Greenwood Lake, New Jersey and Reading, Pennsylvania—An Aerial Odyssey

by | Jan 22, 2019 | Aerobatic Aircraft, Aircraft, Airshows, Formation Flying, History, Second World War, War Aircraft

The story of thirteen exhilarating and challenging days on the air show circuit in a seventy-six-year-old aircraft. 

Same Drill – Get up at Dark Thirty and Go

As I look in the mirror, it’s only 5:00 a.m.  All I can think about is the landing gear hydraulic actuator on my plane.  It had been leaking, but was quickly repaired this week because I have two air shows to perform in. While Max Hodges test flew the airplane yesterday and gave it a clean bill of health, I’ve got to get to the airport and check it out myself.  With performances in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I have to be sure it is fixed before I depart.  This traveling across country for airshows in the Kate is a bit grueling. 

Finibus Bonorum et Malorum

The Kate!  How I love her.  She is a 76-year old American B5N2 replica Nakajima Bomber…with a torpedo!  You know, I once had a woman tell me that boys never grow up.  I tend to agree when it comes to flying and the Kate.  But to play with her, I have to take really good care of her…because she takes care of me!

Jewell and I…Well, let me stop a moment and tell you about Jewell.  She’s only been in my life for about a year and everything is different.  She’s so beautiful.  Fits in the co-pilot seat of the Kate like it was made for her.  Never complains.  She just enjoys the adventure.  I simply enjoy having her beautiful presence with me.  How lucky am to have Jewell in my life!!!

Finibus Bonorum et Malorum
Finibus Bonorum et Malorum

Okay, so I don’t move very fast in the morning.  It’s 8:30 a.m. at the Coweta County Airport (KCCO).  I’m already thirty minutes behind my self-imposed schedule.  Breakfast was a hurried, multi-tasking affair since I got another briefing on our planned route while gulping cereal at the table already strewn with maps, notepads, an i-pad, etc.  Anyone who has ever lived or visited Atlanta knows I was lucky to arrive only 30 minutes later than my planned arrival time. 

First leg of our journey…Okay, just so you know, it will take several “legs” to get to Greenwood Lake, a small diamond nestled in the mountains of New Jersey about 20 miles northwest of New York City.  I mean, the Kate is almost an octogenarian!  The Kate, also known as the Japanese Bomber, is a replica of the actual Japanese Bombers used in World War II.  So, she is analog, not digital.   Fuel consumption is always a concern.  The textbook answer is that she holds 109.6 gallons.  Her fuel burn rate with take- off power is 70 gallons per hour.  Climb power is about 35 gallons per hour.  In economy cruise, you can get it down to less than 27 gallons per hour.  The fuel gauges are surprisingly accurate.  Flown properly, the Kate can fly for three hours and forty minutes.  However, I rely on my watch and like to have her on the ground after two and one-half hours of flying.  There will be several legs on this journey and while it can sometimes be challenging, what a great way to see America!

Finibus Bonorum et Malorum

Last night, I spent time with Leidos Flight Support confirming the Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts along my planned route of flight.  Thunderstorms.  I had decided my first fuel stop would be at the Mid-Carolina Regional Airport (KRUQ) and we would spend the night in Winchester, Virginia after a second fuel stop at Winchester Regional Airport (KOKV).   Everything depends on timing, of course.  We would have to arrive at KOKV before 2:00 p.m., before thunderstorms develop in that area.

The pre-flight and test flight takes longer than expected.  No pilot should ever rush the pre-flight.  I never had and wasn’t going to start now.  I conferred with my good friend and loyal mechanic, Pete Willingham.  Everything was functioning as it should.  I loaded our parachutes, helmets, and baggage and input the flight plan coordinates into the Kate’s GPS system, my portable GPS and iPad.  Check, double check, triple check.  My secretary says I’m double anal as an attorney and pilot…she’s right.  All of these activities take time—more time than you may think.  It simply takes however long it takes.  I finally was able to fuel the aircraft.    But, really, where does the time go?  When I get involved with pre-flight, I just lose track of time.  It is an essential, cannot do without it, activity!

