Interesting Characters in Aviation.

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PMD

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I have done the Forest Gump thing for decades, and run into some of THE most interesting people on the planet. In aviation, I have the phenomenal good luck to be well acquainted with Canada's highest time pilot (ever, I believe, at about 48,000 hours!!) and good friends with THE most prodigious "amateur" designer/builder with 12 designs flying (our very own "craftsven"). Have known a fair number of the guy's who built airlines - and a bunch of "good old boys" with WWII experience and airplanes (pretty much all gone now) and did a lot of business with the guy who dragged Rotax kicking and screaming into the aircraft engine business (Ron Shettler) - all with some good stories and has been a blast to get to know them.

Went over to Ontario this weekend (since I could drive into OSH!) and visited friends and family. One of my cousins has retired into a small town - Blacklock - NE of Toronto near Skugog Lake (couldn't make up THAT name!) I asked him if he knew that "Father Goose" (the late Bill Lishman) was from the same town - to which he added "and that's his house 50 yards thattaway". Apparently he was quite a character and lived life large. Sadly I missed the opportunity to meet him in person by a couple years, but IMHO a noteworthy figure in aviation - particularly ultralight av.
 

N804RV

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I went up to Alaska Floats & Skis, a few years ago. For a whole week, I got to fly with, and hang out with Don Lee, the owner/operator of AF&S, located on Christianson Lake, close to the bustling metropolis of Talkeetna Alaska. He's quite a character. One of the last true Alaska bush pilots, he went to Afghanistan after 9/11, to fly as a contract pilot, flying STOL aircraft to bring supplies to remote fire bases.

Another interesting character is a gent at my home field, named Dennis. He turns 80 this year. He has only one good eye, but still flies his Taylorcraft, and his RV-4. He gets quite animated when I suggest he needs a radio in his T-Craft so he can hear all the craziness he's missing on our local CTAF. He does really have a radio in his airplane, it just doesn't work all that well, and probably hasn't since Jimmy Carter was president.

Although Dennis has long been retired from his job as a machinist (I think at Boeing), he still works full time, caring for his wife, who's been in a wheelchair for quite sometime. Other friends at the airport regale me with stories of Dennis loading up his wife and her wheelchair in the RV-4 to go on cross-country trips that were literally across the country.
 

Victor Bravo

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I got to meet Don Lee at the Alaska Airmen's show in Anchorage, sold him a product or three. He's definitely a great guy, and has some incredible stories to tell. He was great to me, and I have no doubt he is considered a national treasure up there in AK. Been there, done that, got the Moose Chili at Talkeetna Roadhouse !!!
 

Victor Bravo

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Don't know if I already told this story here on HBA, please forgive the horrifying senility if I have already posted this, but it fits in with this thread title anyway. Also fits within any thread title starting with "The Most Embarrassing..."

Once upon a time I owned a small Formula One race plane, #81 BooRay. I had it in my hangar in the LA area, getting it ready to go to Reno. An older guy walked in and started asking about it, and I told him what kind of airplane it was. He asked if it was stable, and I laughed and told him race airplanes aren't supposed to be stable. He said if it was stable it might result in a smoother, faster race lap. I told him all about stability, trim drag, and how you'd never give up and speed for stability. The guy walked away, telling me he thought that I really ought to think about making it a little more stable, and shuffled away. I figured I'd never be able to explain speed vs. stability to him, and kept wrenching on the airplane.

An hour later my friend and hangar partner came running in to the hangar, all excited... "Dude!!! You're not gonna believe this... Tony LeVier is on the airport!!!"

Remember how Fred Flintstone used to shrink down to an inch tall when he got real embarrassed...? I was about ankle high to Fred that day.
 

aterry1067

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I've worked with several phenoms in the aviation industry. They would never want their names associated with anything in the "phenom" status. Almost all that I have worked with just wanted to advance the aviation envelope, nothing more. If fame was involved, they would typically step out of the lime light. I think that is what makes a person famous in the aviation industry...they don't want to be famous. I have met a few that had the name but not the underlying fortitude... Anywho...as long as we advance the platform, the fame is kinda pointless.
 
