Vintage Aircraft Aviation Articles

The Chocks Master

 

The Chocks Master

by Moreno Aguiari of warbirdnews.com

 

Over the decade or so of my being an active member of the warbird community, one of the things I have enjoyed the most has been the opportunity to meet some amazing people along the way. So many of them are among the unsung heroes of the movement; the vital volunteer army that helps bring success each year to events such as EAA AirVenture or Sun ‘N Fun.

 

One of these special guys I’m talking about is Dave Jackson, a longtime EAA and Warbirds of America member and a volunteer at both AirVenture and Sun ‘N Fun. I met Dave four years ago when a mutual friend asked me to bring him a WWII era 1 and 3/4″ stencil machine. I learned that Dave uses these stencil machines to create custom artwork that he paints onto aircraft chocks.

Why would one do that, you ask? Well, have you ever been to Oshkosh during EAA AirVenture and visited “Warbird Alley” – the area of the airport ramp where all of the warbirds are parked? If so, have you ever noticed that the aircraft is held in place by beautiful chocks, custom painted for particular occasions or anniversaries? Well, those chocks are the product of Dave’s year-long effort to add an extra degree of historical coolness to the ramp, celebrating the aircraft we all love so dearly.

 

The chocks Dave Jackson made for the D-Day Squadron

 

During the most recent Sun ‘N Fun show, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dave for an interview to get a little more insight into how he goes about creating these marvelous aircraft chocks. We hope you enjoy hearing more….


MA: How did you get involved in aviation?

Dave: My parents’ house was near the Muskegon airport in Michigan, and I could see the airport beacon from my bedroom. I remember DC-3s and DC-6s flying in and out of the airport and that’s where it all started for me. I passed my passion to two of my sons that are now professional pilots; one flies F/A-18F Super Hornets for the US Navy and the other one is a former regional airline pilot.

MA: How did you start making custom chocks?

Dave: It’s pretty interesting… when my middle son Ryan was in college at the Florida Institute of Technology pursuing his Aviation Degree and working for Basler Turbo Conversions in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, he was asked to build chocks for the company’s airplanes. The local carpentry company gave him a bunch of 6″x6″ wood and off he went to build the chocks. He cut them to specs, painted them yellow and applied the stencils. He brought a couple of chocks home, and I was very pleased with his work. Fast forward to the same summer and my neighbor decided to install a fence around his pool. At the end of the job, I picked up a bunch of 4″x4″ [wood] of about a foot and a half long and brought them in my garage with the idea of building chocks for my aviation and pilot friends. As time went on, I primarily made chocks for warbird owners, active and retired military pilots.

 

 

MA: When did you actually start making chocks for events?

Dave: The first chocks I made were for the 1993 AirVenture (then called EAA Fly-In), so I have been making chocks for more than 25 years. I started with very simple chocks, then chock after chock… I started sanding them, smoothing the edges, improving the paint and the stencil’s quality. I tried to improve them every year.

MA: How does the creative process work?

Dave: I always come up with my own theme. I do research about anniversaries and important events for each year, and then I go to work.

 

 

MA: What are the most special chocks you have made?

Dave: One of my favorite sets of chocks were those I made for Susie Parish, founder of the Kalamazoo Air Museum. Susie, besides the pink P-40, used to have a T-34 Mentor of the same color. In 1997, I knew she was going to make AirVenture with her T-34, so I made chocks for her airplane… I didn’t know Susie, but I made the chocks for the airplane anyway. On Saturday night during the warbird banquet, she stood up and said, “I don’t know who made these pink chocks for me, but this was the best present I ever received!” A few years later, I made the chocks for her P-40 and delivered them to her at the museum. When she died, the museum decided to hang the P-40 from the ceiling in the museum’s atrium, and my chocks ended up in the cockpit of the airplane. To this day, the chocks are still there!”

The ‘Remembering Program Chocks’ are also very special to me. This is a program that I started two years ago to help honor those volunteers or pilots who passed. It is a nice way to remember our fellow friends. This year I started making the chocks to honor the WASP.

 

An example of one of the Remembering Program Chocks

 

MA: What type of wood do you use?

Dave: After much trial and error, I have determined that the white pine tree is simply the best wood, as it is soft enough that it can be modeled with ease, and more importantly, it doesn’t crack. The pinewood, being easy to work with, allows me to produce everything from mini chocks, which I use to gift people with, to big chocks for larger airplanes like the C-47 and bombers.