Airborne – Finally

Finibus Bonorum et Malorum
Finibus Bonorum et Malorum

Just after 10:30 a.m., Jewell, the best flying companion ever, and I are finally strapped in and ready to go.   We are airborne before 11:00.  Well, that thirty minutes behind is now two hours behind my self-imposed schedule for departure.  We arrive at KRUQ just after 1:00 p.m.  While I’m refueling the aircraft, Jewell unpacks lunch.  While enjoying the lunch prepared by Jewell, I take a look at the weather radar, airport weather observations, and forecasts.  I let Jewell know that we will not be able to make Winchester today without encountering severe weather.  Thunderstorms have developed to the west of Winchester and appear to be growing and moving eastward. By our estimated time of arrival, thunderstorms will block our route.  What can you do?  You can’t argue with weather.  Lynchburg, Virginia is clear and the forecast is promising.  We get airborne just after 2:00 p.m., hoping there is still time to make Lynchburg.

Flight following with Greensboro Approach, and a hand off to Roanoke Approach precedes our landing at Lynchburg.  You know, we grew up watching westerns.  You always saw the cowboy or rancher taking care of his horse before going to bed.  Well, it’s even more important to take care of my Kate.  By the time I’d serviced her in preparation for tomorrow’s leg, extracted our luggage and flight gear, caught a cab to a nearby hotel, it was after 5:00 p.m.  After a shower, dinner, weather check and news, it is time to get some rest and try again tomorrow. 

The Flight to Greenwood Lake

Friday, May 31, holds promise. The cold front that dominated the weather pattern around Washington, DC and Reading, Pennsylvania had moved eastward. If we get airborne quickly, we can refuel and have lunch in Reading (KRDG) and arrive at Greenwood Lake (4N1) by early or late afternoon. The weather gods are smiling today.  We stop for lunch and gas in Reading, enjoying a light lunch at Klinger’s Restaurant in the terminal building.  After lunch, we depart Reading and make our way to Greenwood Lake arriving around 4:00 p.m.  By 6:00, we have secured the Kate, tying her down with the canopy cover on, collected our luggage, obtained the keys to a rental car, driven to the hotel, and checked in.  After washing off the dust and dirt from the day’s travel, I am staring at beautiful Jewell across a dinner table in the hotel restaurant.

Performing in the Greenwood Lake Airshow

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Saturday morning, June 1. The briefing started shortly after 10:00. Jim Crumb is the air boss. I’ve worked with him before. He is a good man. He knows what he is doing. My Kate and I will get into a fight with a Chance Vought Corsair. The Corsair pilot is John Currenti, a Delta captain, ex-military fighter pilot and is a relaxed and capable pilot. We skip the practice session since we had flown the same flight sequence last year.  Jim throws me a bit of a curve.  We are going to be joined in our flight by Charlie Lynch flying a Grumman TBM Avenger.  John and I will fly as briefed. Initially, Charlie will fly above us and then follow along in the Daisey chain as Jim directs.  We’ll just fly multiple right-hand circuits with pyrotechnics; then a left-hand circuit with a banana pass followed by a landing. There is nothing to it.  We just have to be mindful of the corner markers and the 500-foot crowd line. Oh, did I mention the runway is 3,500 feet long, 50 feet wide, with trees and rising terrain all around? I’m definitely wide awake to all the potential problems as is everyone I’m working with.  The briefing goes well. The procedures for pyrotechnics are reviewed. The FAA operations inspectors have examined our pilot credentials. I have signed the waiver authorizing me to fly in waivered airspace. Now, finally, all I need to do is get to the Kate, get her fueled, get oil and smoke oil, as well as having the Kate and her paperwork examined by the FAA maintenance inspectors.