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BJC

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Met Richard Bach at Sun n Fun years ago. Talked to him about his Rapide. Strange fellow.

Knew Gordon Bellah. Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame: Hall of Fame

Samantha Dorman stopped by my hangar several times to look at my first Pitts.

Have met / known a number of really interesting and accomplished people in sport aviation, and continue to meet them.


BJC
 

Pops

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Frank K. Thomas ( better known as $5 Frank) came home from WW-2 and started a little grass field airport on the south side of the New River Gorge at the little town of Fayetteville, WV. Airport WV59. Made a living with a little flight instructing and flying people over the New River gouge and latter the bridge over the gorge. Charged $5 a person. Don't know what airplane he started with but he has always used C-172's as long as I remember.
Old A&P friend of mine grew up within walking distance from the grass field. Frank built some tee hangers from old wood boards and even had a "office". I was first there in the early 1970's and Frank wore 2 hearing aids back at that time and still couldn't hear you unless you were shouting and he cupped his hands up to his ears. Frank wrote a book that was mostly about his dealing with the FAA. The letter F--A---A would set frank off. No nice words for sure. One day in the late 80's my youngest son was with me at the airport and I told him we are going to go to an old time airport from the end of WW-2 and meet the owner and nothing has changed from that time. Like stepping back in time.
Frank has 2 engine outs in all of those years. No one hurt. Always was able to get into the forest and hit the trees so the airplanes would fall out the trees on its tail.
If you fly, you will like his book. I have a copy.

https://www.amazon.com/this-way-men-who-fly/dp/0870123114
 

N804RV

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Frank K. Thomas ( better known as $5 Frank)...
Thanks for that Pops! I bought the book.

I got a chance to fly with Arnold Ebneter (the subject of the book "The Propellor Under the Bed") when I was looking for something similar to the Sonerai in ground handling that I could get dual in before flying it for the first time. Mr. Ebneter let me fly from the back seat in Harvey's old Champ. A great experience!

If you don't know about Mr. Ebneter's record setting homebuilt, or his career, check him out. Worth the read.


 

PTAirco

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Corona CA
Back in1989/90 I used to hang out with Fred Lindsley in Brisbane Australia. I used to visit him every week, we'd have dinner with his wife Marjorie and then retire to the basement to talk aeroplanes. He was a kind of technical counselor for the local chapter of the Sport Aviation Association of Australia. I was warned that he was a bit gruff and and a bit of a curmudgeon, but that only ever came out if you tried to ******** him. His rough Newcastle accent didn't help! He was already in his late 70s then, but very sharp. His basement was a goldmine of aeronautical books, aircraft plans, photocopied articles etc. He let me borrow priceless technical books which I copied in their entirety. Got on great with him.

He used to work for the Airspeed company and started there as an apprentice. Airspeed at the time was run, with others, by Nevil Shute Norway, who was also a writer in his spare time. Not particularly well known, but his books "A town like Alice", "No highway in the Sky" and "On the beach" were made into films. He always works aviation into his stories and I read every one of them. "Trustee from the toolroom" was one of his books and told a tale of a model engineering enthusiast living a quiet life who gets thrust into some adventure completely outside his normal existence.

The inspiration for this character was none other than old Fred. I only found this out much later. We stayed in touch from many years and I was grateful that he happily passed along so much of his knowledge to a young enthusiast like me.

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Daylight On Dreamships Part 1, 2 & 3 - Saaa Chapter15
 

Pops

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Flying over south, central Ohio one time in the mid 1970's and saw an Ercoupe setting in front of a hanger on a grass field beside of the Scioto river, west of Mt Logan on the west side of Rt-23. It was a mile or two north of Chillicothe. Long gone for a shopping center. I landed and a man came out of an old 2 story farm house. Invited me in for dinner with he wife. He also had a P-51 and his wife flew a T-6. Very nice people and he took me a ride in the Ercoupe. Both must have been in their 80's at the time. Can't remember his last name for sure, but I think his last name was Lacy. Tall at about 6'3" and slim built.
 

