AVweb's John Deakin devotes this month's column (and next) to his favorite charity, hobby, and passion: the just-renamed Commemorative Air Force. Deak tells of the organization's need for pilots, mechanics and volunteers, and discusses one of CAF's newest acquisitions, a beautifully restored C-131 (military version of the Convair 340 airliner).
December 16, 2001
|About the Author ...
John Deakin is a 35,000-hour pilot who worked his way up the aviation food chain
via charter, corporate, and cargo flying; spent five years in Southeast Asia
with Air America; 33 years with Japan Airlines, mostly as a 747 captain; and
now flies the Gulfstream IV for a West Coast operator.
He also flies his own
V35 Bonanza (N1BE) and is very active in the warbird and vintage aircraft
scene, flying the C-46, M-404, DC-3, F8F Bearcat, Constellation, B-29, and
others. He is also a National Designated Pilot Examiner (NDPER), able to give
type ratings and check rides on 43 different aircraft types.
This column, and my next one, are a little different,
and serve several purposes.
- A new name for an old flame,
- A new plea for pilots, mechanics and volunteers,
- A new airplane, and
- A new checklist.
it is an unabashed pitch for my favorite charity, hobby, and passion, the
Commemorative Air Force.
Ok, what's that? Why, it is the Confederate Air Force, under its new name,
as of December 7, 2001!
It's been a long road, and a controversial one, too, but the deed is done.
Lloyd Nolen, the founder of the old CAF, very strongly stated decades ago that
the "Confederate" in the name carried too much baggage with it, and
was not politically correct long before the term "politically
correct" was invented. Everyone who has ever tried to recruit a new
member has had to spend an inordinate amount of time and energy explaining that we have nothing to do
with slavery, the war between the states, segregation, or
discrimination. It seems to be a surprise to some that the Confederacy
didn't even have an air force. Even after hearing the explanation of how
the name came to be (a bunch of good ole Texas boys spray-painted it as
a joke on a surplus Mustang, forty years ago), many still refused to
have anything to do with the organization, in spite of the fact it's now
a world-renowned museum of flying WW-II aircraft (recently extended to
Korean War aircraft). We also honor the history and service of those who
served in any way, whether building the aircraft, maintaining them, or
World headquarters is in Midland, Texas, with more
than ninety units scattered all over the USA, and a few overseas. There
are about 140 aircraft, with about 120 of them flying, at least one
example of almost every type that served in WW-II, including the world's only
Two years ago, a vote was taken to decide whether to
change the name at all. It was hotly discussed, and there are still
those who rail against the affirmative decision, with strong words
against "political correctness." It seems futile to point out
to them that we were losing millions in donations and financing, purely
because of the name. A common comment by the rest of us is, "Very
well, if you'll just write a check for a million or two, maybe we can
keep the name." No takers, only talk.
The rest of us feel
the name is far less important than the mission. I'm a bit sad at the
loss of a grand old name that is known around the world as a first-class
flying museum, but hoping the the change will make it easier to recruit
new blood, and more donations.
Four names were selected, and the
general membership voted on them during AIRSHO 2001, at Midland, Texas.
The vote is done, the name is official, let's move on.
couple years ago, I wrote a column here titled "Warbird
Crews Wanted." In that column I bemoaned the difficulty we're
having finding volunteers to keep these old airplanes flying. The
situation grows worse by the day, for the WW-II people are mostly gone
now, and the rest of the old prop pilots and mechanics are either
retired, or have mostly been polluted, poisoned, and perverted by those
dreadful jets. I think there's something about the stench of jet fuel
that kills brain cells, at least those relating to piston engines and
props. Why, just show me a jet that will raise the hair on the arm the
way an old radial will, coughing to life!
(Yes, I am deliberately
burying memories of flying recips in thunderstorms, ice, and foul
weather with no radio aids, no met reports, and working on them on
bitterly cold (or searing hot) ramps! And for this column, I am
submerging treasonous thoughts that modern pressurized cabins are
wonderfully temperature controlled, and the only leaks are out, not in.
I am firmly in antique mode, here.)
