Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Where Have the Flying Fortresses Gone?

Because of a chance discovery of two WWII photo albums that we found stored in Dad's hangar recently, I have had a unique opportunity to reflect on our Nation's past in a way that few in my generation have. Initially, it was an exciting look at original photo prints from WWII with real B-17 action shots. But deeper into the pages was the almost forgotten story of one man, who like many, played a small but crucial role in bolstering the strength of our nation in war time. This war was like none that have been known by my generation and younger. When you think of the 12,000 plus Flying Fortresses that were manufactured in contribution to the War effort, add to it the many other aircraft, tanks, ships, and other machinery, then you think of the many people it took to keep each vehicle war-worthy (not necessarily airworthy), it gives you a feeling of awe at the enormity of the effort. It was beyond supporting the troops. It was beyond making and maintaining planes. It went beyond answering the call of duty. I have concluded that to win that war, required a National uprising of strength and courage. I believe it was God's intervention to help a Nation that feared Him and honored Him. To many who are a generation older than me, this is not a new concept. They lived it. They were a part of something GREAT! But oh... so costly. Perhaps God views it a His divine sacrifice. It begs the questions... will our Nation ever face such adversity again. What will happen? Are we up to the sacrifice? Will God intervene again?

I've become concerned that this country is experiencing a snowball of a generational decline. Americans are losing the strength we once knew.

None of us have any idea
how these scrapbooks ended up in dad's Hangar. And Dad , bless his heart, cannot even remember how they got there. These albums contained over 200 photos (some are attached) from a commissioned officer who served in the European Theater under the Mighty 8th Air Force as a B17 repair engineer. They contain page after page of crashed and repaired B17s among other photos that documented much of the work done by heavy bombers during the European campaign. Literally a historical treasure - yet an heirloom to the family of Mr. Charles Wachendorfer, Jr. We faced the dilemma about what to do with these albums. To keep a long story short... I ended up locating this man's son and subsequently turned the albums over to his family. This became a BIG DEAL emotionally and other ways to them because the family had been unaware of this man's involvement in the War effort. He had kept this a secret part of his life. His descendents were sheltered from this major emotional time in their dad's life. This got me to thinking about those of us in my generation and younger who have limited resources to imagine what kind of strength it took for this nation to rise up and defeat the Axis forces of the world. The scale of the WWII effort is unfathomable for me and my generation.

We and younger Americans, I fear, have grown content in taking the hard-fought victories of our past for granted.
This country has forgotten how to work for the common good of our nation. We've put God out of our thoughts and our actions show it. We've forgotten what sacrifice means. We rest on the laurels of our past and depend on the elected politicians to run the show. I fear that if we don't wake up our sleeping younger generations, our children are going to be awoken one day to a nation in ruin. We must teach them about the past... and we must teach them about God.

Oh... and about the final disposition of the photos. It is up to the Wachendorfer Family. However Charles Wachendorfer III tells me he intends to turn them over to a museum or library. I have recommended the library-archives at the University of Texas at Dallas or the Airpower Museum, Blakesburg, IA.

For more on this subject, go check out...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The timeless journey - Blakesburg 2007

Last summer, God blessed our family with a wonderful trip to a place where time stands still. I have been able a few times in my life to make the journey from Texas to Antique Airfield in the Iowa heartland (near Blakesburg). Unless you've been there before, you just can't imagine it. The place has a mystique about it that is indescribable. It's the closest I know to flight as it was years ago in a simpler age, with fewer restrictions, and with the camaraderie and spirit of goodwill among men and women of aviation. This trip was especially nice for me. Partly because it had been 17 years since my last trip there. But mostly because I got to share it with Leann, Lon, Carolyn, Travis, Hannah, and Rachel.

Leann and I flew up in Lon's '39 Taylorcraft. The first day started off a bit rocky with weather concerns all the way up through Oklahoma. We made fuel stops in Decatur TX, McAlester Oklahoma as the weather declined all the way, dodging rain showers the best way you can at 85 mph. We finally gave up the push in Vinita Oklahoma. By the time we landed, there were small Thundershowers to the east, north, and west. McDonalds' golden arches awaited us there and gave us a great place to rest while the ground crew in the family Suburban caught up with us.

Our crew arrived and helped us secure the airplane for the night and it was off to the hotel.