Jewell, who has been in the briefing room while my fellow pilots and I were briefed, and I grab a bit of lunch after the Kate is serviced and inspected. Everything is in order. Charlie Lynch has arrived in his Avenger. If you’ve never just watched one of these planes fly in, you should.  It is a thing of beauty to behold.  There aren’t that many opportunities out there.  Aren’t airshows just wonderful?

Charlie, John and I have briefed the routine and departure procedures. The airplanes are towed out to the flight line. The taxiway is narrow. The airplanes are out of sequence. So, Charlie will take off first, the Kate second and the Corsair third. It’s a minor adjustment. No big deal.

It’s like a dance.  Every plane has its place.  It is a choreographed show.  Engine start, check in with Jim. Everything is good so far. The run ups are good. Everyone is ready. Charlie is off.  The instant I see light under his tires, I push the power up to 36 inches of manifold pressure and 2,250 rpm.  I climb out at 80 knots, ever mindful of the trees and rising terrain.  The first couple of low passes are cold. Then we have the hot passes with bomb blasts and strafing runs. I had checked my smoke system on the ground before I took off.

Time for the banana passes or photo passes. I hit the end of the runway as my first corner marker and the lake about two thirds down the runway is my second. I had “zeroed” the altimeter before takeoff.

Finibus Bonorum et Malorum
Finibus Bonorum et Malorum

Remember the trees. No lower than 300 feet until I’m away from the trees.  I nail the corner marker by the lake. What a great view of the firefighters and their firetrucks near the lake. You can literally see them out of your canopy below the left wingtip. Is this cool or what?

Setting up for the downwind, remember this is a short runway with cliffs on both ends. I nailed the airspeed at 80 knots and not a knot faster. In the flare, I wiped off the power. Most of the runway disappears from my peripheral vision.  I am now in a three-point attitude.  The Kate touches down gently as the air show announcer declares: “The Kate kisses the runway.”  I’m on the brakes as she slows down. Taxi to the end, then get off the runway to make room for John. John and I taxi in, and the crowd waves its approval. John and I shut down right in front of the exhilarated crowd. After shutdown, we dismount.  I look for my Jewell in the crowd.  Finally, I find her.  What an inspiration to have this lovely lady in my life.

Charlie Lynch in the Avenger, a definite crowd pleaser, performs a series of fly-bys.  Charlie can really fly that large torpedo bomber as he displays it before the crowd.  Charlie is a great pilot and a real gentleman.

Sunday, June 2, is almost a carbon copy of Saturday’s flight, except there is a fairly good cross-wind from the southeast which is no problem on Runway 24.  The Kate, Corsair and Avenger perform a series of photo (banana) passes orbiting to the left after our previous low passes in right patterns. In short order, the Kate and Corsair are secured and Jewell and I are giving John a ride to the Newark Airport, so he can catch a flight home to Atlanta.   The return trip from Newark Airport to our hotel near Greenwood Lake is an adventure in itself as our GPS directs us through Newark, New Jersey before we can get on the Interstate.

Finibus Bonorum et Malorum

Next Stop – Reading Pennsylvania

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Monday, June 3, dawns blustery with strong winds from the northwest. After all the airshow excitement Saturday and Sunday, the Greenwood Lake Airport looks like a ghost town. Most of the performing aircraft have left. All Jewell and I have to do is make a short flight to Reading, Pennsylvania. After a bone-jarring flight due to the wind, we arrive in Reading in the early afternoon. 

Parked near the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, the Kate is positioned for her next series of performances.  Jewell and I have a few days to enjoy a break before the Reading Airshow.  The Pennsylvania countryside is inviting. Jewell takes charge of the sight-seeing activities beginning with the Amish Museum where everyone was courteous and friendly. Pennsylvania is an interesting state with substantial agriculture. Visits to Lancaster and Allentown are interesting. 