 

Dave signs every custom chock alongside his A-4 logo.

 

MA: What are the steps to finish and paint the chocks?

Dave: After a good sanding, I apply the primer and then I spray paint them. I have four stencil machines, a 1/4″, a 1/2″, a 3/4″ and now a 1 and 3/4″. For special designs, usually, I search the internet for images,  print them and transfer the subject to the stencil paper.

MA: Can you tell us what you are planning for Oshkosh this year?

Dave: The WASP chocks are going to be new this year. The main new design is the one dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Boeing 747 and since AirVenture plans to have six or seven 747, I plan to make the 14″ chocks for all the airplanes.


Many thanks again to Dave Jackson for sitting down with me to discuss his creative process. And for those of you interested in meeting him in person, Dave will be easy to spot at every major EAA event – in fact, he drives a cool Blue Angels-themed golf cart equipped with afterburners and arrestor hook! Please make sure to stop him and shake his hand – you never know, you might walk away with some special chocks!

 

The author (R) with Dave “El Chocko” Jackson (L) during EAA Sun ‘N Fun 2019.

 

97-year-old WWII Naval Intelligence Officer takes first flight in a B-25J Mitchell

B-25 Mitchell - Show MeWorld War II era B-25J Mitchell lands on the runways of Bowman Field (KLOU) to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion. World War II veterans are being treated to honor flights during WWII Operation Gratitude.

The B-25J Mitchell, affectionately nicknamed “Show Me”, is best known for its role during the raid on Tokyo on April 18, 1942. This raid, led by Col. Jimmy Doolittle, is often cited for boosting America’s morale after the attack on Pearl Harbor just months before.

“Show Me” flew from the Missouri Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, which is located in St. Charles County Smartt Airport (KSET), to Louisville’s own Bowman Field Airport (KLOU) specifically for the celebration. 

WWII era B-25J Mitchell, Bowman Field, June 2019

 

Twenty veterans from all branches of the military were carried five at a time in “Show Me” across the rolling hills of the Bluegrass State.

 One of those passengers, Norma Lewis, admits she spent most of the flight with her hands clenched. Not in fear, however, but exhilaration.

“The engine is like a thousand violins in my ears,” she said before pausing. “The feeling of being in the air is just… wow.” Norma smiled, recounting the flight in “Show Me”.

At 97 years-young, as she will be sure to remind you, Norma has lived an altruistic life.

In 1943, at the age of 21, she joined the Navy. She was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina as part of a mission of tracking German submarines.

After three and a half years as a Naval Intelligence Officer, Norma retired from the Navy.

She came to Louisville in the 1960s as a sign language interpreter, something she picked up around the age of 10 after having been raised by her deaf aunt and uncle in Connecticut.

In 1977, “Mass of the Air”, a televised weekly mass on local news station WHAS, began to air. Norma volunteered for the program as an interpreter and has since been with the station for 40 years. 

WWII Operation of Gratitude is presented by Honor Flight Bluegrass Chapter during the week of June 3-7 to recognize the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.

Jeff Thoke, chairman of the board of Honor Flight Bluegrass, said: “I am thankful to be able to put on such a truly special event for these veterans.”

From left: Norma Lewis, Jeff Thoke, and Ernie Micka pose
in front of the B-25J Mitchell, Bowman Field, June 2019

 

Honor Flight Bluegrass was selected as a recipient of a $75,000 grant from the Kentucky Veterans Program Trust Fund, administered by the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs to fully sponsor the honor flight.

For more information, visit www.honorflightbluegrass.org

B-25J Mitchell lands at Bowman Field to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, June 2019

 

For the Love of the Mosquito Dream

A New Zealand aviator is looking for a new home for the “Wooden Wonder” -- his lovingly restored Mosquito T.43

Glyn Powell has a special talent. He has the ability to raise the dead.Glyn Powell

Not people, mind you. Aircraft.  Specifically the de Havilland Mosquito.

Introduced by the British and flown regularly by the Royal Air Force during World War II, the Mosquito had a wooden frame supporting two Merlin engines. A multi-use aircraft, the Mosquito served as a both a fighter and a bomber until it was eventually eclipsed in both design and popularity by the Supermarine Spitfire.

