All posts tagged 'Louisville'

The Aerobatic Experience of a Lifetime

There is great excitement around Louisville right now. Last weekend Thunder Over Louisville came to our charming little city. Thousands of people gathered around the Ohio River to watch the Blue Angels, Lima Lima Flight team, Trojan Horsemen, Team AeroDynamix, and several other big names in airshow entertainment. It was a sunny day with a slight breeze, the perfect setting for the 25th anniversary of the airshow.

One of these Thunder performers was John Klatt. He is an Air National Guard pilot who proudly flies the F-16 "Fighting Falcon" and C-130 "Hercules" aircraft on combat, air support, and humanitarian missions. In addition to all of this, he is an airshow performer extraordinaire with over 10 years’ experience flying for millions of spectators. In his current routine he flies his MXS in a plethora of twists, turns, and flips at stunning speeds.

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to ride along with John and his flight crew for some practice before the big event. I strapped on my parachute and climbed into the front seat of their 300 horsepower Extra 300L. I had not experienced aerobatics previously, so as they secured me with the abundance of harnesses and safety straps I had a brief moment where I was questioning what I was getting myself into. Being born a thrill seeker, I gave a thumbs up to the crew and braced myself for the adventure that awaited us.

After an incredibly speedy liftoff, we flew in close proximity behind John in his single seat MXS. When we reached the practice area he headed north of the Ohio river and we headed south to do maneuvers. We started out simple, with just a dive from 5000’ to gain airspeed and roll into some steep turns. After this we did a hammerhead, loop, and barrel roll. I tried to play it cool but every moment I lost sight of the ground I couldn’t help but grin.

Flying aerobatics is what I believe to be one of the fundamentals of aviation. Humans have always been seeking out the biggest thrills. We question how fast something can go, how high we can fly. Part of human nature is pushing the limits and finding new ways of controlling our surroundings. For years we have been building faster and better aircraft in this pursuit of maximizing our abilities. Maybe I am getting too philosophical with this, but the entire concept of aerobatics beautifully demonstrates the human spirit. Airshows are built around this human adoration of pushing boundaries. The fact that we have created machines capable of such breathtaking feats is worth celebration enough. Add in the remarkable skill and talent of pilots like John Klatt, and you have a perfect display of human intellect and liveliness.

After I hopped out of the Extra 300L, I felt like my eyes had been opened to a whole new world of flying capabilities. The sheer power and agility of the plane shocked me. This truly was an unforgettable experience and I want to thank John Klatt and his team for this opportunity.

A Conversation with the Next Generation of Pilots

The Kentucky Institute for Aerospace Education (KIAE) is a one-of-a-kind endeavor, currently networking 20 high schools in the state to provide students direct experiences in aeronautical engineering, flight, aircraft maintenance, and space systems. When I asked Tim Smith, Director of Frankfort High School’s Aviation program and CIO for KIAE, why this was important, he said, "Programs like these will lead to more students enrolling in post-secondary opportunities in flight/aeronautics, aircraft maintenance, aeronautical engineering, space systems engineering, aerospace computer engineering, air traffic control, and aviation management/operations. Another important element of expansion is that potential grant opportunities and other sponsorships examine viability and scale of the initiative. So, it is important to show its implementation in a variety of environments. In short, the more students that are studying aerospace, the more that will enter the workforce."

Three of their students got to experience a different end of the spectrum when they rode along with a gathering of Yakolevs at Bowman Field in Louisville, KY (just outside GlobalAir.com’s office). See more on the gathering itself here. I spent a few minutes with Michael Dahl, Jason Smith and Seth Padgett just before they climbed into their respective cockpits for a bit of formation flying.

Michael Dahl climbing into a Yak to experience formation flying.

GlobalAir: What inspired each your interests in aviation?

Michael Dahl: My uncle took me flying in an open-air cockpit bi-plane right here at Bowman Field when I was 11 years old, and that summer I flew on a commercial airliner on our vacation to California - all that exposure to flying in a short amount of time got my attention. When I found there was an aviation-related program at Frankfort High School, I made sure to get involved!

