By Vic Syracuse, EAA Lifetime 180848
This piece originally ran in Vic’s Checkpoints column in the October 2020 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.
As I sit here and write this column on what would be the first day of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2020, I am pretty sure I am feeling about the same as about 500,000 other aviators, aficionados, and volunteers. I am also pretty certain that a good percentage of the volunteers are missing it just as much, if not more, than any of the pilots. For many volunteers, it has been a way of life for them for longer than some of us have been building, flying, or attending Oshkosh. I’ve interacted with some of them during the week and have been amazed at their dedication. Two years ago, I met one gentleman who hadn’t missed an EAA fly-in in more than 50 years! He sure had some stories.
By the time you read this, the lack of AirVenture 2020 will be a memory — and the great team at headquarters will have spent that time celebrating the Spirit of Aviation Week. Yes, we will have missed the camaraderie, flying, meeting old friends, and making new ones, but there will still be memories. I am aware of a number of local activities happening around Atlanta where aviators are having fly-ins with cookouts, brats, and cheese curds as a nod to the missed adventure. There’s no doubt that stories will be told and friends will be made. I also am pretty sure that these kinds of activities are happening in a lot of other places worldwide. Personally, I’m betting that some of these local happenings will continue past this year and become local legends in their own right.
It hit home for my wife, Carol, and me this past Saturday. We realized that we were missing our favorite day at AirVenture — at least mine anyway! After arriving there on opening day for our first EAA Oshkosh event in 1981 and seeing all of the parked airplanes, a light bulb went off in my head. I bet it would be fun to watch all of them land. So, ever since, we have tried to arrive at least a couple of days before the official start date. As time has gone on, and I have taken on more responsibilities at AirVenture, it has become the one day that I truly get to enjoy some personal time. Sitting out on the flightline for four to six hours and watching all of the arrivals is better than going to any museum. It really is a journey through aviation history with actual flying airplanes representing every era of aviation. Listening to the tower controllers while watching the arrivals is like listening to a great opera, sometimes with even humor and suspense mixed in, especially when the crosswinds show up. The whole show has a wow factor beyond belief.
On the Saturday that we were supposed to be watching the greatest aviation symphony, we took another option and flew the Stearman to our favorite fly-in haunt, the Barnstormer’s Grill at Peach State Aerodrome in Williamson, Georgia. Originally the airport was founded by Ron Alexander, who some of you may know from the Alexander Aeroplane Co., another business that Ron founded. We got to know Ron very well when we were building our first Kitfox, as Alexander Aeroplane was a supplier of the Poly Fiber Aircraft Coatings. As luck would have it, we moved from Ohio down to Atlanta and became good friends with Ron over time. I had the pleasure of serving on the EAA board of directors with him. Unfortunately, Ron died while giving a flight in his Jenny when a propeller blade separated on takeoff.
After Ron’s accident, Keven Sasser and his wife, Linda, purchased the property from Ron’s family. Keven and Linda have done an amazing job with it. It has continued to grow, probably beyond Ron’s wildest dreams. It is not only a great fly-in place, but also a popular restaurant where locals enjoy watching the airplanes. A great youth program was also established here, and it continues to flourish, although COVID-19 has put a damper on activities this summer.
So, before you wonder about the connection here, let me also tell you that another one of our favorite activities at AirVenture is meeting people. As busy as the week is for me, Carol and I take the time to grab an ice cream in the afternoon. If you haven’t had ice cream at Kelley’s, you are missing something great. We always try to sit down with others, rather than sit by ourselves, and have always been rewarded with some neat stories. Sometimes we hear about someone’s journey from a distant land or some exciting aviation story. One day I looked at this elderly gentleman and mentioned what a great day it was temperature-wise. I will never forget the look on his face as he looked me squarely in the eye and said it wasn’t so great back in February!
Anyway, here we are at the Barnstormer’s Grill, and sure enough, an elderly gentleman asks if I own the Stearman. He tells me that he has a model of a Stearman that his father built in 1938, and he is working on getting it restored. He also tells me about his father, Joe Battaglia, of whom there is a picture in the National Air and Space Museum showing Joe and two other individuals preparing to launch a rocket in 1938! It was a neat conversation. When he left, Carol and I looked at each other and remarked that all we needed was the ice cream and we could have been at Oshkosh. It really made for a great day away from the main attraction. To top it off, when we were leaving, we told Keven Sasser about the conversation, and Keven mentioned he was about ready to open an ice cream stand at the place. We kind of pinched ourselves and flew home, looking forward to another day at Barnstormer’s. I’m thinking I should start serving the ice cream just to hear the stories!
So, before you think you are going to get away without hearing anything from me on the maintenance side, I do want to close out this month’s column with an area I would like all of you to start paying a little more attention to. It has to do with engine control travel. I am seeing too many airplanes both in our shop as well as in the designated airworthiness representative process that have engine controls that do not properly achieve full travel. This can be harmful in several ways. For those of you who have carburetors, there is an enrichment valve that comes into play when at full throttle. Its primary purpose is to add extra fuel to the engine to help with cooling. I’ve seen more than one engine heating problem caused by insufficient throttle travel.
Another side effect for those of you with new engines is that unless you are achieving full throttle, there is a good chance that you are not providing enough manifold pressure to achieve a proper break-in. I’ve also seen more than one engine still burning oil after hundreds of hours because the throttle was not hitting the stops. The primary cause is that the engine controls that are usually shipped with the firewall forward kits have less travel in them than what is required at the carburetor or fuel servo lever arm. It’s a simple fix to drill another hole in the lever arm to achieve the full travel. Unfortunately, with today’s “assembly” approach to kits, there’s not always an understanding of how things work and how to check them for proper functionality. It’s even more crucial today to have someone look over your shoulder with regard to the engine compartment, either a technical counselor who understands engines or an A&P mechanic.
While you’re checking the control travel, do check the airbox for drain holes. I see many of them without drain holes, the purpose of which is to drain fuel and water. It is possible to ignite that raw fuel during the starting process, especially on a cold day with a weak battery and a kickback.
Your engine is a pretty major financial investment, and it’s important to take good care of it right from the start. It will keep the fun factor alive a whole lot longer.
Vic Syracuse, EAA Lifetime 180848 and chair of EAA’s Homebuilt Aircraft Council, is a commercial pilot, A&P/IA, DAR, and EAA flight advisor and technical counselor. He has built 11 aircraft and has logged more 9,500 hours in 72 different types. Vic also founded Base Leg Aviation and volunteers as a Young Eagles pilot and an Angel Flight pilot.
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