Though produced en masse during the war, most of the Mosquitos were eventually burned as time wore on and their wooden frames became rotten and unusable. Components were lost. Drawings were scattered. Long thought to be an unfortunate casualty of history, by the turn of the century, it was not believed that any Mosquito would ever fly again.

Until Glyn Powell took up the challenge.

An implausible ambition

Theo Botha, general manager of Mosquito Aircraft Restoration, has two words to describe Glyn Powell:  Humble and pragmatic.

“He’s exactly the kind of guy you really wouldn’t expect to want to rebuild one of the most technically complex non-jet aircraft in history in what is – what was – his garden,” Botha said.

And yet that’s exactly what happened. The New Zealand-based pilot fell in with a group of aviation enthusiasts with a shared vision: They wanted to rebuild a flyable Mosquito.

“Everyone talks about Spitfires because they’re flying,” Botha said. “You can see them. ‘What’s that?’ ‘Oh, it’s a Spitfire! It’s cool! It makes a loud noise!’ ‘Great! They won the war!’ ‘Oh, brilliant!’ But actually, the Mosquito played a very important role as well – extremely important – but because the airframes are made of wood, none of them are around. So they’re less in people’s minds. Glyn wanted to fix that.”

By 1989, most of the group had given up, but Powell had caught the vision and he wasn’t letting go. He purchased the remains of NZ2308 – a Mosquito T.43 – and began the work of restoring it. That work included securing 8,000 drawings on microfilm from the Smithsonian Institute, as well as traveling the world to examine, in detail, preserved Mosquitos. He also became a fervent collector of Mosquito parts.

“He’s not a CEO-type character – a bull-type character – where the only way to get him to do something is to set him a challenge,” Botha said. “He’s more someone who decides what he wants to do and is just gonna get on and do it. I supposed there’s no ego attached. It’s not a question of, ‘You say I can’t do it, so I will.’ It’s more a question of, ‘I’m gonna do it because it’s what I want to do.’”

“So what kind of guy is he?” Botha asks. “The kind of guy who just humbly shows you what he’s done, and the only thing you can think of to say is, ‘How can I help?’ He’s that kind of guy.”

Mosquito workshop

Restoring a flyable Mosquito is a task that would take Powell decades.

“I really don’t think they had any idea how hard it was to do,” Botha said of Powell and his team. “Because there’s almost a fractal level of detail with this. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to make an Airfix model or something like that – those little five-minute jobs that end up taking you the best part of a week. The Mosquito is that to the Nth degree.” Glyn Powell

Powell and his team were faced with the obstacle of building a flyable Mosquito from drawings that weren’t 100 percent complete, assembled from parts – many of which were missing – in a manner that was both functional and historically accurate.

“At the time this was made, they were pumping these out like a Model T Ford,” Botha said. “But what we’re talking about is making one Model T Ford from scratch in your garage, from drawings. It’s mindboggling.”

By far, one of the most difficult aspects of the aircraft’s construction is its wooden frame. Made of a combination of plywood and balsa wood, the frame would require the construction of two moulds, composed of douglas fir and cedar wood. Botha says that wasn’t an easy task at a time when – aside from the construction of high-end furniture and musical instruments – the craft of woodworking is dying. Much thanks, he said, goes to the professionals at Avspecs Ltd., a New Zealand-based vintage aircraft restoration company, for their workmanship in forming the fuselage in a manner that reflected the original design.

That said, in some rare instances, Botha says modern materials were substituted where using the originals simply wasn’t practical for the overall longevity of the aircraft.

“There are substantive differences,” he admitted. “Some materials which were used are no longer commercially available, so some materials had to be substituted in.”

“But also, more importantly, the modern adhesives are much more resistant to moisture,” he added.

The original design called for a 1940 technology organic casein or urea formaldehyde glue. In place of this, Powell and his team used a modern epoxy.

“Moisture and humidity is a Mosquito’s worst enemy,” Botha said. “If you want it to last forever, you want to control its storage environment – the humidity. And the adhesive’s ability to be resistant to moisture is very important. So epoxies are used for the adhesive.”

Botha says Powell and his team had a much more difficult time building a handful of flying Mosquitos than the Brits of the 1930s did.

“At the time this plane was built, it was a really serious industrial job,” he said. “Thousands and thousands and thousands of people at hundreds of companies working together. So when Glyn started from scratch with just the drawings of the Mosquito, and not having the mammoth industrial supply chain – to have one organization making spars, one making ailerons, etc. – to do that with a small team is unfathomably audacious.”