Finibus Bonorum et Malorum

Practice Day at Reading

Friday, June 7, is a practice day. There is a mock dogfight between the Zero flown by Charlie Lynch and the Wildcat flown by Greg Shelton. Film director Ari Taub shows up to spend the day with Jewell and me.  Armed with World War Two accoutrements such as life vests, helmets and service hats, a series of photos are taken by Tony Harnish and Jake Stoltzfus of Ari and me with various aircraft. As the practice session begins, the air boss, Greg Witmer, has allowed Ari, Jewell and me to observe the flying from a location adjacent to the flight line. Ever resourceful, Jewell commandeered an umbrella and a chair to watch the aerial displays in relative comfort.  I should mention Brenda Sailor at the Mid Atlantic Air Museum who got Ari a media pass on short notice.  Brenda was great to work with.

Saturday, June 8, begins with a briefing at 0900. The warbird flight will include the Wildcat flown by Lyle Shelton, the real Zero flown by Charlie Lynch, the Avenger flown by Congressman Sam Graves, the replica Aichi Type 99 Val flown by Rob Krieg, my Kate, a replica Zero flown by a pilot named Doug, and the Corsair flown by John Currenti. The pattern consisted of a series of racetrack patterns hitting the corner markers and keeping the patterns as tight as possible. The performance began shortly after 2:00. All went well until Charlie Lynch announced a brake failure in the Zero leaving no option other than to abort. Sam Graves was off first in the Avenger followed by me in the Kate, Doug in the replica Zero and Rob in the Val with the Wildcat and Corsair following in sequence. The flight was uneventful with a series of low passes by all the aircraft followed by landings.

Sunday, June 9, was a virtual copy of the Saturday performance with Wes Stowers standing in for John Currenti in the Corsair, since John was summoned to work by Delta Air Lines to fly a trip.

Finibus Bonorum et Malorum
Finibus Bonorum et Malorum

The Trip Home – A Long Day

Monday was low IFR, but the return trip to Atlanta was accomplished on Tuesday, June 11, in one day with fuel stops in Lynchburg, Virginia and Greenwood, South Carolina. Circumnavigating the flight-restricted airspace of Washington D.C. required some care, and the mountains of the Shenandoah Valley were about four thousand feet. Fortunately, skies were clear along the entire route with a strong tailwind from the Northeast for much of the flight. A quick turn on re-fueling and access to a courtesy car in Lynchburg allowed Jewell and me to have lunch at a Mexican restaurant. My good friend, Rick Trammell, gave us a quick turn on re-fueling in Greenwood, South Carolina. The Kate touched down at Falcon Field shortly after 6:00 p.m

An Aerial Odyssey Comes to an end

The thirteen days on the air show circuit in a seventy-six-year-old aircraft were at times challenging and at other times exhilarating. The Kate performed flawlessly. Jewell was adaptable, resourceful, and a wonderful companion on the trip. She packed our lunch to aid in a quick turn at KRUQ. She found areas to tour in Pennsylvania during our days off.  The pilots, air show personnel and volunteers at Greenwood Lake and Reading were of the highest order. Air Traffic Control provided flight following for the entire trip. In short, everyone and everything worked smoothly. It was the trip of a lifetime. 

Saturday, June 8, begins with a briefing at 0900. The warbird flight will include the Wildcat flown by Lyle Shelton, the real Zero flown by Charlie Lynch, the Avenger flown by Congressman Sam Graves, the replica Aichi Type 99 Val flown by Rob Krieg, my Kate, a replica Zero flown by a pilot named Doug, and the Corsair flown by John Currenti. The pattern consisted of a series of racetrack patterns hitting the corner markers and keeping the patterns as tight as possible. The performance began shortly after 2:00. All went well until Charlie Lynch announced a brake failure in the Zero leaving no option other than to abort. Sam Graves was off first in the Avenger followed by me in the Kate, Doug in the replica Zero and Rob in the Val with the Wildcat and Corsair following in sequence. The flight was uneventful with a series of low passes by all the aircraft followed by landings.

Sunday, June 9, was a virtual copy of the Saturday performance with Wes Stowers standing in for John Currenti in the Corsair, since John was summoned to work by Delta Air Lines to fly a trip.

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