Friday, July 23, 2010

Duggy to Oshkosh 2010 via Fargo and Rock Falls

(NOTE: This is a cumulative post, so read from the bottom up - dan)

View the PHOTO GALLERY here

(OSHKOSH - 07.25 530P CDT) The happiest airplane in the sky has arrived at Airventure.

After about an hour cruising at 3,500 MSL over endless farmland, it was very cool to see "Warbird Island" at our twelve. That is the reporting point for the "Warbird Arrival" and in case anyone has forgotten this piece of Duggy lore, he began life as a C-47, so he certainly qualifies as a veteran warbird.

The day began in Rock Falls, where I counted 26 ships on display, plus one big yellow guy who was making the kids smile by the dozen:
If you've read your Duggy history book, you'd know that at one time he was sitting in a cold Canadian auction yard waiting for an unknown fate. At that point in his "life" he could have ended up as a neglected freight hauler in some third world country, or worse, left to rot somewhere. But we all know he ended up in the hands of the Odegaard family in North Dakota, and the rest is blissful history. Now, after Mitch Carley talked Bob Odegaard into making his NoDak National Guard ship into "The Smile in the Sky," Duggy gets to spend his days making kids smile.
I have spent two incredible days getting to know this beautiful, awesome DC-3, and along with eight of my new best friends, we "crewed" Duggy for two days at The Last Time event in Rock Falls. We ate, drank, laughed, told flying stories, poked a bit of fun at each other and it was the exact friendly atmosphere you expect when you hang around airplane people. But throughout these two days, one thing never got old:
From the moment Duggy's 14-cylinder engines shut down and the airstair opens, a line forms filled with kids dragging their parents into this bright yellow ambassador to flying. One by one, they climb the inclined aisle to peek into Duggy's flight deck, and then exit grinning like you can't believe! But one kid stood out today, eight-year-old Evan Matravers from Minooka, Illinois. Evan had hand-built a model of Duggy, including of course the electric yellow paint scheme. He then had his parents drive him two hours over to Rock Falls so he could get one special autograph. You should have seen this polite boy's face light up as "Captain Bob" Odegaard signed the model's wing. Duggy was this kid's hero, and you could just tell Evan had the proper respect that a gentleman like Duggy deserves. If one kid had his fire lit today for aviation, Duggy and "Captain Bob" was the ones holding the lighter. Without actually confirm this, I'm going to say that signing Evan's model was the high point of Bob Odegaard's visit to Rock Falls.
It is this mission of lighting fires about flying in young children that Duggy really enjoys. I have ridden all over the Midwest in him this weekend, and as we cruised to KOSH today, his engines were smooth and he was happy. This airplane is very much alive, and you can feel its soul as he slips over another 1,000 acres of soybeans. This is no garden variety airplane. While there were many beautiful ships at KSQI this weekend, only one was smiling.
But while he can make kids happy anywhere he parks, he also can be a very good ship for dumping skydivers out of the side of a perfectly good airplane:
This afternoon, a group of skydivers from QuadCity Skydiving Center and I went up in the Yellow One, with Bob and Casey up front trying to find enough altitude under the broken layer to give the people at KSQI a good skydiving show. We reached altitude and in a moment, six of the seven divers vanished out Duggy's open door. The last guy could not jump because he needed 5,000 AGL for his chute to be safe. But after the divers launched, the last guy helped me position myself very near the door, and had two safe hands on my chute just in case. As the divers fell, Bob as PIC circled the airport, dropping Duggy out of the sky in a hurry, like he was a not a big plane with a 26,200 gross takeoff weight. As I exposed digital film in high speed mode, "Captain Bob" cranked the Dugster HARD left and nosed over to perform a high speed low photo pass at show center. Staring straight down at the cornfields, I could not resist and let out a giant "Yee hawwwwww, GO DUGGY, GO!" followed by a "yeah baby, that's what I'm TALKIN' ABOUT!" as the G forces pushed me and my chute rig to Duggy's floor.
So yes, it has been one very good day, part of a very good weekend, and what is turning out to be the most exciting and satisfying trip to Oshkosh I think I could or will ever experience. Now that I am checked in at the Media Center, I am off to make more new best friends with the crew of MyTransponder.com.

This portion of my story has ended, but Duggy's work at Oshkosh has only just begun. Tomorrow when Airventure opens, there will be more lines of kids waiting to meet their favorite plane, more autographs to sign, more fires to light. There will be more loads of skydivers to loft skyward, and through it all, one very, very special DC-3 will be doing the work that makes him the happiest plane flying.