PMD

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Martensville SK
I should mention the guy who may gave taught some of the earliest "astronauts" how to fly the X-15. No kidding. I was called one day to help sort out the mess when a bunch of airplane guys were trying to manufacture what would become an "advanced ultralight" (Husky Norseman - a blatant bit of plagiarism) when the rules were still a bit fuzzy and enforcement pretty much non existent. The problem was: they had bought an airport smack in the middle of a remote stack of very left-leaning political activists who just didn't want a bunch of noise from the airport in their very rural setting.

Company was being run by a guy who thought he was appointed by The Almighty but production managed by a guy who seemed to be quite a pilot, but not too good at reading people. I was asked by their board of Directors to see what I could do, so met with them. As I got to know everyone found out that the manager (a guy named Bob Ayers) had been the acceptance test pilot for the Canadair/RCAF CF-104 programme. During his career, he had two flameouts at low level over Germany, and not once, but TWICE managed to dead stick without any damage or injury onto airports! He was credited with being the highest time F104 pilot ever (one of his squadron mates is a friend of mine - mentioned in the first post - Canada's highest time pilot at around 48,000 hrs.). The company President (known to embellish things...more than a bit) once told me Bob had checked out some of the X15 soon-to-be pilots in a tandem seat F104 since he had already many hours in the 104 and it's glide characteristics were close to the X15s. Never been able to verify that, but sounds possible. The stories from Bob and Cecil could fill several books and include just about every kind of aircraft on the smaller/faster end of the spectrum.

Even though we have learned a lot, I believe the time from the mid-50s to the mid-70s was THE golden age of genav. Sure glad I got to experience that first hand AND vicariously through some rather fortunate encounters and friends.
 

Kiwi303

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En Zed. Aka The Shire.
He used to work for the Airspeed company and started there as an apprentice. Airspeed at the time was run, with others, by Nevil Shute Norway, who was also a writer in his spare time. Not particularly well known, but his books "A town like Alice", "No highway in the Sky" and "On the beach" were made into films. He always works aviation into his stories and I read every one of them. "Trustee from the toolroom" was one of his books and told a tale of a model engineering enthusiast living a quiet life who gets thrust into some adventure completely outside his normal existence.
I've long enjoyed NSN's books.

'Round the Bend I think would be my favourite, closely followed by Trustee from the Toolroom.

The story of R100 and R101 was also salutary about the difference between engineering-first private enterprise and Committee-centric bureaucratic fumbling. Unfortunately too many good engineering firms are now run by MBAs and their committees, no better than public servants with their BA in political science.
 

Pops

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Does anyone here know who was Paul Bray? His grand father started Bray Studios in NYC in I believe, 1912. They make training films for the FAA and for the military. I 'm sure you have watched some of Pauls work. Made a cross country trip with Paul one time in the 1970's. Rated in almost everything the Military has. Took a trip in his Piper Lyc 200 Hp twin Comanche. I had never flown a twin at the time and he said fly it. Told him I had never flown a twin before but he said you can't do anything that I can't take care of. So I did.
 
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DanH

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I have been priveleged to know a few.

Guinness lists Ed Long as the world highest time pilot, at more than 65,000 hours. He was flying power line patrol for Alabama Power when I was a very junior birdman at the FBO, in a Super Cub, N400MA, at less than 200 feet even when it seemed like the ducks were walking. We kids all thought Ed was a god. For sure the Cub was an extension of his mind.

For years, Ed flew with an observer named Percy, whose job it was to write down everything Ed spotted along the line. Percy had a drinking problem, and to be honest, was usually drunk when he got in the back seat. Still, he got the job done, and Ed didn't seem to care as long as he didn't touch anything.

Now understand, Ed was a true mild mannered Southern gentleman, so when one day he returned from a flight, cussing and throwing things around the lobby, we were more than a bit surprised. Turned out Percy had fallen asleep, and Ed had dictated about 60 miles of line notes without realizing it, because apparently Percy didn't snore.

