Back in the Saddle Again

Posted August, 1996

>" are REALLY going to regret letting that Fly Baby get away
>from  you."
                    - Countless Friends, July, 1994 were right.

I flew N500F, the prototype Fly Baby, from 1986 until Pete Bowers sold it to a proud new owner in 1994.  At the time, I was, of course, sad to see it go.  It had taught me a lot about flying.  It had been about as cheap to operate as any airplane possibly could be.  It was cold, it was slow, it was noisy, and it was uncomfortable.  And it was a heck of a lot of fun.

But I was willing to let it go.  After eight years, I guess I was ready for  something different.  I drew a chalk "crime-scene" outline on the hangar floor, and started looking for another airplane.

Six months later, I ended up owning half of a 1948 Stinson Station Wagon.  The partnership worked well... Mike was probably the best possible partner, being financially stable as well as knowing the airplane inside and out (he restored it).  I knew the "fun meter" would come down quite a bit with my shared ownership of "Charlie".  But the utility was a big attraction.  For the first time in ten years, I'd be able to take longer trips.  I'd be able to take my wife along.  I'd be able to fly Young Eagles.

Like any ideal, reality didn't quite match the image.  I did fly about 40 Young Eagles.  But I'm a real "weather wuss", which really cuts down on the long-distance trips in the Pacific Northwest.  My wife flew gamely along on a couple of day trips, but her heart wasn't really in it.

Lately, I'd noticed a curious thing:  I was flying "Charlie" like I used to fly the Fly Baby:  Occasional short local sightseeing trips, dropping in on local airports.  Solo 99% of the time.

Nothing wrong with that... except, of course, "Charlie" was a tad more expensive that the old Fly Baby.  The direct cost for the 'Baby was about $7/hour; the Stinson was $30.  I missed a lot of the other fun, too... flying in an open cockpit, for instance.

The extra cost to operate "Charlie" wasn't a problem.  But I'm naturally frugal.  I *hate* spending more money than I have to.

My thoughts edged towards another Fly Baby.  I bought a set of plans, and started gathering local sources, thinking of building one while I kept flying "Charlie".  I could retain the Stinson for the larger trips and Young Eagles flying, and build a Fly Baby gradually, spreading the cost over time.  I investigated a couple of partially-completed Fly Babies for sale locally, and thought about engines (deciding on a Stratus Subaru).

About three weeks ago, though, I went to the Arlington Fly-In.  I stopped at the private hangars across the way, and ran into a fellow member of EAA Chapter 26.  He owned the best Fly Baby I'd ever seen.  My  private name for this airplane was "Lux-o-Baby"; he jokingly called it "The only IFR-equipped Fly Baby in the world."  Back when N500F went away, I had called Don up to see if he was interested in selling.  He wasn't.  Then.

"Still want to buy my Fly Baby?" he asked when I met him at the Fly-In.

Heck, yes.  But I knew it'd go for a premium price.  I wouldn't be able to afford to buy it...unless I sold my half-interest in the Stinson.

I couldn't get the prospect out of my mind.  I called a friend of mine, the A&P who used to annual N500F.  I knew he also annualed "Lux-o-Baby."  "It's for sale, Ed," I said.

"If he wants less than a half-million dollars, you BUY that airplane, Ron."

Gulp.  Ed is a retired engineer who formerly mainained Lockheed Constellations for Northwest Airlines.  He knows airplanes, and is a real stickler.  I called my EAA Tech Counselor...same thumbs-up.

I called the owner, to let him know I was definitely interested.  "I just want to get her a good home, Ron...I'd rather sell her to you than anybody else."

Gulp.  I didn't want to just sell my half-Stinson to anybody.  I decided to ask Mike if he wanted the whole airplane back.

"Sure," he said.  He didn't even think about it.

So, tonight, I flew "Lux-o-baby" to her new home.  This Fly Baby is better equipped *than the Stinson*. Electrical system.  Starter. Lights.  Radio.  Transponder.  ELT.  LORAN.  G-meter.  Auxillary power port.  Baggage compartment.  Map pockets.  Knee pads.  *Heater*, for cripes' sakes.  Twelve years old, 110 hours total time.  70 hours SMOH on the Continental C-85-12.

Like old times? Sort of, but not really.  I'm going to have to do some cockpit mods to get some semblance of legroom.  I'm quite a bit heavier than the previous owner, so the plane is a bit tailheavy (no elevator trim).   The shoulder harnesses run from the floor directly behind the seat (awkward to don/can cause spinal injuries in crash).  Aileron controls were a bit sluggish...the plane didn't have the gap seals that N500F had (Time to go to Home Base Aerospace for some Duct Tape).  The turtledeck baggage shelf had only the small access door; not big enough to let me cram my camera bag inside.

But the feel was there.  The same breeze past the open cockpit.  The radio headset couldn't quite drown out the shriek of the wires.  I'll have months or years to get the plane tweeked up the way I want it.

I tucked the new Fly Baby under the wing of my hangar-mate's Vari-Eze, a task made much easier by Lux-o-Baby's full-swivelling tailwheel.  I make a cockpit cover from a UBT (one of those 'Ubiquitous Blue Tarps'), tied down the wings and tail, then stepped back to look at the result.

The look was quite a bit different.  Instead of N500F's faded circus red-and-yellow, I had Lux-o-Baby's pinstriped beige and green.  Instead of N500F's neat-but-worn custom cockpit cover, I had the blue tarp and bungee cord monstrosity.

I looked on the floor.  Two years of wind and rain blowing though the open hangar had erased the chalk outline I'd drawn to mourn the departure  of N500F.  Had it still been there, the new Fly Baby would have filled the outline exactly.

Lux-o-Baby doesn't quite fill the hole in my heart.  But it'll grow.  It'll  grow.

Comments? Contact Ron Wanttaja.

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