Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Junior Birdman

I have spent the last forty years being a professional pilot, eight with the U.S. Marines and thirty-two with Continental Airlines.  During those years I have amasses over 25,000 flight hours, most at altitudes above 18,000 feet and at speeds in excess of 250 knots.  But for the next three days I will travel from Kinston, North Carolina to Fort Worth, Texas in the back seat of an O-1 Bird Dog going about 100 knots at not much over 3,000 feet.  I will be totally out of my element in an airplane type I have no experience with, a tail dragger.   

If I was traveling alone I would be concerned, but I will be with a friend and experienced O-1 pilot, Fred Mooney.  Together we will recover a cherished little piece of history for our museum collection, made possible by the generous donations of some people who once trusted these little birds with their lives, U.S. Air Force Forward Air Controllers and a few others with close ties to the O-1.  

When the call went out for support over Valentine’s Day weekend, these people opened their hearts and wallets and made it possible for us to add this missing piece to our collection of warbirds.  Because of this, we have nicknamed the airplane "Valentine." Maybe not a very macho name for a warbirds, but there is a lot of heart in this one just the same.  

I am going to try an experiment with this little journey of 1,300 miles.  I will try to chronicle the adventure and share that with you over the next few days.  So ride along with Fred and I as I take a step back and become a Junior Birdman to bring a treasure back home to Texas.
First Look April 28, 2011, Kinston, NC
April 28th
Made it to North Carolina just fine and Steve Wilson, former AF O-1 FAC was here to meet us and give us a ride to Kinston. Found our airplane sitting on the ramp at the Delta Jet Center. Problem is, lots of bad weather in the area. We saw evidence of tornadoes all around. We may have to hold up in the local Holiday Inn Express till tomorrow. Pictures to follow.
Steve Wilson & Fred Mooney
Challenge for the day.
April 29th
Today has been an exceptional day. The weather has been great with unlimited visibility, the ride was smooth most of the time and our little plane has functioned flawlessly. We put over eight hours on our Bird Dog today without a hitch. Considering that it hasn't flow that much in two years, says a lot for this little veteran. Two and a half more hours and she will be safe in Fort Worth. We made stops in Clemson, South Carolina, Corinth, Mississippi and Texarkana, Texas. I have been surprised at how few people know what an O-1 is. I am having trouble getting pictures up on the blog, so that may have to wait until I get home. I have plenty.
Fred feeds the Dawg at Clemson

Fred at work
OBA Member Roy Pitt met us in Texarkana (before being a Marine OV-10 Plane Captain, Roy had been trained on the O-1.
Oh, by the way, our radios have been marginal, we have no navaids and out transponder is intermittent. We have mostly been navigating using iPads. Very interesting experience and remarkably accurate. Oh, yes, and taxiing one of these machines is a bit tricky. This is a great adventure.
iPad is my co-pilot
Crossing the Mississippi
 On a sobering note, we have seen a lot of the tornado damage and flooding. My heart goes out to all those who have suffered losses the last few days.

April 30th
Left Texarkana under special IFR.  The iPad charts were invaluable finding our way through all the towers west of there.  Low overcast for at least an hour after takeoff.  I really gained a sense for what the O-1 guys did flying low over farms, fields and forests.  We even scared a calf here and there and got a friendly wave from people on the ground more than once.  It got busy making our way through the Metroplex as we approached Dallas and Fort Worth without altitude reporting to the controllers.  Two and a half hours after takeoff, we landed at Meacham Field at 1027, after a couple of welcome home passes.  We had put 10.5 hours on our bird dog and she performed without a hitch.  Our reception committee applauded our arrival and we put our prize in the petting zoo with our other treasures.  There will be more to come, a lot more, but for now this was an amazing trip for me and I would do it again in a heart beat.  Best airplane ride in years.  Bravo Zulu to all who made this possible.
The G.I.B.
 Recovery crew at Veterans Memorial Air Park, Fort Worth, Texas.

The DAWG's in the yard!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


The motto of our museum is PIE: preservation, inspiration and education.  We preserve the past and use those pieces to educate our community and work to inspire our youth to careers in aviation and aerospace.  PIE is easy to remember and relate to our visitors.   All three of these elements can take a variety of forms and this last week was a great example of how we work to achieve our goals.

Recently we formed a relationship with one of our local Civil Air Patrol units, TX-388 Phoenix Composite Squadron.  Maintaining our aircraft collection is a very labor-intensive operation but does not require the same level of expertise that an airworthy aircraft would.  To help us, we are making the TX-388th cadets “Crew Chiefs” for our A-7 Corsair II and F-105 Thunderchief aircraft.  They will work under the direction of our maintenance staff to help with preservation, while learning about aircraft and hopefully gaining some inspiration along the way - Win, Win, Win.