Jason Smith: My mother often took me to the airport as a baby to let the sounds of aircraft calm me, so I’ve been interested a long time! I knew after seeing "Top Gun" that I wanted to be a fighter pilot – I even dressed like Maverick for Halloween once.

GA: You’re too tall to play Tom Cruise!

JS: (laughs) Well, this was a while ago. Then I got involved with the aviation program at school. I was also motivated by learning about the various mission aviation programs that exist when I was at Oshkosh, so I’ve also become interested in contributing there.

Seth Padgett: I was born in Germany, so I’ve been on aircraft since I was a child flying back and forth to visit family. I became more seriously involved through an aviation camp where we did flight planning, and from there Tim Smith turned me on to the KIAE program in Frankfort.

Jason Smith receiving a safety briefing on riding along in the Yak.

GA: What have been the biggest obstacles for each of you in pursuing your pilot’s licenses?

MD: I was always concerned about "what if there’s a problem during flight"? I had to tell myself to get past it and stop being afraid to try.

JS: For me, it’s the number of hoops you have to jump thru, plus the financial burden. But, even though it’s a cliché, you truly can do anything you set your mind to do.

SP: It’s so much easier to get a driver’s license – take a test, drive an instructor around, and you’re done. Earning your pilot’s license is such a time investment; it’s easy to get discouraged. You have to remind yourself that you will get there, just be patient and stay focused!

GA: We, in the aviation industry, already know that bringing youth to aviation is vital to growing the industry. So what would you want to share with kids your age that may be interested, but intimidated, by flying?

SP: Statistically speaking, flying is very safe. When you see how many check-ups and tests you have to do to become a pilot and take care of your aircraft, you’ll see there’s nothing to be intimidated by.

MD: If you’ve never flown before, or are scared of flying, find an airport and see if anyone is willing to take you up and experience it for yourself. Learn more about airplanes & how they work - that’s how I got hooked!

JS: I agree – get up and fly! Talking about it isn’t enough!

Seth Padgett scoping the taxi path as they maneuver for takeoff.

GA: Lastly, what do you plan to do with your licenses – personal enjoyment, or career aspirations?

MD: Right now, mostly personal enjoyment. It’s still a little early for me to look beyond to career options.

JS: I mentioned earlier about being a fighter pilot and doing missionary work – which requires mechanical knowledge as well, so I’m putting focus there too.

SP: I’d like to fly for the Air Force initially. Afterward, I’ll likely transition to flying for services like UPS, FedEx, Delta – many options! But also personal enjoyment for sure!

Shortly after our conversations, all six pilots met and discussed formations, with the three boys listening intently. The students then met with the pilots of their Yaks and got personal instructions for their safety and knowledge about occupying the second seat. I marveled at the focus they all had on the task at hand as I snapped a few pictures – my presence wasn’t even registering anymore. They were now sponges, soaking in everything about the aircraft they were climbing aboard!

A few gallons of avgas were added, the Yaks (and their accompanying Cessna 172R and Christen Eagle II) taxied out and took to the air. I managed to catch a couple of passes over Bowman Field before I had to leave for another appointment, so I didn’t get to stick around to get their impressions afterward. But I think it was safe to assume that it was nothing but joy and excitement all around!

Watch the Yaks, 172 and Christen Eagle taxi out for takeoff!

Preliminary details of UPS crash in Birmingham

David W. Thornton

Yesterday United Parcel Service Flight 1354 crashed while on approach to runway 18 in Birmingham, Al. The crash occurred at approximately 4:45 a.m. Central Time (9:45 Zulu). Both crewmembers died in the crash. The flight originated at the UPS hub in Louisville, KY.

The hourly weather report taken shortly after the crash at 4:53 a.m. (0953Z) indicated few clouds at 1,100 feet with a broken ceiling layer at 3,500 feet. There was an overcast layer at 7,500 feet. Rain was not reported. The wind was reported from 340 degrees at four knots. This would have meant a slight tailwind for a landing on runway 18, but would have likely been within acceptable limits.

GlobalAir.com’s airport directory reports that runway 18 is 7,099 feet long. There are two instrument approaches to runway 18, a GPS approach and a localizer approach. Both approaches would have taken the airplane to a minimum altitude of 600 feet above the ground, which would have been sufficient to clear the lowest cloud layer.

