A New Year, a gaggle of new flying stories! Already I have enough aerial tales to write about for an entire year. It’s 2010, and we are off with a Bang!
I finally met the The Little Red Fokker. It took a year, but the stars finally aligned.
It all began at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta last year, where I was Air Boss.
At an air show, the Air Boss partners with Air Traffic Controllers to manage all aircraft movement. A terrifying job. I was hellishly hot and heavily harassed.
In the midst of all that, Helmuth, who I’d never met before, goose-stepped up to me and curtly demanded in a clipped Teutonic accent that I ride his little red f*cker 😯
Right now. Schnell!
A kraut pimp, I thought (turns out he is Austrian). Then I realized he was referring to his Fokker.
A Fokker is an airplane. In case you were wondering.
Eleven months later, I finally got to ride Herr Oberst Helmuth’s little red, er, airplane.
It was based at Woodland Airpark, home to ultralight aircraft of the Angeles City Flying Club. Carlo and I have flown many times over Woodland. I’d been there but once, many years ago. Why am I not a member of this intrepid band of aviators?
Talk about intrepid! When we arrived at Woodland, there was a Quicksilver ultralight in the landing pattern. There is nothing under their legs but Pampanga rice fields, hundreds of feet below.
Woodland feels like an old Royal Flying Corps, Armée de l’Air, or Luftstreitkrafte airbase. (The Brit, Australian and American club members all had ribald comments about The Great War, Austro-German pilots and Fokkers.) Grass runway, clubhouse, fabric airplanes and vintage aircraft tucked away in hangars. Craftsmen, professionals, enthusiasts.
Mike S’s PT-13 Stearman, a real treasure, is being restored here.
Bob is doing an outstanding job on this, his fifth Stearman restoration. I used to admire this airplane from afar, at various ramps and taxiways in Philippine airports. It was the most beautiful airplane in the country, and will look even better soon.
Then I found it. Der Kleine Rote Fokker!
I loved it at once — the flaming red fabric (yes, Virginia, this is a fabric-over-metal-frame airplane), the Balkenkreuz and all the other markings.
"Fok" stands for Fokker. In case you were confused.
The stickers say it all. This is an owner-built kit aircraft designed, ironically, by a French aeronautical firm. An 85-BHP 4-stroke Jabiru aircraft engine, designed and built in Australia, drives that wooden French prop at 3300 RPM, on a diet of 100LL avgas or 95 octane Petron Blaze.
Helmuth, who is actually an exceedingly good-natured self-deprecating craftsman and professional art restorer, is understandably proud of his masterpiece. There is a very heart-warming story behind Herr Oberst, and we will write a lot more about him here!
The flap handle and trim crank are overhead, classic vintage craftsmanship.
But then there were the CHT and EGT gauges, gyrocompass, electric turn coordinator, GPS, VHF, fuel pressure … enough instrumentation to send the ultralight to Mars. The sneaky Flugzeugführer probably had full-color synthetic weather radar hidden somewhere.
It was time to fly. Kommandant Helmuth pulled Der Rote Flugzeug out into the sun.
I had never flown an ultralight before. I was about to lose my virginity. Snoopy, here I come!!
Posted from Bangkok, January 19, 2010.