In a similar manner, we have formed a collaboration with the VMFA-333 Association, Inc. to manage our QF-4S Phantom II.  It was assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 333 “Shamrocks” while it was aboard the USS America in Southeast Asia in 1972.  One former “Shamrock” is a member of the Devil Dogs Motorcycle Club, a group of present and veteran Marines.  Their local chapter will be refurbishing our airplane to the markings that our Phantom wore while on the USS America.   Again, preservation that will lead to education and inspiration through that squadron’s history, including the only all-Marine MIG kill during the Vietnam War.  Our airplane was there.

Also last Saturday, our outreach program through the North Texas Aviation Centennial celebration plan, focused on a community activity to paint a mural for the benefit of the community.  The mural depicts the aviation history of Fort Worth and North Texas.  It was a collaboration between the Fort Worth Parks Department’s Graffiti Abatement Program, the Civil Air Patrol’s TX-388 squadron and a group from TCU called Leaps, a community service organization comprised of student, alumni and teachers from TCU.  Together, under the direction of Alison Letnes, GAP director, they transformed the wall of a pavilion constructed in 1935 by the WPA  (Works Progress Administration) at Trail Drivers Park, into an educational piece for the local community to enjoy.  Along the way, local history is being preserved while educating the community and just may provide a touch of inspiration for our young people.

Our work takes many forms and our motto helps all of us to focus on where we need to direct our efforts.  It is as easy as PIE and we like PIE.  How about you?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

We Move Our Tails For You

Just about two years ago we moved to our present location.  Airplanes were placed where they could be worked on and parts were positioned near by for installation or repair.  We thought we would be up and running quickly, but that just wasn't the case.  It took nearly nine months just to get our certificate of occupancy so we could use our new space.  Months later we still had bits and pieces scattered around when, in through the gate came two more airplanes, an F-4C Phantom II and a TA-4J Skyhawk, both had been transferred from the Joint Reserve Base, formerly Carswell Air Force Base.  More parts, the Skyhawk came in two pieces.

Our maintenance effort tried hard to get our restoration house in order, but somehow we never seemed to get any traction, literally and figuratively.  We have a little aircraft tug we call Miss Piggy that we expected to use to move aircraft around the yard and maintenance pad.  Problem was, Miss Piggy had a mind of her own for awhile and refused to accept brakes.  It took months to settle her down and then winter had set in, work slowed.  All along, some work was being done on the aircraft here and there, but we had two airplanes without tails and they just didn't look right.  Finally, last week the weather broke and a day was set to bring in a crane to move our B-36 props and put our tails in place.  It took some time, but the winds were low and the sun was warm and seven volunteers and a crane operator moved those tails and set them in place. 

We now have two more airplanes standing proud with tails held high, now longer sitting, looking broken and downcast.  Lots of people have been responsible for the restoration on the TA-4 and especially the F-111 Aardvark.  Our Vaark was literally a basket case when we got "Balls 9."  A museum in Connecticut had abandoned the aircraft in Arizona when it could not raised the money it needed to move it.  It sat, almost forgotten, for nearly nine years when we found it.  We beat the bushes and with the help of the B-36 Peacemaker Museum and others, we finally had what we needed to bring the airplane home to Fort Worth, but that was about it.  The airplane had been heavily disassembled and we learned it did not have all its panels.  Not much work went into "Balls 9" after it arrived here in 2007, but once the airplane was moved to our new location things started to change.

One of the B-36 group, Glen Hill, started replacing panels, one at a time, almost without anyone noticing.  Then little by little and with the help of folks like Jim Bloomberg, Jack Thompson, Hank Wright and others, the holes started disappearing and "Balls 9" started looking more and more like the proud bird she is.  Now, this Vaark is almost finished and ready for a new coat of paint.

So, as they say in the Navy, Bravo Zulu to our maintenance crew.  Our F-111 and TA-4J are sitting pretty because they moved our tails for you.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hot Dog Howdy!

As some of you are aware, over the Valentine's Day weekend, we did some mighty fine hoop jumping.  Just prior to the end of January we learned that the GSA, through it Federal Surplus Property Program, had an O-1 Bird Dog up for disposition.  We have long wanted one of these aircraft for our collection of FAC airplanes, but they just don't come available very often.  One came up five or six years ago, but nothing since.