For more information, check out David Thornton’s complete article.

Louisville's Seaplanes: History of a landlocked city and its naval aircraft (part 2)

The following is by Louisville historian R. David Schooling. Images are used with implied permission. Read Part 1 here.

 
The Grumman Widgeon was a large, generously appointed, six-place amphibian that Thompson also owned and kept in the Kentucky Flying Service hanger at Bowman Field (LOU), but he frequently flew it into and out of his personal  seaport on the wharf at 2nd & River.

This plane, along with the Piper J-3 and the two Seabees, presented an unusual visual impact attracting curiosity seekers crossing the bridge or entering Louisville from U.S. 41-River Road or arriving or departing train passengers along the elevated track of the Illinois Central atop the wharf  glancing out of their train windows down at the activities on the riverfront. This was an era preceding modern freeways, newer Ohio River bridges and one in which trains still ran.

 
The largest amphibian ever to splash into Louisville's wharf was the
massive Curtiss NC-4 four engine plane. This record setter was the
world's first aircraft to cross the Atlantic. The Nov. 11 & 12  Louisville
visit was 
part of the 1919 goodwill tour.
Photo courtesy the Bowman Eagles Flying Club.

There is some historic record of an earlier attempt to start up seaplane operations in Louisville, perhaps as early as the 1920s. Take for instance the intriguingly named firm dating from July 5, 1920 called the "Ohio River Aero Transport Company."

This company likely was directly connected to a short-lived airmail service using small flying boats operating between Cincinnati and Louisville, mentioned in archived newspaper clips. Further detail about  these  operations  are  unavailable. Thompson’s Seaplane Base operated for a number of years during the mid-to-late 1940s and early 1950s. Details of its closure are uncertain, but Louisville's Seaport and Mr. W.C.Thompson were both widely known and fondly remembered.

 

Without doubt, the largest and most historically notable amphibian aircraft to ever slice her keel through the waters of the Ohio River and pull up to the Louisville wharf was the gigantic, four-engine NC-4 flying boat, which made the first ever Trans-Atlantic crossing.  

Here are some of the impressive statistics for this craft: Wingspan 168 ft.- Power plant- Four 400 h.p. V-12 engines, Fueling Systems Nine 200 gallon fuel tanks with 1,800 gallons of fuel aboard, Operational weight 28,000 lbs. Crew of Six, Dual open-air pilot and navigator cockpits, bow and aft machine gun ports and hatches.

The NC aircraft originally was designed for anti-submarine patrol duties. After its record setting achievement, the NC-4 aircraft was dismantled and shipped back to the States on the USS Aroostook. The crew returned to the United States via the transport USS Zeppelin to the Navy port at Hoboken.

After much pomp and celebratory receptions for the crew’s  achievement, the NC-4 was reassembled and assigned to a schedule of goodwill tours throughout eastern and southern ports. It was flown up the Mississippi to St. Louis, where it officially was transferred by the US Navy to the Smithsonian Institution. After St. Louis, the aircraft made its way to Louisville’s Ohio Riverfront wharf only five months after its achievement at Lisbon, Portugal for viewing by appreciative Louisville citizens at the Ohio River on Nov. 11 and 12, 1919.

Numerous Louisville pilots received water ratings and seaplane training in one of the various Thompson aircraft, flying in and out of the Louisville seaport with W.C."Tommy" Thompson instructing at their side. The wonderful color photo taken under the bridge would have been nothing short of spectacular had all of Thompson’s seaplanes been in a single picture. This story is but one tiny portal into Louisville's long-vanished waterfront, which still holds many similar historic gems.

For posterity sake the research alone has been quiet an adventurous trip.

 

 


W.C.Thompson and friends at the  2nd & River Louisville Seaport

R. David Schooling is a freelance author and historian based near Louisville, Ky., with deep interests in little-known aspects of the area's history. He has written numerous articles and has been published widely, in local and regional publications, especially urban-affairs issues.
An Air Force veteran who served in Japan and Europe, he eventually was assigned and detached to the Royal Air Forces in Germany. Now retired and living just across the Ohio River in Clarksville, Ind., he is working on his latest endeavor, historic electric railways. Inter-urbans, elevated’s and rapid transit were all abundant in Louisville years ago.

