Sunday, May 22, 2016

An American Icon goes to Costa Rica

For several months I have been blogging about a 1929 Curtiss Robin airplane, nicknamed "The St. Louis Robin".  We have featured this plane and re-visited some of its colorful past as a world's endurance flying record setter back in 1929 when flown by the famed aviator team of Dale Jackson and Forrest O'Brine. There will be more blogging in the future about our time caring for this plane.

But now, it is about time that we should share the beginning of a new chapter in the story of this phenomenal airplane that is considered by many as an American Icon.  She will always be known as the one and only "St. Louis Robin 1".  But as this new chapter unfolds, she has taken a new nickname of affection, the "Espiritu Tico" (#2).

Many people have asked about its new owner and have wanted answers to the questions, 

"Who is the new owner who is taking this Icon from the USA?" and, 

"Why is it going to Costa Rica, of all places?"  

Well its a long story.  But it is a rather fascinating one that involves a historic past and now, a new beginning of history.  The man who bought the plane and hired us to help him get the airplane down there was named Carlos Macaya Ortiz.  His father, Roman Macaya Lahman is considered one of (if not the main) forefathers of aviation in Costa Rica.  Roman brought a Robin from San Francisco CA in 1933 to San Jose Costa Rica. I have blogged about it here, translating and paraphrasing the story from a Costa Rican webpage in Spanish.  This plane was the first used by Macaya in establishing a successful air line operation that lasted over a decade and opened up the country for efficient transportation, expedient delivery of mail and supplies, and quicker attention to medical needs.


Early in 2014, The St. Louis Robin was selected for some new adventures, sure to make new history.  The whole project was a planned effort with several players working to help Carlos to fulfill his dream to bring a Curtiss Robin airplane to the people of Costa Rica, who had little more than a few photos and stories about their father of aviation and Carlos' actual father.  He named this project "Espiritu-Tico", after the nickname of his father's Curtiss Robin (originally NC911K).  Originally, the plan was that Carlos wanted to repeat the momentous achievement of his father and actually fly a Curtiss Robin to his homeland from the USA.  Carlos (and three other Costa Rican aviation people) first contacted me by phone in February of 2014 with his idea and wanted to know if we (my little side business) could make some modifications and help prepare a Robin to make the long trip.  At the time he was looking to purchase a nice Curtiss Robin (NC988K) from Bob Colby in Kalispell Montana. Bob's Robin was in flyable condition with a mostly reliable Continental radial engine, but needed a new annual inspection. He wanted us to coordinate the inspection, get the airplane into our shop in Texas, add radio equipment, lights, and go through all of the airplane systems to make sure the plane would be in tip-top shape.  This was certainly an intriguing proposition, and one that I felt we could surely support from our small shop.  I got busy working on the logistics and I have to admit, enjoyed every aspect.

After a couple of weeks planning the logistics, another call came from Carlos and his team from Costa Rica.  They called to say Carlos had changed his mind about the purchase in favor of a different Robin, which had been for sale in New York on Long Island for several years.   As soon as the airplane's location was divulged, I knew right away which Robin it was. Well familiar with the endurance flying history of this plane, my very first reaction (but unspoken) was.... "You can't take this American Icon away to a foreign country!" 

Like a flash, in my mind, I must have paused on the phone briefly as I was going through many thoughts about the airplane's history.  I thought about the various pieces of memorabilia that I had already collected about this specific airplane.  I recalled that Dad and I had seen that airplane person at Blakesburg Iowa in 1977 and I remembered how beautifully it had been restored by Joe Erale Sr. and son, 'Joe-Joe' Erale. And then a rather grave concern came over me as I thought, "Oh this airplane has an original Curtiss R-600 Challenger engine."  Now granted, I am maybe the only guy who continually preaches that "you just gotta love those Challengers".  But even I know that these engines are very rare and are thought of as unreliable.  Parts are almost non existent.  They can run great with the right type of care and attention.  But they require a lot of tinkering and a certain tender operation to keep them running right. The 1700 mile flight from Texas to San Jose would be risky enough in a Continental powered Robin.  It just did not seem like a do-able trip in a Challenger Robin.

So my first words to the men on the other end of the phone were.... "Do you realize that airplane has a Curtiss Challenger engine?"  They answered, "Yes and that's why we want it."  They went on to explain how this is the same engine that Carlos' father had flown behind in his Curtiss Robin, "Espiritu Tico". That's when I first began to realize there is a bigger picture in mind for this project.  It became clear that these men were intent on Historic accuracy for this project.  All logic was telling me that this whole idea was too risky.  But then I thought back to my dad and how much he loved flying his Challenger Robin.  I remembered how he just packed his wife and 11-year-old son (me) many times and flew all over the southwest US, and doing it with a sense of pioneering adventure.  Now, I was hearing this same kind of adventurous spirit from these men and realized that we CAN take this Icon to a new place. I warmed up to the idea that after sitting for 30 years, it is high time that some new history can be made here with this plane. And if it's going to happen, I want to be a part! 