It must make him happy, because man, this guy NEVER stops smiling.

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(ROCK FALLS, IL - 07.25 630A CDT) Up early for day two of The Last Time event at KSQI - Whiteside Airport. That wasn't planned, but a wayward wake up call at 5A for the Dawn Patrol guys down the hall missed its destination and ended up in my room...thanks Super 8! So while I was up early by mistake, somewhere in this hotel, a crew missed their desired rise-and-shine and are still happily nodding out.

For the lucky thousands that were at the airport yesterday, they saw the same awesome sight I did:
Last night, after a free pizza, beer and lemonade feed courtesy of the event organizers, I took some time to stroll the entire ramp. Somewhere near the gorgeous DC-2 in "The Lindbergh Line" livery, it hit me, another of those "is this really happening" aviation moments. I looked around 360 degrees and saw two dozen of these beautiful, majestic flying machines. They were lined up all over the place, and I was awestruck.
It's like this: You see any one of these planes anywhere else, and it will draw a crowd of fans to honor its linage, history and character. But to see 24 of them on one airport at the same time, for the last time, is really a special event that anyone here will never forget.

I wanted to walk the ramp all day yesterday, but about 2P, a crew of another DC-3 and their bus driver accidentally grabbed my rollaboard bag full of clothes and gear from what I thought was a secure media area. It took all afternoon to track the bag down at a Super 8 motel 12 miles away in Dixon, IL. A round of phone calls to the motel, the bus company and a couple of crew members, and I had the bag back but lost three hours of valuable show time.

If you are a DC-3/C-47 fan and can get to KSQI today, you HAVE to do it. They expect more arrivals today, each doing the prerequisite high speed pass, often in flights of 2-3 planes.

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(ROCK FALLS, IL - 07.24 830P CDT) Quick update...the organizers just announced that there are 24 DC-2, DC-3 and C-47 aircraft on the ground at KSQI. Word is arrivals today from the south had WX that delayed some crews. More arrivals tomorrow...stay tuned right here.

(ROCK FALLS, IL - 07.24 1230P CDT) Duggy has landed.

We arrived at KSQI a little after noon, and oh baby what a flight it was. As far as a DC-3 flying around the country, it was pretty much standard operating procedure. But as a huge DC-3 fan and in particular a long-time Duggy fan and supporter, for me, making the four-hour journey down here from Kindred, ND was so cool, so wonderful and so awesome, it has to rank up there as one of the best times of my life.

But even after arriving in Kindred yesterday, I was wondering if this flight was going to happen at all when I arrived at Duggy's home and saw a group of mechanics – led by Bob and Casey Odegaard – tearing into the engine. Yes, the trip south to The Last Time event was momentarily in limbo, until I saw Team Duggy in action:
As the team was prepping Duggy for a flight down here and a week in Oshkosh, someone broke off a spark plug. After the Easy-Out also broke off, they had no choice but to replace the entire cylinder. At about 10 PM – just before the infamous multi-engine, larger than a Dreamliner mosquitoes chased us inside Odegaard's hanger – Casey fired up Duggy's right engine and ran it up, all reports were good. With cowling back on...we were indeed ready to be on our way early Saturday.
This morning, six passengers plus myself, Bob and Casey loaded up Duggy and departed Kindred for KSQI. It was my very first DC-3 departure, and it was not what I expected:
It is truly amazing how smooth today's crew of Duggy was at planning the flight and starting up. If there was a stress meter on the flight deck, it would have been at zero. Casey, as PIC, taxied this really large airplane around hangars and after a run-up that was without drama, they lined up on the centerline and sent both throttles forward. I was shooting some HD video with my Canon 7D out a side window, and had to glance over the top of the camera to see if we in fact had transitioned from rolling on Duggy's huge squishy tires to flying on his gargantuan wings. We had. It might have been the smoothest departure I have ever experienced.
We hopped up to KFAR to pick up more passengers but on departure, another small glitch developed that was handled without drama by the Odegaards:
These people invented the term "go with the flow." We were at the runway 36 hold short line about to depart Fargo when instead of blasting off, I noticed us heading back to the FBO. A warning light on the right oil bypass filter was on up front, and they had to shut down to investigate. After a quick filter cleaning, we were back in the air following an IFR flight plan which took us easily through the 600 broken overcast. I am beginning to think not much gets Team Duggy excited, except well, maybe FLYING Duggy.
We are now happy following Victor 218 comfortably at 11,000, and all aboard took turns riding the jump seat, watching the flight commence. With 29 inches of manifold pressure and 2,000 RPMs, Duggy was delivering 130 KIAS and 177 knots ground speed. One passenger - Jessica from Minnesota - had just earned her IFR ticket yesterday, and put about 45 minutes of DC-3 time in her log book, after flying Duggy with a steady hand. It could have been an Odegaard on the yoke - nobody in back even knew she was the "pilot flying."