I seem to recall Percy was absent from the FBO for a few weeks, then one day he was back. Old couples are like that.
 

dwalker

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Tennessee
Frank K. Thomas ( better known as $5 Frank) came home from WW-2 and started a little grass field airport on the south side of the New River Gorge at the little town of Fayetteville, WV. Airport WV59. Made a living with a little flight instructing and flying people over the New River gouge and latter the bridge over the gorge. Charged $5 a person. Don't know what airplane he started with but he has always used C-172's as long as I remember.
Old A&P friend of mine grew up within walking distance from the grass field. Frank built some tee hangers from old wood boards and even had a "office". I was first there in the early 1970's and Frank wore 2 hearing aids back at that time and still couldn't hear you unless you were shouting and he cupped his hands up to his ears. Frank wrote a book that was mostly about his dealing with the FAA. The letter F--A---A would set frank off. No nice words for sure. One day in the late 80's my youngest son was with me at the airport and I told him we are going to go to an old time airport from the end of WW-2 and meet the owner and nothing has changed from that time. Like stepping back in time.
Frank has 2 engine outs in all of those years. No one hurt. Always was able to get into the forest and hit the trees so the airplanes would fall out the trees on its tail.
If you fly, you will like his book. I have a copy.

https://www.amazon.com/this-way-men-who-fly/dp/0870123114
Thanks for that, I bought the paperback!

I cannot say I have met anyone who is anyone in aviation, or know any real characters that fly, but in auto racing thats a different story. Derek Bell once helped me and my crew push our disabled race car into our parking spot. Randy Pobst was driving my car once on a test day and the hood pins had been left out or not completely clipped in. Of course it popped up and broke the windshield. We still have a laugh about it.
My favorite person in all of sportscar racing has been this English fellow named David Leslie. Super nice guy and blisteringly fast, especially in the rain. He died in an airplane crash in England actually. next up would probably be Jack Baldwin, but honestly 90% of the people I have met in racing are awesome people to know.

One of the neatest people in aviation I have met so far has been a local fellow named Roy (Pops knows him) thathas to be 80 and is still building airplanes! He is currently finishing up a Bearhawk Patrol, has a flying RV6, a close to flying RV3, a Bearhawk LSA, and a Four Winds that was turbine powered and he is currently refitting with a Lycoming. The Bearhawk Patrol and RV6 are rotary powered with RWS PSRUs and are super cool. All while taking care of his wife. Amazing human being.

I am somewhat in awe of these aviation figures, though, and am enjoying reading the stories.
 
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Pops

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Thanks for that, I bought the paperback!

I cannot say I have met anyone who is anyone in aviation, or know any real characters that fly, but in auto racing thats a different story. Derek Bell once helped me and my crew push our disabled race car into our parking spot. Randy Pobst was driving my car once on a test day and the hood pins had been left out or not completely clipped in. Of course it popped up and broke the windshield. We still have a laugh about it.
My favorite person in all of sportscar racing has been this English fellow named David Leslie. Super nice guy and blisteringly fast, especially in the rain. He died in an airplane crash in England actually. next up would probably be Jack Baldwin, but honestly 90% of the people I have met in racing are awesome people to know.

One of the neatest people in aviation I have met so far has been a local fellow named Roy (Pops knows him) thathas to be 80 and is still building airplanes! He is currently finishing up a Bearhawk Patrol, has a flying RV6, a close to flying RV3, a Bearhawl LSA, and a Four Winds that was turbine powered and he is currently refitting with a Lycoming. The Bearhawk Patrol and RV6 are rotary powered with RWS PSRUs and are super cool. All while taking car of his wife. Amazing human being.

I am somewhat in awe of these aviation figures, though, and am enjoying reading the stories.
Roy and his wife is one of the nicest persons you will ever be around. First met him when he was living in NJ and came down to Bob Barrows picnic each year in about 1997. Lot of great people in aviation.
 

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