If you followed the project over the past two years on social media, you know that the whole story hasn't been shared in its entirety.  But I have tried to drop pieces here and there as time has permitted.  Seriously, there's so much to the story and so many side stories involved with this airplane, it takes a lot of time and energy to lay it all out.  We'll not go into it all here.  Some parts are already on past blog postings here, and others we hope to share in the future.  So, for the sake of space, I am skipping a lot of cool detail and fast forwarding to the most recent developments as the plane made its trip to Costa Rica and what has transpired in the short time since.

Ultimately, for many reasons, a wise decision was made to have the airplane sent by sea in a 40 foot shipping container, rather than fly it down.  The main reason was due to Carlos Macaya Ortiz health had begun to fade from relentless prostate cancer. In February of 2016, it became an urgent effort to get the airplane on down.   I'll post more soon on the painstaking process of packaging the plane for its overseas journey.  For now, I am taking this into the next chapter of the story about this American Icon going to Costa Rica.

Now we have the answers to those questions... 

Who?  Carlos Macaya Ortiz, and 

Why?  Because of Carlos' father Roman Macaya Lahman, the father of Aviation in Costa Rica.


So we shipped the airplane down to Costa Rica for Carlos Macaya in March 2016.  Once it arrived, Carlos had us flown down to assemble the airplane, teach the new caretakers about the plane, and to participate in a most wonderful celebration of its arrival.  On April 16, 2016, the Robin was the featured centerpiece of a grand party in honor of Roman Macaya's aviation career.  Over 250 people were in attendance where several important aviation people gave speeches... followed in dramatic fashion by a drum-roll... curtain drop.... confetti... a marching carnival band.... dancing... festival music...all for a very exciting unveiling of the new "Espiritu Tico" Curtiss Robin.  A priest gave rites of blessings over the plane as the people watched.  The party was absolutely phenomenal; an experience that I will never forget.  Until we found ourselves in the middle of all of this comotion my family and I had no idea that were a part of something so big and with so much meaning to many people.  I was overcome with many emotions, some of which were thoughts about my own father.  But on that day, we were especially happy that Carlos fulfilled his dream. He shared that special day with over 250 of his family and friends. We now fully understand that his primary goal was to give his own sons and the people of Costa Rica a tangible gift from which the legacy of his father could be forever remembered.  He brought to them this beautiful Robin just like the one his father flew and placed it into their hands, into their care.  

Very sadly, Carlos Macaya Ortiz passed away 10 days after the party. 

So now (as of May 15, 2016) the ownership of the airplane is being sorted out.  I am in touch with one of Carlos' trusted friends who is helping establish a corporation that will own the airplane.  At the helm of this corporation, will be Carlos' nephew named Roman Macaya Hayes, who currently serves in Washington DC as the Costa Rican Ambassador to the US. The airplane is currently hangared on Pavas Airport in San Jose Costa Rica at the facilities of CARMONAIR Charter Services.  It is a safe place with over a dozen employees who have accepted the role of caring for the airplane. Some arrangements are being made for an assigned hangar just for the Robin where it will be kept.  Someday, the organizers hope to begin an aviation museum, founded on the Curtiss Robin and the story of Roman Macaya Lahman.  Once the ownership and registration paperwork gets squared away, there
are future plans to fly the Espiritu Tico / St. Louis Robin through the skies of Costa Rica, including one special flight of the Robin with another celebration a few miles away at the International Airport (SJO).

We feel as if God has blessed this wonderful airplane over the years in such a way that brings together and unites people in unique and special ways.   It was truly an adventure and honor to have been a part of this project; an experience we will always cherish.


Complete, with all the trimmings!

Jose A. Giralt one of several speakers.
Confetti falls after the unveiling!
Ernesto Macaya assists the Priest in blessing the plane. (Jose Giralt photo)
Gloria Macaya autographing copies of her book, "Espiritu Tico".