At any rate, we jumped and got the required paperwork in and pretty much forgot about it since other states wanted the airplane as well.  Just as I was getting ready to leave town on a trip on Valentine's weekend, I got a call from the Texas GSA telling us we could have the O-1 if we wanted it.  Did we?  Of course we wanted it, but we had done no fund raising for this type aircraft and needed some time to get support.  They said fine, we'll call tomorrow.  Tomorrow?  I immediately went to the only two sources of O-1 information that I knew of, the International Bird Dog Association and the FAC Association.  Armed with a bunch of email addresses, I fired off about 700 messages and got ready to leave town on a three day trip to Tel Aviv.  That was February 10th.  On the morning of the 11th, our friendly GSA rep called asking, "well, do you want it?"  I told him we wanted it, but we needed a little time to see if we could raise the funds.  Money was starting to come in, but we needed to raise at least $6,000 to make the project work.  I told him I would call him when I got back on the 13th.

Twelve or so hours later I was in Tel Aviv and found my email box full.  People were coming out of the woodwork to support the O-1 project.  I spent a lot of time on the computer for those couple days, but by the time I returned, we had raised over $9,000.

I called the GSA first thing on Valentine's Day and told them we wanted the airplane.  They said the paperwork would be along in a few days.  A week went by, then ten days and finally the paperwork authorizing the transfer and the restriction were in hand with a note to get them back in a couple days or the airplanes was going to be reassigned.  In the brief time we had to acquire the airplane we had learned very little other than this was the same airplane we tried to get the five years before.  We vowed not to let it get away again.

A short time ago we received this message from the Texas GSA, "we did received your paperwork, and sent it on to GSA, they have approved the transfer. Your copy of the original CTD was mailed to you today.  You can make arrangements with the holding agency in North Carolina to go get your plane."

We have been calling this little Bird Dog "Valentine" since it was essentially a gift of the heart from a lot of former Air Force O-1 people on Valentine's Day. 

Now, we can begin the process of "gittin her home."

We know very little about this little treasure.  We do know it is an O-1A with serial number is 51-22840, which we believe is a Cessna number and that is about it.  We also know some dedicated supporters that have pledged over $12,000 to preserve a little bit of their heritage.

For now, please join with us in thanking these people for making it possible to add a Bird Dog to the Petting Zoo.

Bernie Pantich
Bill Middelton
Bill Tilton
Bob Kellock
Bob Willis
Cary Malott
Chad Swedberg
Clay Peacock
Darrel Whitcomb
Dave MacKay
Dave Pinsky
Dick Green
Don Brown
Don Nagel
Don Spooner
Ed Waggoner
Garet Nenninger
Gary Willis
George Lyle
George Patterson
Gerry Dingman
H Ownby
Harley Lawerance
Howard Prunty
Jan Stevens
James Baisden
Jerry Ellington
Jim Mulvihill IBDA
Jim Walbridge
Jimmy Brown
John Buck
John Rigney
John Roberson
John Urban
Jonathan Myer
Larry Fritts
Larry Williams
Mike Todd
Mike Webb
Myke Shelby
Neal Patton
Pat Swenney
Peter Condon
Robert Erler
Robert Havard
Steve Wilson
Tom McGrain
Tom Palmer
Tony Cestnik
Virgal Sansing
Walt Ackerlund
Winnie Stearns

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Days Are Just Packed

Yesterday we had a couple of special visitors at the air park, John "NAIL 16" Johnston and Gary Bain.  Gary was a Marine F-4 driver back in 1969 when he was shot down by AAA over South Vietnam.  Gary had been conducting a close air support mission under the control of an Air Force OV-10A Bronco flown by forward air controller NAIL 16.  After Gary's ejection, John stayed on station overhead for over an hour until his fuel became low.  John passed off his role as on scene commander to a "Playboy" TA-4J fast FAC, who stayed with Gary another two hours until he was picked by a Jolly Green Giant rescue helicopter.  John and Gary visited us so John could, "sit in an OV-10 one more time."   Gary had contacted us a few weeks ago to see if he could arrange this wish for his now lifetime friend.  We made that happen for both of them. 

While we were  walking around the museum, Gary asked for a membership application and asked if we had a newsletter.  My short answer was yes, but then had to admit that with all our day-to-day activities, I hadn't gotten around to a newsletter in several months.

That got me to thinking.  There is seldom a day that something isn't happening at the museum; normal business day, collection archive meetings, centennial events, work on the airplanes in the petting zoo, something, and maybe our membership would like to know about it.  The process of putting the newsletter together is often just too time consuming to get it done and in a timely manner.  Then it dawned on me, how about a blog?  So, we will give this a try.  Let us know how you like this and what you would like to know about.