As were flew south, something else happened I did not expect. This is a journey full of surprises, and this one was so cool:
Everyone inside Duggy was chatting, having a ball. Casey, in the left seat, was taking care of keeping Duggy pointed at Rock Falls, so Bob pulled out his Fender Mustang electric guitar he bought in 1964. As the axe's original owner, he has played it a few times, and after plugging into a small amplifier, he lit up Duggy's interior with some good old fashioned rock and roll riffs. Here we were flying in the happiest plane in the sky, with some great new flying friends, listening to live rock and roll from the nicest guy in the sky. I was in airplane heaven, this is just unbelievable. Live music on Duggy, who'd have thought? Last time anyone played live music in the air might have been some guy playing a piano on the upper deck of a Paris-bound 747 back in 1980. It was one of those moments in life when you have to stop and ask yourself if this was really happening. It was.
When we got down to Rock Falls, Duggy made a SOP approach in front of a growing crowd:
Casey had us lined up easily on rwy 25, 90 KIAS, and his approach and landing was smooth like imported silk. When Duggy finally sets down, those gigantic tires really let you know they have met concrete, and you can feel a distinct slowing feeling as each tire spins up. As we taxied into position, it was just wonderful to see the estimated 2,000 DC-3 fans crowding the flight line, waving, smiling, each one holding up a camera or phone.
Duggy had arrived, and this air show just got significantly happier. We shut down on a ramp full of beautiful ships in various military and civilian livery, but one really stood out from them all. Before we could get down the airstair, a line had formed seeking autographs and a look inside of "The Smile in the Sky."

A photo gallery of some images from the trip up until now can be found here.

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(FARGO, ND - 07.24 530P CDT) Preparations are continuing for a planned departure for Rock Falls 0n Saturday. The Duggy crew has been working all day on the plane, and our actual departure will be determined by the WX.

I won't go into detail as to the work being done on Duggy, but watching Bob and Casey Odegaard and a handful of others twist wrenches is a sight to behold. These people know large round engines as well as a NASCAR team knows a race engine. Even when the day has thrown them curves, everyone has remained upbeat. The endless chatter about who's going to Oshkosh, what they're flying there and what "beverages" will be consumed when they arrive is keeping things lively on the ramp.

One word best describes the vibe surrounding this crew and this plane tonight...

Calm.

Yeah, these guys go with the flow, I LOVE that! But as another lighting strike smacks a soybean field next to the Kindred Airport, and with dark, angry clouds in any direction this evening, maybe that should be...

Calm. Before the storm.

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(FARGO, ND - 07.23 130P CDT) I've met up with the crew of Duggy, who all have the last name of Odegaard. Their family complex at the airport in Kindred, ND is quite interesting, with parts and pieces of all sorts of exotic flying machines everywhere you look. Is that a R-4360 Wasp Major radial engine over in the corner? And they have enough P-51 wings hanging from jigs in various stages of restoration that if you could bolt them all back together, you could launch a minor assault on a small country.

Parked out on the ramp though, is the reason I am here. He is big, he is yellow, and he is smiling...and so am I.

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(EAST OF BEND, OREGON - 07.23 650A PDT) This journey has officially begun.

As I slide effortlessly over the "dry side" of Eastern Oregon enroute to Fargo via KDEN, I find myself lost in thought wondering what awaits me in Duggyland.

While waiting to board UAL 6151 in Eugene, I saved KFAR as a favorite in my Foreflight mobile app, and my excitement level rose when I noticed there is an airport in Kindred, ND called Odegaard. It's a grass strip probably in Duggy's backyard. How cool is that...your very own airport.

So first and foremost, this stopover in Fargo to hook up with Team Duggy will if nothing else expose me to the Odegaard Aviation stable of rare birds. Those I know of include a number of beautiful Reno race planes, P-51s, a pair of DC-3s (including one bright yellow one) and God knows what else.

There are many things about this trip I do not know...but this I do know: I am very happy to be reporting from this journey as much for your enjoyment as mine, never forgetting of course the underlying foundation being my personal contribution to help keep moving youth aviation education forward.

More later after I get settled in Fargo. Wow, this is gonna be a trip!!