Our family, proud and emotional to be a part. (Jose Giralt photo)


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

1929 DH.60 Gipsy Moth NC919DH

Here's a bit of Aeronautics sure to meet the tastes of our readers here on our blog.   
Larry and Ilse Harmacinski have recently completed some major refurbishment projects on their 1929 DH.60 Gipsy Moth. Larry first called me in the Fall of 2014.  We've been exchanging emails and phone calls ever since then as he and his wife Ilse have been laboring away on the airplane.  What a beautiful job they've done!  We are honored that they've allowed us to publish these beautiful photos and thier story here.  Enjoy.

Terry,  thanks again for saving the day and helping us get the Moth back in the air in time for summer. We would have missed the season without all your extra efforts.Below is a short summary of our Moth, and Moths in general, use or discard as you see fit. My most favorite photo is of Ilse as we head into the sunrise.  Lucky shot!
Catch you around the patch sometime.
Cheers,  Larry & Ilse

by: Larry Harmacinski

"Unfold Your Wings, and Fly Away”, reads the DH.60 advert I am holding, a remnant from what is most often referred to as The Golden Age of Aviation. And it truly was exciting in so many arenas as flying machines transitioned from designs centered around the Great War, to ships intended for personal and commercial use. One of the earliest and very successful designs was the brainchild of Captain Geoffrey de Havilland, who made significant aeronautical contributions serving in WWI. Taking inspiration from his DH.4 and the recently built DH.51, design number 60 came to life and, being a hobbyist lepidopterist, Captain de Havilland christened the design "The Moth", which first emerged from the works at Stag Lane in 1925, and Capt. de Havilland himself made the first test flight Feb. 22, 1925. 

The Moth was powered by the purpose built Cirrus, which borrowed heavily from Renault. The design was an immediate success, and was just what the Empire was looking for in the civilian market to supply to the newly formed flying clubs. As there were very few flying fields, and even fewer hangars, the Cirrus Moth was designed from the start to have folding wings, enabling it to complete the day’s flying, then neatly fold her wings to sleep in a 10’ wide shed. In a brilliant marketing effort, de Havilland even sold sheds, should anyone complain of not having proper storage!
De Havilland’s next brilliant move was to secure a more reliable engine and also ensure parts and support. This led to in house construction of their own engine, something not many aircraft manufacturers can claim. The Gipsy Engine came to be, and thus the DH.60 was re-named the Gipsy Moth.  The winning combination with other minor improvements led the type to perform many record setting flights, and helped to create the Lady Lindbergh of England, when Amy Johnson flew her Gipsy Moth in 1930 from England to Australia, solo no less, and was the first woman to do so. Certainly a good bit of her success on that flight was that she was also the first female licensed mechanic, having learned her trade at The De Havilland School of Flying where she worked on airplanes between lessons. 

The Gipsy Moth went on to be built in large numbers in numerous countries around the globe, and some 168 were built in the USA by Moth Aircraft Corporation, the vast majority of which used British built Gipsy engines and propellers. When MAC was bought out late in 1929 by Curtiss, the Wright-Gipsy became available in the last of the Moths built, but by then the depression was catching up, and production dwindled and ceased in 1931. Certainly the most well known of the American built Moths is known today as a screen star in the 1985 film Out of Africa, sporting the UK registration G-AAMY, a tribute to Amy Johnson.  For reasons known only to the producer, the registration was changed to -AAMT for filming. The real life Denys Finch-Hatten (portrayed by Robert Redford) did own and fly a Gipsy Moth, so Hollywood actually got this one right! This aircraft began life at Lowell Mass, at the MAC Factory, as NC585M, was restored by Jack Bucher, who had some experience with MAC, and later owned by Frank Fox prior to being sold to Cliff Lovell in England, where it became G-AAMY. More recently, the airplane was sold at a high profile auction in Paris, and now resides in Kenya at a resort where it gives rides to exclusive guests. 

Our own Moth began life in December 1929 as NC919M, and was sold new by a Curtiss-Wright operator in California. When Gerry Schwam began an extensive restoration, the number was tied up, so he chose NC919DH.  Ilse and I became caretakers of the light and lively Gipsy Moth a few years ago from a fellow who was flying it off his ranch at 6,000’ MSL outside of Durango. 
Not many old airplanes do so well at altitude, but the Moth does quite well with it’s light structure and high lift wing. To pass some mountains and escape some rather nasty downdrafts, we at times climbed to 12,000 with little effort, a feat that my old Cabin Waco or a PT Stearman would find a bit strenuous.  The flight to North Carolina certainly gave me renewed appreciation for the pioneer pilots, and I often thought of the tenacious Amy Johnson, who often carried more than 10 hours worth of fuel, and had to hand pump fuel from the forward fuselage tank by hand to the upper wing quite often. I had no complaints. 