Part of Powell’s success, Botha said, stems from the creativity and tenacity of the people working under him.

“They live and breathe small engineering activities,” he said. “They’re humble people, and they’re not earning a fortune from this.”

“One of the key men who works there, his hobby is making fully-functional, handheld-sized petrol engines,” he said. “So he’ll make you a V-12 you can hold in your hand. He makes those at home.”

Botha said he first visited Powell’s workshop years ago on the advice of a friend – and he immediately fell in love with the Mosquito.

“It’s hard not to,” he said. “If you pick up any part – any component or subcomponent – it’s just mind-blowing, the level of detail, within the detail, within the detail. And then the craft, which stems from figuring out how to interpret the drawings through to actually fabricating parts using the appropriate techniques and really making a job of every last piece…

“These days you could, using computer-aided design, CNC-machine all these parts and do all of it a lot easier, but they’re not doing it that way,” he added. “This is craft and advanced engineering and woodwork by hand, but up to the standards of CNC machining. It’s mind-blowing.”

The Wooden Wonder

The first fully-restored, fully-functional Mosquito, KA113, thrilled audiences when it made its post-restoration maiden flight in Sept. 2012. It went on to receive the award for Grand Champion WW2 Warbird at the 2015 EAA Oshkosh Airshow.

To date, three Mosquitos have been reconstructed and are now flyable. A fourth – Powell’s original plane, NZ2308 – is in the process of being restored, as financing permits. Botha said Powell hopes to find the financing to finish the project, and a buyer to give the aircraft a good home.

“The reason Glyn started this was not because he wanted to sell one, or because he wanted to build one. He wanted to fly one,” Botha said. “And he wanted to keep the memory of this thing alive. And when he was finished flying it, his ambition was to have it sent straight back to the UK, where it could be an important part of the flying military history over there.”

Currently, Powell is working with The Mostquito Pathfinder Trust, an organization raising funds to finish the restoration project and have the aircraft sent to the UK.

Botha said that, of the available Mosquitos, this is the prize.

“This is the one that started it all,” he said. “It is constructed from the pick of the available components by the guy who was sourcing them, as his personal aircraft.”

As time passes, Botha says the value of NZ2308 only increases, given the fact that it will become increasingly difficult to find the necessary skills and components to build another Mosquito.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “The cost of restoring a Mosquito is extraordinarily high, but if you had to make new metal parts from scratch, the cost would double. So the possibility of having authentic restored mosquitos is going away. Estimates vary, but two-to-three more will be the maximum. This is going to be the most special one.”

But the biggest advantage of this particular Mosquito, according to Botha, is the dual-control system, which means the plane can be flown from either the right or left seat.

“If I can afford it, I’d buy this, and I’d have one of a very, very, very small handful of pilots take me up in it and have some very safe fun in it.”

 “I think it’s a no-brainer,” he added wistfully.

Interested parties can review the purchase details at this link https://www.globalair.com/aircraft-for-sale/Mosquito-The-Wooden-Wonder

Mosquito aircraft with crew during WWII

The Tools of Modern Aviation Engineers

Being married to an engineer has opened my mind to a whole new world. People have often speculated where aviation seems to be going and spoken praises for the engineers who have built modern aviation and contributed to the technology boom, but outside of the circle of engineers and tech people, little thought is given to the tools that fuel modern engineering innovation. It’s interesting that above my husband’s desk, hanging on the wall next to his computer monitor is a framed original 1929 engineering drawing of a Waco Biplane. He keeps it there as a reminder of how far we have come in the span of a lifetime while he draws the same biplane in a 3-dimensional computer aided design software called Solidworks.

Up until the late 80s most engineering drawings were made by hand.

SolidWorks is one of the most popular programs today that allows one engineer to design something in a few hours what would have taken a dedicated team of engineers and draftsmen weeks in the past. Drawing in two dimensions is simple and gets the job done, but as designs become more and more complex, two-dimensional drawings become more and more prone to error. 3D CAD, on the other hand, eliminates errors before they begin by recognizing dimensional conflicts such as over and under defining parts and can generate two-dimensional drawings in a matter of seconds. These programs dramatically boost productivity and eliminate errors, allowing engineers to design more things faster and more accurately.