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| ||New CAF
hangars at CMA. |
(Click on photo for high-res
I am privileged to work
mostly with the Southern California Wing
(SoCal, for short) of the
Conf... er, ah, the Commemorative Air Force located at the Camarillo, Ca.
airport. In fact, I moved there from Seattle to be closer to it. In the
opinion of many, it's the finest unit in the entire organization. We've
put up and have mostly paid for two brand-new hangars, each capable of
holding a C-46 or B-17 comfortably, and will be putting two levels of
offices around all three sides of each of them soon. One is the museum
hangar, the other the maintenance and restoration facility. A collection
of books and artifacts gathered over more than 20 years is now on
display, and growing better by the day. We have a Curtiss-Wright C-46
("China Doll"), and a North American SNJ/AT-6 flying to shows
regularly, and we do a lot of training on both. We have a beautiful
Grumman F8F Bearcat that's a favorite at shows, but since it has only
one seat, we don't do much training in it! We have a North American B-25
well along in restoration (help wanted!), another AT-6 in pieces, but
pretty complete (help wanted), a genuine Mitsubishi Zero needing major
restoration to fly again (it flew in for an annual, and we discovered
some real problems). We also have regular visitors that stay around a
lot, like the Grumman F6F Hellcat, the FM2 Wildcat, and others. There
are rumors we'll be restoring a P-38, we may acquire a Mig-17, and
finally, we have a brand-new airplane for us, a Convair C-131 (military
version of the Convair 340). More about that one later. We've also got
"Tinker Belle," the other C-46 belonging to the Commemorative
Air Force, here for some much-needed work and restoration over the
winter (help wanted!).
If you have any interest at all in
aviation, old airplanes or history, it's hard to imagine that you
wouldn't have a ball helping out in some way. Official workdays on the
airplanes are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, but increasingly, folks
are showing up on other days, too. The museum is open 10 to 4, six days
a week (closed Monday), and is in need of docents, people to act as
guides, and answer questions, or just simply greet visitors at the
entrance, relieving others to take folks on tours. Most of the questions
are pretty easy, and very often one of the older visitors can answer the
more difficult ones.
Visitors generally get a tour of the entire
facility, and get to enter some of the airplanes. Recently, the folks
working Sundays have had to call around to members, asking if they can
PLEASE come out for a few hours, and help. I keep wondering if some of
the retired folks in Camarillo and the surrounding areas wouldn't make
wonderful docents, and we're trying to figure out how to reach them.
Perhaps a few will stumble upon this column? Working around the old
airplanes has kept a number of oldsters young and alive, and we love
having them around!
Mechanics. Oy, do we need mechanics, even
unskilled ones who can work under supervision. Note that such time can
be credited towards the requirements for getting an A&P certificate.
We need all types of expertise, in just about any field. Some of our
guys are doing the construction work on the offices that will go around
three sides of the hangar, some do plumbing, and one fellow is
installing the entire phone system. Some days, there are enough people
to work on some popular projects (B-25, for example), but others, there
may be only one, who can't do much without some help.
just plain volunteers, too. All the CAF airplanes are running short of
people to go along to airshows, to spend a couple hours a day collecting
money, selling memorabilia, or just do crowd control around the
airplane. We all pitch in and help wherever we're needed most, but more
and more, we're short-handed, and we go to shows with empty seats in the
C-46, and probably in the C-131 (once the novelty wears off) next
season. A few years ago, every seat was full.
weeks ago, a pleasant young stranger named Scott Holm walked in around
lunchtime, and quietly asked about donating an airplane. Someone pointed
him at Steve Barber, who happened to be there that day. Steve is one of
the main sparkplugs in the organization, and the fellow mostly
responsible for raising the money for our new hangars. His enthusiasm,
energy and positive attitude absolutely work wonders.
that Scott and his father Barry (a businessman in Florida) had purchased
the airplane as a derelict in Tucson some years ago, and had it restored
to mint condition by Western International Aviation there in Tucson. It
later won "Best Transport" at Sun&Fun, a real tribute to
the immaculate restoration. It has been based for several years in
Stuart, Fla., flying to nearby airshows.
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|CAF's new C-131. (Click
on photos for high-res images.) |
"What the heck is a C-131?" I had to think
about it myself! It's the military version of the Convair 340, a popular
airliner in the mid-'50s. Just over 100 of them were built for the
military in various configurations, and this one was delivered as a
C-131D in 1954. The civilian versions numbered many more, especially if
we count the "relatives," the Convair 240 and 440 (not to
mention the turbine versions, the 540, 580 and 640). My references show
176 240s, 209 340s and 186 440s. One check ride is good for all three
aircraft and three separate type ratings (CV-240 CV-340 CV-440)! What a
deal for type rating collectors!