While thousands of the Gipsy Moth were built, the War years were not kind to the type, many of which were used as decoys, a rather sad way for such a beautiful biplane to meet it’s end. While the Gipsy Moth was used by the RAF, it was eclipsed by the Tiger Moth as a military trainer.  According to the Moth Club, today there are some 40 DH.60’s in service, the majority being in England and New Zealand. 

The past 18 months Ilse and I dedicated ourselves to improving our example of The Moth, and upgraded the aging bladder brakes with Grove products, and replaced the low confidence vintage bale gascolator with one from Steve’s Gascolator. New windscreens, fresh mahogany panels, and some new paint were other added details, but of course some of these items need blessings from the FAA, and as most FSDO’s run in the opposite direction when seeking support with your antique biplane, after several false starts, my good friend said that I should call Terry Bowden at CAP. This was the best call I ever made, and as fast as I could accomplish the work and supply the supporting evidence, Terry came thru and I am very indebted to CAP for getting us airworthy in time for summer flying. While I have no plans at this time to fly the Moth to Australia, I do intend to share this delightful little ship with anyone interested, as it provides a glimpse into the past with all the sights and sounds of those interesting years when aviation was truly in it’s Golden Age. 

Maintain Airspeed, 
Larry Harmacinski

Larry's favorite photo - "flying into the sun. we were on the way to VAA 3 fly in, and no, it is not photoshopped!"

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The St. Louis Robin Family

One of the greatest joys we had while the St. Louis Robin was in our care was the opportunity to meet some of the descendants of Forrest O'Brine and Dale Jackson.  It is quite a thrill to me that one of the O'Brine family (grand daughter - Pat) tracked the airplane down through much efforts in research of family ancestry and called me out of the blue in July 2014.  What's even more amazing, just two weeks later, I got a call from one of the Jackson family (grand niece - Clarine) after a totally separate ancestry search of her own.  Both were absolutely fascinated that they might have a chance to see the actual airplane their ancestors used to become famous way back, 86 years ago.

Our favorite Robin Pilot, Kelly Mahon was so happy to share Robin flight time with these wonderful people.

Descendants of Forrest O’Brine

Pat Holoyda  - from Macon GA.  Forrest O'Brine's grand-daughter.  First contacted me in July 2014.  Rode in St. Louis Robin at Tick Hill Airfield 11/15/2014 and viewed St. Louis Robin at Tick Hill Airfield 03/14/2015.   Pat doesn't send emails, however I have received numerous cards and letters from her since we first got into contact.  She was instrumental in researching the ancestry trail that led her to find the airplane and later tell her siblings about it.  Pat gathered everyone here to see the Robin twice while we had it at Tick Hill Airfield.

Terry Jackson - Forrest O'Brine's grand-daughter viewed St. Louis Robin at Tick Hill Airfield 11/15/2014.  Here is a picture of her (wearing black) with her sister Pat and the Robin.  Interesting that her last name is Jackson.  Small world.
   Dear Terry,   You are quite the Curtiss Robin aeronautical expert!  I enjoyed viewing your online pictures.  Thank you for your kind invitation to view the plane flown by Forrest and Dale.  My sister, Pat, has contacted me and plans to attend.  As I live in Denton, TX, I will accompany her.  Again, thank you for your thoughtfulness.   I do feel compelled to tell you, as Forrest died in June of 1944 and my six siblings and I were born in the 1950's and 1960's we never actually met him.  We honestly were totally unaware of the biological connection until just a few years ago when my youngest sister, Jackie, did some genealogical research. It would appear my grandmother, Sylvia, and Forrest separated(?) divorced (?) soon after my father was born.  She remarried shortly thereafter, and I do not believe my father, Robert, had any contact with Forrest after that time.  He never relayed the connection to my mother or any of his children.  It would appear the stigma of a divorce was not the topic of conversation in the 1920's.   I just thought you may want to know a tiny bit of the family background.  None of which takes away from Mr. O'Brien's (he apparently used this spelling as well) accomplishments.   Again, thank you for your invitation and I look forward to meeting you in November.   Terry Jackson 

Tim Doyle (Timothy Lawrence Doyle) - Forrest O'Brine's grand-son viewed St. Louis Robin at Tick Hill Airfield 03/14/2015. Attended AAA/APM Fly-in and Rode in St. Louis Robin Sept. 2015.  After Blakesburg called to tell me that he has decided to get into flying and wants to buy a vintage airplane to carry on the family legacy with his descendants.
   Terry ,   Thank you for your input. It makes more sense to look for something that can be flown rather than worked on.   I'd have gotten back to you sooner but I have been busy... having logged about 19 hours of duel flight instruction to date, and started ground school last Saturday. I'm having a little trouble with my landings. Though my final can be pretty much right on the money, I seem to be over compensating as I near my flare. I haven't been flying in the greatest conditions, (windy, gusty and even some light snow and rain) I guess I'm not feeling it in the seat of my pants yet. I'm scheduled for four more outings this week, hopefully I'll continue to improve.   What's going on with the Robin? Have you shipped it yet?   Take care. I will keep you informed of my progress as I continue my training. If you have any tips... I'd be interested to hear them.   Regards,  Tim


He's got the bug!!!  We look forward to seeing Tim again at some of the antique airplane fly-ins.