Why then would anyone want to spend so much time deciphering old hand drawings and making them 3D? This is a popular one for restorers of these old airplanes, like my in-laws. There is a story well known in the Waco community of a man who set out to restore his airplane going off the original drawings. When he finished the individual pieces for four whole wings, he attempted to put it together, but the parts did not fit and he had to scrap them. So imagine finding out the airplane doesn’t fit before buying a single material! SolidWorks does that

Beginning of the right-lower wing of the Waco in 3D CAD. Adjustments already had to made to get the metal brace clips to line up properly.

With the models like the one shown above, engineers can ask the software to check for dimensions that don’t work out and other minor complications that were not thought of. Furthermore, one can ask the software how much the assembly weighs, what the properties are under specific loads and adjust for these shortcomings.

Another fascinating tool that today’s engineers are using is 3D scanning technology. There is a company called Aircorps Aviation that we met at Oshkosh 2017 that uses handheld laser scanning technology to scan aircraft parts to reverse engineer and 3D model. This is extremely useful for aircraft restoration project that deal with parts that are no longer available or difficult to find. Being able to recreate the part by seeing what other parts are around it is ingenious and will help restoration projects that may not have been possible otherwise.

The crazy thing is that with all these technological innovations, engineers are not getting dumber. They are still incredibly brilliant people, but 3D CAD helps them push the line between reality and the impossible, making today the world of tomorrow. Whatever aviation innovations may present themselves in the next few years, these tools are helping make them the most that they can possibly be.

Thoughts From The National Waco Club Reunion Fly-in

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend an aviation event that truly inspired me. The 58th annual National Waco Club Reunion was held at Wynkoop Airfield in Mount Vernon, Ohio. My husband and his father have flown into this particular fly-in for several years. This was my first year being able to join them, and I am so glad that I did.

Our trip to Wynkoop was a little over 200 nautical miles. We arrived Thursday evening and did our best to prepare for the incoming thunderstorms on Friday. The rain definitely hit full force and pilots were grounded for the majority of the day. Thankfully all was not lost, and the skies opened up to beautiful sun and favorable winds on Saturday. It was the perfect weather and a great backdrop to the 22 unique Waco aircraft that flew in.

There were several factors that made this fly-in so special. First, the majority of the Waco aircraft flown in are project planes that have been meticulously restored from the ground up. The passionate aviators who have dedicated thousands of hours to their planes aim to honor historical accuracy. These are friends that go back decades and have watched the progress of each other’s projects over time. They call it a reunion for a reason!

Second, the pilots at this fly-in wanted to do just that – fly! At any point in the day there would be several beautiful biplanes whirling around the field, doing low passes, and occasionally taking the lucky passenger for a ride. I like this aspect better than events like AirVenture because you are able to go up whenever you’d like, whereas it can be difficult to get into the air at AirVenture if you aren’t in an airshow.

The third special thing about the National Waco Club Reunion is the locals who come out to see the planes. They are always respectful and curious about general aviation. Unlike some fly-ins where the public seems to come just for the entertainment value, these people have a much deeper passion and respect for the work that goes into restoring and maintaining these aircraft.

An important part of every fly-in is the food that is available. There was a hearty breakfast served Saturday as pilots prepared for the day ahead. In the afternoon attendees enjoyed brats, burgers, and hotdogs with all of the fixings. Another great option was the homemade ice cream food truck parked outside the FBO. The Saturday night banquet was especially delicious and the catered buffet was served on the field!

The fly-in is not heavily publicized in the area. Locals just know that near the end of June the biplanes will come in, and they will show up after they see them flying around town. I had a good experience with every single person that I interacted with from the town of Mount Vernon. They were enthusiastic about the airplanes and we had several of them thank us for coming to town.

My husband especially enjoyed taking the locals up for rides during the fly-in. He said it’s important to him to show people that aviation is a lot more than a way to get from point A to point B. General aviation is more than a hobby, but rather a lifestyle for many. The more that the general public knows about it, the more they will be willing to support pilots and airports in legal matters they may have a voice in. Giving a face to general aviation and the people who enjoy it is an important mission for both of us.

Overall this fly-in was a great experience and I highly recommend attending in the future. The enthusiasm and zeal for aviation shared by the pilots is very clear as soon as you step onto the field. This fly-in truly serves as a great example of success for all other types of aviation events.

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