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C-131 cabin, aft looking forward.
The main concern of the Holms was keeping the airplane
hangared and flying, and with some investigation, the SoCal Wing turned
out to be the only place they felt qualified to do that. Scott lives
nearby, and we think he may "closely supervise" our treatment
of their "baby." After a little discussion, they simply gave
it to us as a donation! What a magnificent gift! Along with countless
spares, tools, and support equipment! Most of the airplanes in the CAF
were donated, but few, if any, in such immaculate condition. This is the
first "new" one I've been directly involved in, and the
generosity overwhelms me. We were standing on the ramp in Florida, working on
a minor mechanical problem, and Barry said, "Hey, I forgot, we've
got a spare cabin compressor," and off he went to wheel it out.
Brand-new overhauled unit, worth about $40,000 on the market, if you
have to buy one!
The first order of business was to
go get it. Our very own Kerry Bean, a current PIC on the C-46, was
selected to command that operation, as he is already type-rated (in this
very airplane, in fact). However, he was not current under FAR 61.68
(annual proficiency check), so he needed one to be legal. I can give the
ride, even though I'm not type-rated myself, so I got selected (I
resisted vigorously, of course) to go along and do his ride with Chuck
Clapper, the previous pilot, in the right seat as instructor. They
swapped seats, and I gave Chuck a fresh 61.58, though he wasn't due.
Then I took the seat, and Chuck gave me my three circuits (one with a
simulated engine failure), and made me legal as an SIC. We were hoping
to get my training and type-rating ride done too, but we simply ran out
of time, and there were no check pilots available (I can't give myself a
ride, unfortunately). Kerry and I decided to fly the airplane to
Camarillo, but a couple of mechanical delays made that impossible (Kerry
had to go back to work), so we had to leave the airplane, and come back
Special thanks must go to Kelvin Rautiola,
who made the trip (twice!) to serve as crew chief on the way home. This
is a very important position on all these big airplanes, as we've proven
many times. The crew chief is not only a great help in-flight and on the
ground, but goes back and scans the wings and engines every few minutes,
as we cannot see problems from the cockpit. That has saved us more than
a few engines, and Kelvin is one of the best of a great bunch.
I had anticipated doing a column on the flight home,
but there's not really much to tell. On Saturday, December 1, we
launched from Stuart (KSUA) at about 0930 local, and had an absolutely
routine, uneventful flight (7.1 hours) to Midland, Texas. The next day, we
launched at about 0930 Midland time, and had another uneventful flight
(5.5 hours) to Camarillo, Calif. The beauty just quietly snored along at
185 knots true, engines in perfect sync, everything working like factory
new (well, the left oil quantity gauge fizzled, but that's easy to fix).
There was a big storm blowing in from the north, but it held off long
enough for us to land, even catching a big "sun break" just as
we landed, much to the photographer's delight.
The next project
will be to get some training done. We'll probably get mine done first,
along with the type rating (can't you just feel the resistance, oozing
from every pore?), then we need to do a ground school for a whole gang
of people (at least three days, with Kerry and I sharing the duty), then
we need to get some crews checked out, and soon!
where do we get them? Due to moves and other factors, we're now down to
only five qualified and active PICs on the C-46, and four SICs. All
pilots fly other show airplanes, too, with several being the only pilots
on other airplanes. If we book an airshow that wants all aircraft, we
need all pilots to man them, and several have regular jobs, several are
from out of town, and two live on the east coast!
ain't Kansas, and I think we have a problem here, we're anticipating 30
airshows next season! Sometime before that, we need to get several more
PICs going on the C-131, a couple more on the C-46, and a whole slew of
SICs on both. Anyone out there interested? Email me (but see below,
No, there's no pay, we're all volunteers. In fact, it'll
cost you some money, here and there. Put in a day as a volunteer, and
you still pay for your coffee, twenty-five cents a cup. Since it all
goes to the hangar fund, most of us chip in a buck or two per cup (only
400,000 cups to go). Hotel rooms are often paid by airshows, but
sometimes individuals have to cough up the price of a room. Little
things like that. But no big money is required.
