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Excerpted from Winging It with Dr. Paul: Forty Tales Your Flight Instructor Never Told You
Watsonville has earned a permanent, prominent position on my calendar. The finest gathering of antiques this side of Oshkosh (and the airplanes aren't half bad either), Watsonville Airshow was started by Len Von Clem, Ray and Larry Stevens, the Reid brothers and a few of their friends back when today's neo-classics were factory fresh. There's not a better way for a pilot to spend Memorial Day weekend. Only don't arrive late.
Most display aircraft are flown to Watsonville on Airshow Friday. If you can't arrive 'til Saturday, you'd best be precise: all eyes will be upon you when you land. So of course it was within full view of the whole aviation universe that I ground-looped the Funk, early last Watsonville Saturday.
Though Peter owned the plane, it was really all Jordy's fault. Long the local airshow announcer, Jordy had acquired the Funk a few years prior. This 1939 specimen had been meticulously restored to airshow condition by EAA stalwart Bob Hall, at his marvelous AeroFab facility, and it gleamed. Jordy had won her share of trophies, then married, had a baby, and moved to Michigan. But not before offering to sell me her Funk at an unbeatable price. When the deal collapsed (through no fault of hers) I was devastated. Next best thing, I figured, was to find a friend with ready cash and an appreciation for antique flying machines, who would be willing to let me visit it on occasion. And that's how Peter became involved.
We were flying a Biennial in a rental Spam Special, but I knew fabric kites with tailwheels were more Peter's style. As we taxied past Jordy's tiedown, I noted a familiar gleam in his eye. "Just a second," I said, pulling idle cutoff, "there's something here I want to show you."
Once he had flown the Funk, the deal was sealed. Peter showed his gratitude by allowing me the honor of flying his prize to Watsonville. I doubt we'll ever forgive one another.
I was concentrating on the right crosswind, and trying in vain to ignore the crowd watching me float down final. Everybody's out there, I heard myself say, don't screw up now. Peter's watching my every move. So is Avalon, my old flight instructor. Dale Beech, who wrote the Funk Book, is here. So's my whole EAA Chapter, my students, my wife, and every 99 west of the Pecos. Make this one look good. Airspeed . . . so! Right wing down like . . . this! Left rudder . . . there! Yoke back . . . back . . . hold it off . . . hold it . . . off . . . three point touchdown . . . Perfect!
Heaving a sigh of relief, I relaxed. And all hell broke loose.
The nose was swinging around into the wind, a slow arc to the right. Jabbing left rudder, I felt the tailwheel shudder and shake, heard it tearing at the tarmac, and realized I'd shed it if I didn't relent. OK, neutral rudder. Right aileron, full into the wind, and now we're heading diagonally across the runway, aimed straight for the lights. "Stick back until it hurts," Avalon's voice echoed in the nether reaches of my brain. "But this one's got a wheel," I protested.
Sometimes, panic alone drives us to do things right. I jammed in the power, thinking to do a go-around, and the prop blast swung the tail back to the right. Too far, it turned out, for now I was back-taxiing down the runway. But at least I had regained directional control. I planned it that way, I told Avalon afterward. She smiled a smile I'd not seen since Sky Park, and intoned softly, "Welcome to the ranks of Those Who Have." Thoroughly humiliated but with craft still intact, I taxied to the display row, tied down in haste and slunk away.
Alan Smith documented my arrival in the next issue of Pacific Flyer, one long, searing sentence. "A Funk pilot landed, gave a classical imitation of a midwestern weathervane, and then showed, with a yowl of tortured rubber and full left rudder, that you could make the airplane go the other way if you really wanted to: then, that you could make a quick U-turn on the runway whether you wanted to or not." It was little solace that others fared no better in the crosswind, that Alan reported their plight as well. He concluded, "There were no scratched wingtips, however, and by the time they had taxied up to the parking-pointer people, all pilots had recovered their composure." Well, sort of.
Time had come for the Parade of Flight. I sheepishly handed the keys to Peter. "You'd best do the flybys," he said, tossing them back to me. "You need the practice."
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this page last updated 21 August 2007