked for a chance to take a picture of me in full flying gear.  The 'Eagles were winding down, so he came over.  I pulled on my coat, donned the helmet and goggles, and stood by the cockpit.  He lifted his camera...and as did several other people.  Ah, fame.

Of course, the big reception came when I got home and the wife asked about the torn pants on the floor, and the bottle of hydrogen peroxide left on the counter.  "You cut your leg *how*!!!!?????  Doing a wheelie on a bicycle?   Hahahahahahahaaaaa....."

A prop-head is not without honor, save in his own hangar. Such is the sympathy *I* get around here.  Good thing I didn't tell her it was a girls' bike....

Comments? Contact Ron Wanttaja.

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