The old days are
long gone. In the past, there were long lists of QUALIFIED and
experienced people dying to fly and work on these old artifacts, no
training needed. The lists were so long and folks so eager, the CAF set
up a program of "Sponsorship," where members would donate
$3,500 just to get on the "pilot, someday" list, with NO
promise of ever getting ANY seat. There's no list, no mo'! Basically,
anyone who shows up a few days a month, gets to know the gang, shows a
willingness to participate, and wants a seat will pretty quickly get an
evaluation ride, training, and a checkout, at least as SIC, without
putting up any money (at least at SoCal, other units will have their own
rules). Several talented folks have moved very quickly to the left seat
of the C-46, in a few cases within a few months. We'd much rather put
someone in the right seat for some time, perhaps a season, but our
options are getting limited. If an individual can afford it, we ask for
a donation towards training fuel, but even that seldom breaks even. We
still require sponsorship to check out as PIC, but we're even starting
to look hard at that.
What are we looking for, in pilots?
Basically, a commercial certificate, with instrument and multiengine
ratings, 1,000 hours total time for SIC, and 1,500 hours for PIC. We've
even had waivers for lower-time SICs, but I doubt we'll ever check
anyone out in the C-46 or C-131 as PIC with only 1,500 hours, the
airplanes are just too valuable.
Recent radial engine experience
is a major plus, but increasingly hard to find, so we're doing a lot of
training, formal and informal, in that area. To fly the C-46, it's
almost mandatory that a prospective pilot learned to fly in tailwheel
aircraft, or be very, very quick to learn how to use their feet. If we
can check out a copilot in an hour or two, that's fine, but if it's
going to take longer, we can't afford the training time. The airplane is
a wonderful, docile old girl in the air, but she's a nightmare when the
rubber meets the runway. The systems are dirt-simple, so ground school
is a two-day course, with short days, and only about a day of that is on
On the other hand, the Convair is a baby buggy to fly in
all respects, but a VERY complicated aircraft, with many systems and
procedures, and will require a great deal of study for those not already
familiar with such machinery. We're planning at least three days of
intensive ground school for people who already know a lot about these
old engines and aircraft, and that will have to be backed up with some
very serious self-study.
We do all the instructing and check
rides in-house, with Kerry volunteering to lead the C-131 training
program (though he doesn't know it, yet), and I'll be helping with
training and checking too. Kerry is a senior captain for a major
airline, and one of the training managers on an Airbus type, though we
try hard not to hold that against him. At least that's partially offset
by the fact he got his start flying night cargo in Twin Beeches. Now,
THERE is experience I like! He's also a licensed undertaker with a sense
of humor that drove him out of that business, so he's a real kick to be
around. Hey, as I said, we need all types! We have not yet used his
All that said, let's be honest, here. No one
is going to show up today, get a quickie ground school and training, a
quick type rating, and be a PIC in a week or two. Even with the best of
people, new folks need to show up a few times, get to be known
personally, show that they can represent the Commemorative Air Force in
highly visible public appearances (TV interviews are fairly common),
work with all volunteers, and above all, fly these priceless artifacts
safely, PROFESSIONALLY. We may not come up to airline standards, but we
don't miss 'em much, either.
The biggest problem is travel. I
know a dozen people that would love to fly with us, but the distance and
cost of regular travel from their homes to Camarillo just defeats them.
Frankly, the best deal is for airline pilots, both active and retired,
because they can travel free, or at very low cost, and many of the
retired types do have the time to participate. The downside of that is
that once most active pros put in 85 hours on the job, there is little
energy left to go fly other airplanes, and families often have needs,
Most of all, we're looking for YOUNG people, defined as
anyone under 60. Seriously, we've got to get more younger folks into
these airplanes, pilots in their thirties and forties, or there is
simply no flying future for them. The expertise is rapidly being lost,
and there's very little training going on, except in those smelly
I often hear people ask, "Why don't you check old
so-and-so out in the C-46, he flew 'em, years ago?"
"Sure, how old is he?"
"Oh, I think he's
That's our problem. Old so-and-so has forgotten
everything he ever knew about C-46s, and all the other old recips. He
may even be able to check out, but is he going to teach? Will he give
away 80% of the landings, as most of us do? If he doesn't, he is
occupying a precious seat that someone else could be training in,
developing experience that he can later pass on.
I wish I knew
the answers. If anyone out there can help me/us, email me, please!
Next month, I'll go into the airplane a little bit, by putting up the
expanded normal checklist here, and some of the design philosophy that
went into it.
Be careful up there!