The dinner gathering of some VIPs Friday night January 31 included major players in the world aviation scene: Tony Jones, all the way from England, Public Relations Director for Air Britain, Ryan Reeves, president Phoenix, Arizona Wing of the American Aviation Historical Society and general manager of an airport in the Phoenix, Arizona area and Bert Zimmerly, airline and business jet pilot from Oregon. We parted company early because many of us were bushed from the extensive traveling to the auspicious occasion We all had a long, action-packed day ahead. I walked across a parking lot to my hotel, purchased two bottled beers from the bar off the lobby, drank them in my room and was asleep by 11 pm.
Bert met me in the hotel lobby at 7a sharp and delivered me to Cable Airport where AAHS president Jerri Bergen had arranged for me to fly to Chino airport in a restored Stinson L-5 Sentinel with pilot Chris Le Fave who was flying over to display it at Planes of Fame Air Museum’s Open Flying day and also to fly his North American T-6 Texans at Yanks Air Museum. Here is how it looked at Cable about 7:30 (or 5:30 Springfield time) with the incredible background. Jerri and her terrific husband Chris had left a point & shoot camera for me to use during the day, since they understood I was running low on memory capacity with my two cameras and had no idea when I would be TOTALLY out. That “bee in my bonnet” would be the foremost pain in my brain for the rest of the day, but I was truly grateful for the loan of their Nikon point’n’shoot. I felt confident I could photograph whatever moved me as long as THEIR camera worked.
Technically speaking this Sentinel was not an L-5, but a US Marine Corps OY-1 of the type flown as an air ambulance used to extricate seriously wounded soldiers from close to the front lines in the Pacific war. Chris welcomed me to California and finished pre-flighting the airplane. The short hop followed the removal of the back seat control stick to make room for newbie passenger. I could have talked with Chris and taken pictures of the airplane for half an hour, but there was a slight rush to get flying and over to Chino.
The thrill of climbing out over Los Angeles at low altitude over streets Gable and Grable had known was just short of awesome! Maybe Bob Cummings, Art Scholl, Paul Mantz, or Jimmy Stewart had flown from Cable Airport. Almost certainly they had known Chino.
It was not a chatty flight. I explained over the intercom, as we were climbing away from Cable, how I didn’t want my jabbering to distract Chris from flying the airplane. We could talk on the ground. Chris was not a tour guide, and his first priority was monitoring radios and getting us into the pattern at the destination airport.
He did alert me as Chino came underneath our wing for approach and landing.
I was due to attend the “registration and get acquainted breakfast” for AAHS members and friends at Yanks Air Museum a short drive via golf cart down the tarmac from the Cal Aero Country Club where Chris parked the Stinson. A new friend gave me a ride.
As we approached the breakfast membership meeting it became witheringly clear that I could not take un-necessary pictures, even with the loaned camera. I was running on “instinct,” a gut feeling that I was running out of memory capacity with the Nikon and my battery was running low with the Canon EOS 20D SLR. That meant no pictures of the Yanks Air Museum aircraft. I could always buy postcards for those. I didn’t get the chance, but I had fun a plenty with the people.
She then introduced Frank Wright, Restorations Operations Manager for Yanks Air Museum. Frank expressed his strong support of the AAHS mission, reminded us we could tour his museum free of charge after our meeting. Museum volunteers would lead visitors in small groups to keep things orderly and flowing smoothly. It was a fine welcoming.
The tours began soon after, but I stayed in the meeting room to “sit in” on the formal AAHS Board meeting. I am not on the Board, but I wanted to see what happens at a board meeting, and with my camera and tacit “role” as semi-official photographer, wanted to take some photographs.
We went around the round table introducing ourselves and explaining why we were attending the day’s activities. It was great to meet two men I have admired for decades, Carl Scholl of Aero Traders and AAHS Historian Al Hansen. I was impressed by the cool, competent professional conduct of the meeting, ably and well led by president Bergen.
After adjournment Carl Scholl showed me Aero Trader, a real institution in the warbird restoration world. After the tour he golf carted me back to Cal Aero for the meeting. Others attending enjoyed tours of Yanks Air Museum and Steve Hinton’s Planes of Fame Museum and other facilities including Scalecraft Models, just a few hangared down the lane from Cal Aero. I took no tours, believing I could visit them on a slower day, sometime in the unpredictable future. Instead I photographed some incredible restorations displayed in the parking along the row of older hangars that included the luncheon venue.