The next day didn't look much good at first. A line of storms was pushing through but seemed almost stalled to the north. By 1 pm we made the decision to give it a try following the highways. As it turned out the farther north and east we went, the better it looked. And before long... the days of scorching hot Texas summer were gone and we were in the most beautiful cloudless sky one can imagine. This weather held for the entire remaining time of our trip, adding to the blessing it already was. Here are some photos... including the Missouri Church pond... an enormous back-hoe used for strip-mining coal in the wetlands of Eastern Kansas... the Missouri River... and pretty soon.... Blakesburg!

Three days are barely enough. Here are just a few of the sites, including some unforgetable moments like Lon's first open cockpit ride in a Biplane.

Starting home, though somewhat sad, was another adventure in itself. More sites of the beautiful midwest USA and fun along the way like the "Three" thicket in northern Oklahoma. We even found a new use for Lon's old stopwatch holder on the instrument panel. Max altitude for the trip was 3,500 ft. MSL. It was cooler there, but the best scenery was at 2,000 ft. A couple of stops and then we stayed the night in Adair Oklahoma with friends Jim Markle and his family who sure put on the hospitality for us. The next day... Leann traded spots with Lon who flew the rest of the trip with me. Lon's a good pilot and it was a rest for me to sit in the right seat for a change. The closer we got toward home, the realities of life set in. I needed to make it to work the next day. The weather was not cooperating. Visibility deteriorated to a point it was no longer safe to continue past Decatur TX. Luckily we have a friend there who offered a cozy spot in his hangar for the plane. Our ground crew met us a few hours later and we drove through rain to make it home. Lon and I drove back up a couple weeks later to bring the little airplane home. It was nice to have the airplane safely tucked back in at Tick Hill.

Somehow, it seems that God gave us beautiful weather and blessed us all the way for this trip. I think anyone who attended Blakesburg in 2007 would agree. Since my first trip as a kid in 1975 that place has hardly changed at all. The kids have been asking to go back this year... but we may have to miss it for 2008... we'll see.

To leave you with a touch of the feeling of Blakesburg... click on the following link to see a wonderful photo montage put together by Brent Taylor of the Antique Airplane Association. And don't forget to visit the AAA website... http://www.antiqueairfield.com/

Monday, August 4, 2008

Curtiss Robin C-1 "The Texas Lady" - Part 2

Here are some more of our favorite photos of NC82H.

Click HERE for more photos.


The Hopgrasser

I mentioned before about the little Aeronca 7AC Champ that my Dad and I restored from 1976 to 1979.

As a High Schooler during those years, I think my friends must have thought of me as a strange kid because I spent a lot of hours working on this project rather than goofing off with them. But what a rewarding endeavor! I learned how to strip paint, fabricate wood and sheet metal parts, repair ribs, varnish spars, sandblast steel tubing, make new control cables, rivet cowlings, cut out interior patterns, balance propellers, replace bushings, apply dope and fabric, install windows, and detail instruments. There are too many things to mention them all. But the most important part of it all was the time I spent with my Dad.

Together we ordered parts, selected paint colors, and made many decisions.

1976 - Dad found out about this airplane stored for several years in a goat shed in Burnet county just a few miles from our home-base.

When it came time to name the airplane, we had tossed around a few ideas until one day my nephew Nat came up with a catchy name... I think he was about 6-yrs old. He wasn't thinking of the airplane, but rather playing with a coffee can and bugs in the back yard of my sister's house. He called me over to show me his prize catch of the day and said... "Look Uncle Terry, Its a HOPGRASSER". Well that name stuck and my dad hired a friend to design and paint the creature on the tail. From then on, our little Champ was affectionately known by this name. The first flight after restoration was made by Dad (and me in the back seat) in the Fall of 1979. Thas was a surprize too... because I was under the impression we were doing a Taxi test only... I am sure I had a large grin when Dad lifted her off the runway.

My very first solo was in this airplane... and later after earning my license, I enjoyed taking all the family and many friends up for buddy rides. I wish now that I had logged all of my passengers and noted those for whom it was their very first airplane ride. I know there were many and what a joy it was to share the simple days of flying with them.

The Champ was sold in 1988 and my dad bought another Champ... a more modern one with starter and electrical system. I often think back about the memories we made with that little bird. We have not been in touch with the current owner. But a few months ago, I was surprized to find a photo posted on the internet (here) from last year's fly-in at Recklaw TX. I would say that Hopgrasser has weathered the 18 years quite well.

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