Louisville's Seaplanes: History of a landlocked city and its naval aircraft (part 1)

The following is by Louisville historian R. David Schooling. Images are used with implied permission. Part 2 will be posted next week.

 
Piper J-3 Float Plane, photo courtesy Gary J. Nokes co-author of "Wings over the Falls"

 

During the years following World War II, just in the east shadow of the Second Street Bridge, stood the fully operational Ohio River Seaplane Base, with several aircraft making their fascinating water skimming takeoffs and landings.

The owner-operator was St. Matthews resident W.C. Thompson, nicknamed "Tommy.” Much of the following details are from interviews with William Happel, founder of Haps Aerial Services and Haps Airport in Sellersburg, Ind.

During and prior to the war years, Mr. Thompson was happily providing flying "hops" and flying instructions at Bowman Field (LOU). At the time, he owned a Piper J-5 Cruiser, which was a souped-up version of the Piper J-3 aircraft shown above in the floatplane configuration.

In 1942, U.S. Army air forces took over Bowman Field and converted it to Bowman Army Air Base. The biggest assignment for the field was the training of air-combat glider pilots and combat-air evacuation nurses.

This instantly made Bowman one of the busiest airports in the nation. It was suddenly overcrowded, and its new mission of nonstop training activities practically squeezed out civilian operators who had been using the field for some number of years. This issue led to the total destruction of Thompson’s aircraft.

One of the glider pilot trainees managed to crash his glider into Thompson’s Piper, which ended up destroying both aircraft.   

Mr. Thompson’s government reimbursement was to be stretched out for a long time. He did not receive his payout until sometime after World War II.   

It was during this timeframe that Thompson decided to open his "Seaport" on the Ohio River. At one time, he had at least three water-based planes operating: the yellow Piper J-3 floatplane in the bridge picture and two unique and attractive "Seabee" aircraft, shown below skimming along on a water takeoff.

 


Courtesy of the Seabee Owners Club


The excitement of water takeoff and landing was a novelty for sure and a big attraction, especially as far inland as Louisville. The business prospered for several years with only one slight mishap.

While landing one of his Seabee’s, Thompson’s aircraft sputtered, gasped and nearly ran out of fuel. He was forced into an emergency downriver flight over the dam and onto narrow turbulent waters. The unexpected ditch landing did some damage to the aircraft, but it is recollected as being minor.

Least you are thinking, "Hey wait a minute. There is something very familiar about that plane." You are correct. You probably remember seeing the same aircraft in the James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun.

The widespread appeal of this aircraft proved long lasting, not only in the 1940s but years later, as an exciting transport gadget for Mr. Bond. At least after his over-the-dam ditch landing, a dwarf manservant serving up bottle of Dom Perignon didn’t greet Mr. Thompson.

This author's recent discovery that Thompson at one time owned other flying boats such as a Grumman Widgeon and even a second "Seabee" amphibian was a quiet unexpected turn. Most of these were stored at local airports rather that at the river location for logistics reasons.  

Aside from the pier and floating dock, the Louisville Seaport also had a small onshore building used for parts storage and maintenance items. It was nothing elaborate, perhaps one of the Municipal Wharves smaller, unused buildings. The municipal wharves complex, however, was quiet elaborate at one time. William Happel of Haps Aerial recalls buying a propeller at this location from Thompson.

 


W.C. Thompson’s Republic RC3 "Seabee" amphibian in the Ohio River

R. David Schooling is a freelance author and historian based near Louisville, Ky., with deep interests in little-known aspects of the area's history. He has written numerous articles and has been published widely, in local and regional publications, especially urban-affairs issues.
An Air Force veteran who served in Japan and Europe, he eventually was assigned and detached to the Royal Air Forces in Germany. Now retired and living just across the Ohio River in Clarksville, Ind., he is working on his latest endeavor, historic electric railways. Inter-urbans, elevated’s and rapid transit were all abundant in Louisville years ago.

 

 

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