Sharon Quinn (and Husband Bob) - Sharon is O'Brien's grand daughter.   Viewed St. Louis Robin at Tick Hill Airfield 03/28/2015 
Bob and Sharon Quinn
Grafton, WI

Dale Jackson’s Descendants

Clarine ‘Skipp’ Andresen  - First Contacted me 8/14/2014.  Dale Jackson’s Grand Niece.  Viewed St. Louis Robin while disassembled in our Shop in August 2014.  Rode in St. Louis Robin at Tick Hill Airfield 11/15/2014 and viewed St. Louis Robin at Tick Hill Airfield 03/14/2015Attended AAA/APM Fly-in and Rode in St. Louis Robin Sept. 2015.  
   Terry, I live in Richardson TX and you bet I'll be down there sooon!!!! In fact, I recently had the curator at the Rice Co Museum in Faribault track down where the plane went!! It is a long story, but the broker told her it was currently at a restorer in TX, then last night, I ran across your blog. Today I am on Cloud 9!! Dale married Sally Lockrem, who was my grandma's sister. They were married in June 1929 and had no kids. I got interested in Red after Aunt Sally had died, so have been plugging at this myself. I can't wait til late Sept! Let's set up something sooner. That is interested about the O'Brine connection. I also have been in touch with a "cousin", the granddaughter of Dale's half brother, and she is very interested too. She is in Oregon and I am trying to interest her in coming down. ****
     Hi Terry,   Wanted to thank you and your family for showing us the “St. Louis Robin” and memorabilia last week and for being so generous with your time.  Also thanks so much for the scrapbook.  I am finding the articles very interesting, not quite thru them all yet, but working my way.  I have attached the obit for Red.  It is not really an obit, but more of a news story.  I also have a very long one which I will have to bring when we come back, as it is too long to fit in my scanner.  It has the actual funeral service that the minister gave and is an interesting viewpoint.  I could not find anything about Red ever flying with Freddy Lund in anything I have here, and Freddy was not a pall bearer.    As I have given more thought to the SL Robin leaving the US, the more aligned I have become with the guys that feel it should remain here.  If anything materializes out of that, could you let me know?     One of the articles in the scrapbook has some incorrect info I thought I’d mention.  It is the magazine article entitled “From Motorcycle Tinkerers to Endurance Flying Champions – “ it says that Red and Sally had been married about 2 years.  It actually was about 2 weeks.  The 2 year thing leaked out in the St. Louis paper too; either someone was joking or it was a misunderstanding.  The magazine article also says that Ma and Pa Jackson arrived too late to see the flight, but actually they arrived in St. Louis on July 26 (1929) and were able to witness over a week of the endurance flight.  Their pilot was Howard Deichen of MN and they flew in an identical Robin called “The Spirit of Faribault”.  They actually flew alongside the endurance plane for awhile and Ma Jackson kept motioning Red to go down and he kept shaking his head NO!!!  And the article says O'Brine was born in Stanhope IA, but actually it was Red that was born in Stanhope, IA and O’Brine was born in IL.  Not that any of it matters too much, but it is good to have correct info!   Do you have a projected date yet for when the pilot will be able to be there and she will be flying?   We were very impressed with your restoration work and so glad to see that the plane will be flying again.  The plane could not be in any better hands than yours.  It is impossible for me to put into words how I felt last Sunday ~
Thanks again ~ Skipp Andresen *** 

Susan Jackson  - Oregon,  granddaughter of Dale's half brother viewed St. Louis Robin at Tick Hill Airfield 03/14/2015.  There's no mistaking that "Red" Jackson bloodline whenever you see and spend time around Susan!
     Hi Terry! I am Red Jackson's great niece from Oregon that Skipp Andresen has mentioned. I would very much like to fly out to Texas and take a look at the plane sometime in November if that is o.k.  I am so excited about making the trip and meeting you, Skipp and the plane. Thank you for your time. - Susan

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