Before the official lunch began I decided to concentrate on detail photos, and if I could I’d return and take broad shots. I was enjoying chatting with the other attendees, including Hayden Hamilton editor of the AAHS newsletter FlightLine and quarterly Journal, Werner Hartmann ex-USMC airman and fabmodeler, photography took a rare back seat to the rest of it.
Following welcoming remarks by Jerri Bergen, we were (also) treated to brief addresses by attending icons including my long-time friend Bill Larkins, a PHAbulous photographer whose shutterwork, almost single-handedly, captured views of aviation in transition after World War II when almost no one else was paying attention. Bill was also one of the founders of AAHS back in 1956, originally a group of mostly-California aviation enthusiasts who traded pictures and compared notes. Today it is a truly international aviation history organization. Bill, AAHS historian Albert Hansen, aviation artist extraordinaire Michael Machat and Air Britain’s Tony Jones were also introduced, given special awards in recognition and spoke to the attentive multitudes. Keynote speaker Mike Melville, the first civilian to pilot a winged vehicle into space — Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne. With his PowerPoint presentation he shared his fascinating story that won him and the team financed by Paul Allen formerly of MicroSoft, the coveted Ansari X Prize in 2004. I recorded his presentation on my digital audio machine and intend to produce a transcript of it when time permits.
After the meeting officially concluded, many of us gathered for pictures and to purchase books from the sale table staffed by AAHS volunteers.
As people continued to take tours of the nearby museums, I told Frank Wright about my camera memory card and low Canon EOS battery woes, and he directed me to his car so we could go back to Yanks Air Museum to see if there was a battery or memory card I could use for the remainder of my visit and trip home. We went directly into the restoration shop and you could have knocked me over with a FEATHER when I saw the extensive array of works in progress. Frank went off to his office to look for what I needed, leaving me alone with the airplanes . . . . . The very low ambient light prevented me from taking pictures, but images were burned into my mind: the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver, the Porterfield Collegiate . . . more than 20 projects in process in that large shop! And most unforgettable, the Waco CG-4A of the type that delivered thousands of infantry and supplies to France on D-Day Europe and other locations during World War II. I was surprised it was so LARGE, that the wooden fuselage structure (sans fabric covering) looked so fragile but the wooden bench seats, actually large boxes where rifles and ammo were probably carried while in flight, looked so strong. The uncovered wings were not attached but were positioned nearby. Seeing this airplane really humbled me. I would give a small “king’s ransom” to return and REALLY see Frank’s museum and REALLY photograph it’s incredible resources!
Unfortunately, when he returned, he was sans battery and sans camera memory card capacity. On a very positive note, he wife Christen, Museum Director breezed in and I was delighted to meet her. Both gave me their business cards, and I promised to write them with AKM links and pictures. Frank drove me back to the Cal Aero complex where an “afters gathering” was in progress with beer, wine and tasty munchies. At the end, Jerri’s and husband Chris’ pickup trucks were packed with AAHS materials, and we returned to the restaurant across the parking lot from my motel for a review of the day.
There were so many HIGHLIGHTS to my visit, the list would be a yard long, but that meeting would be near the top of that list. I had brought along the AeroKnow Museum file of Porterfield articles to leave with them so they could go through it and copy whatever they wanted since they own a Porterfield and love it. The day before I had seen it (all too briefly) and not photographed it (you no doubt know why by now) but I understood why they are Porterfield fans. We also talked about my moving to Los Angeles to help with AAHS. “What would it take to bring you out here?” were Jerri’s exact words etched into my memory in two seconds. My initial reaction was that if I could find a place near Chino or Flabob airports or AAHS Headquarters (which I would tour Sunday morning before flying home) and an EMPLOYER, I would move out to LA as soon as I could do a few loads of laundry and book the next flight. The big problem would be driving in Los Angeles traffic, and that was the one insurmountable problem. It was a perfect “coda” on the day’s symphony of sight and sound. We resolved that Jerri would meet me in the hotel lobby at 7, and we would visit AAHS HQ as long as possible and then return to LAX.
Needless to say, I slept very well Saturday night.
Coming NEXT on “Visit to AAHS”
— Goodbye West Heaven; Hello Purgatory East
Stay tuned. Final episode will be published no later than April 6.
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