Posted to the Fly Baby mailing list in September 2006

Almost two hundred years ago, a group of Britons vacationing in Switzerland entertained each other by telling spooky stories late at night.  One night, Mary Shelley topped them all, with the tale of a doctor who created his own life form.

Everyone knows the story that Shelley had published under the title, "Frankenstein, or the New Prometheus."  But what about the rest of the stories told that week?  How did those people feel, to see their own tales eclipsed?

Well... *I* know.  I told what I thought was a pretty good Fly Baby flat-tire story...then a friend comes along and tops it.  With his account of the creation of Frankentire....

It happened a couple of months back.  Our EAA Chapter was celebrating its 50th anniversary, and we had a chapter get-together to bring old pictures together and scan them in for the records.

"Hey, Ron, see this one," called one of the members.  There was a picture of a much younger me, sitting in front of a much younger N500F with a big grin on my face...and a flat tire on the Fly Baby.

So I told my story of that flat tire.  When I got done, Ross, our Chapter president, asked to see the photo.  Ross is a young guy, who had taught himself to fly taildraggers by taxiing N500F about 25 years earlier.  He was running the Fly Baby club when I joined, and was the guy who checked me out in the airplane.

Ross looked the photo of me with the Fly Baby for a moment, then grunted. "Nahhh.  Wrong tire.  I blew the other one."

So then he told us HIS Fly Baby flat tire story.

Here's both of them, with mine first.

The photo was taken at a Chapter Fly-In about fifteen years ago.  The fly-in was held at Cougar Mountain airpark; a classic slash-in-the-trees-sloping-one-way airport a dozen or two miles south of Tacoma, Washington.

I've mentioned this airport a couple of times in previous postings.  I always get a fairly high pucker factor when landing there, but as long as the wind isn't too strong, it's easy to operate out of the field.

This time was my first trip into Cougar, though.  One chapter member had recently built a set of hangars there, and had invited us in for a picnic.

It was a *tough* field to find.  There aren't any obvious landmarks nearby, and since the runway itself is in a valley (and turf!), you don't see it until you're right on top of it.  A bit of wandering around, and I found it.

The landing wasn't bad.  As I rolled up to where the chapter airplanes were parked, I turned the plane, tapping the left brake to turn back towards the start of the parking row.

The plane turned a bit left, then stopped.  Blipping the throttle couldn't get it moving.  Friends walked over, pointing down on the left side.

I dismounted.  Left tire was flat.  Rats.  Examination showed the stem of the tube was gone...all the air had rushed out the stub.

"What were you running for tire pressure?" asked Cecil, our Tech Counselor.

"About eight or ten PSI, trying to keep the ride soft."

"Too low.  There wasn't enough friction to keep the tire from rotating when you hit the brakes.  The wheel just snipped off the stem."

So, there I was, with a flat tire.  But this was an *airport*.  There'd be no problem finding someone with a spare tube, right?  The man who'd built the hangars suggested we roll the Fly Baby into one of the empty bays.  A dozen or so willing hands took the weight off the flat as we moved the plane indoors.

Then, the hangar-owner started taking me around to the other residents of the airpark, looking for a tube.  Unfortunately, N500F has 8.00x4 tires, which are fairly rare.  I saw a lot of neat hangars, some neat projects (a Ross Parakeet, a Greyhound bus being converted into an recreational vehicle, a ten-foot-tall bandsaw for cutting marble) but nobody had a Cub-size tube.  At the end of the day, we loaded the wheel and tire into the truck of a chapter member's Triumph. I rode with him back home.

First thought:  Get the tube repaired; have a new stem added.  Couldn't find anywhere that would tackle it.

Second thought:  The tire is about the size of those used by ATVs...go to the ATV store, see if they have the right-size tires.  No luck.

Eventually, I was forced to buy a brand-new tube.  About $100.  Brrrrr.

(BTW, I *still have* the blown tube.  The thick rubber comes in handy, like for a temporary gas or oil cap while I paint the actual cap.)

I reassembled the tire, and loaded it up in Cecil's T-18 to fly back to Cougar and re-install it.  The trouble was, we couldn't find the airport!  It was tough enough to find in a slow open-cockpit airplane, much less through the bubble canopy of the fast T-18.  It was a hot, bumpy summer day, and we were maneuvering around, trying to spot the airport.  I ended up getting a bit airsick by the time we found Cougar...

But, no problems.  Re-mount the wheel, tighten the fly wires, and back to the home field. 

Ross's story... well, that's something different.

When N500F was restored by Chapter 26 in '1982, it was decided to fly it back to Oshkosh for the 20th anniversary of the Fly Baby.  Ross, not long out of high school, volunteered.  He didn't have a whole lot of money, so he brought his camping gear along and slept with the plane every night.  He had the usual set of adventures, culminating at the very last stop before Oshkosh.

He arose that morning, started preflighting, and noticed the right tire was flat.  A massive blow-out had occurred, shredding a section of the tire as well as the tube.

Like my experience, the airport didn't have any tires and tubes in the 800x4 size.  A little more surprising in this case, since it was a "real" airport with an FBO, not a out-of-the-way grass airpark.
Ross sat down by the plane and started trying to figure out a way out of the fix.  He was only eighty or so miles from the biggest fly-in in the world...if he could just GET there, they could probably fix him up. One takeoff, one landing.  The tire had only to retain pressure for an hour.

As he sat there, he noticed a tire resting on its side in the grass.  Like many airports, it was used to mark the location of a tiedown rope.  He rushed up and looked at it.  Nope, not 800x4.  He went though all the tires.  No luck.

Just then, Ross had an amazing inspiration. He crossed the street to the local discount store and bought a bicycle-tire repair kit.  He used all the patches in the kit to close the torn tube.
Then...Ross grabbed the nearest discarded tire. He cut out a section of it matching the location that was blown on his tire, with a generous overlap.  Then he laid it over the torn section on the Fly Baby tire and stitched it in place. With safety-wire, of course.

Insert the tube and assemble the wheel.  Incredibly, the Frankentire held air. Ross propped the Continental to life, climbed aboard, and started taxiing to the runway.  He could feel the thud every time the wheel went around.  Line up on the runway, hard left with the stick, and go to full power.  Thud.  Thud.  Thud thud. Thudthud.  Thudthudthudthud...

...and the Fly Baby was airborne.

He half-expected the tire to be flat when he landed at Oshkosh.  It wasn't.  He taxied up to the "Emergency Aircraft Repair" area (thud..thud...thud) and the whole staff came out to shake their heads at the safety-wired contraption.

The chief told Ross to go to the vendor area, where they'd have new tires to purchase.  Ross went...and was astounded at the prices.  If he bought a new tire and tube, he wouldn't have any money for gas to get home.

He went back to the repair area, kicked the pebbles, and said he couldn't find any new tires for sale.  The staff took him to a large old-tire disposal area. There, he found a fairly decent-looking 800x4 tire, and that's what he flew home on.

And, like he commented...that WASN'T the tire that went flat on me, about eight years later.

Comments? Contact Ron Wanttaja.

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