Ala Doble Ranch invitation fly-in, Marginal Aviation ‘Last Ditch’ 29 – 30 September 2023 By Nigel Hitchman
Walt Bowe again invited people to come to his airstrip in northern California for his fabulous flying event at the end of September. With around 40 vintage aircraft from Walt and Carlene’s collection based here and several interesting visitors we had a fantastic time, even though some rain showers came on Saturday, in contrast to the usual blue sky conditions. The weather which put off some visitors, but in contrast made for some great backdrops for the flying. The report for the 2022 event can be found here.
The highlight for many was seeing the Thomas-Morse Scout making its first flight for many years. This Scout served as an advanced trainer in the US Army Air Corps and then was a film star with the Wilson Brothers and Paul Mantz appearing in inter-war films such as ‘Hell’s Angels’ and ‘Dawn Patrol’. Acquired by Walt Bowe in 2023, work started on getting it airworthy again including a hop carried out in April. In the build-up to the fly-in, Andrew King finally ticked off everything on the ‘to do’ list and made three successful flights around 30 minutes each. As expected from other pilot’s experience, it is very tail-heavy, unstable in pitch, and with poor ailerons. Not a nice aircraft to fly, but as Andrew said “a great thrill!” [The full report on this aircraft can be found here.]
Several other aircraft were new to see here since last year, including the rare 1929 Inland Sport N8088. This aircraft held two records in 1929: the American altitude record for ‘light planes’ of 19,659 feet altitude, and the world speed record of 123 mph. for the same class. It was displayed in the Wings and Wheels museum at Santee, SC in the 1970s and then acquired by John Desmond who got it airworthy again. It was only flown once (by Eric Presten) about 20 years ago at New Garden, PA, which is where I last saw it around ten years ago. It was very recently acquired by Walt Bowe. In the days before the event, Chris Price made the first flight in many years, reporting nice handling. Later Andrew King flew it and formated on Eric Presten’s Piper Clipper so we could both get some air-to-air photos.
We also had the only airworthy Kinner Playboy R, registered NC14963 attend. It was great to see this flying, finally. Restored at the late John Desmond’s workshop in Chalfont, PA, and completed in 2015, it was flown by the Posey brothers at Van Sant, PA. For a while it was on display at the museum at Nut Tree airport, Vacaville, CA, then bought by Fred Patterson and recently sold to Walt Bowe. It was flown by Eric Presten for the air-to-air photos and by Chris Price for the photographers shooting from the ground.
Several more aircraft were new since last year’s event. The Waco GXE NC6974; Krieder Riesner KR31 NC7744; and Lincoln Sport N1047 came from George Jenkins’ collection at Eagles Mere, PA along with the Thomas-Morse Scout. The KR31 was owned by Denny Trone at Brodhead and flown there by Walt some years ago. (Denny had also built the Lincoln Sport, but it hasn’t flown yet.)
The rare 1927 Avro 594 Avian N7083 ‘G-EBUG’ was flown to Ala Doble earlier this year. This was the aircraft, then registered VH-UFZ that Lang Kidby restored and brought to England to fly to Australia in 1998, recreating Bert Hinkler’s 1928 first solo flight from England to Australia. It was badly damaged in a crash in England before the event and restored with the help of several English restoration workshops, working under incredible time pressure, to allow to flight to go ahead.
Greg Herrick then bought the aircraft in 2001 and repainted it to represent the Avian G-EBUG, which had been flown solo by Lady Heath from South Africa to England in 1928. Later (after a ride in it with Lady Heath) G-EBUG was given a US identification as ‘7083’ for use in the USA by none other than Amelia Earhart who flew it on tour from New York to California and back, also in 1928. Herrick’s idea was to re-create that flight, and the recreation was flown by Carlene Mendieta. When Greg Herrick put his collection up for sale a couple of years ago it was bought by Carlene and her husband Walt Bowe.
I was hoping to see the Cunningham-Hall PT-6F flying which I’d never seen in the air before. Bernie Vasquez taxied it out, but he found that had a ‘soft’ brake, so taxied it back. A little work and it was taxied out again, but this time the brake was grabbing, so it was back to the parking again – and decided it was time to fly something else and leave it to be fixed after the event! Hopefully to fly next year.
Walt’s beautiful Beech D18S N5QQ (usually kept at Nut Tree airport) was at Ala Doble this year during the fly-in. For many years it had been the corporate aircraft of Tony Hullman, the owner of the Indianapolis Speedway, home to the Indianapolis 500 race. Registered as N500 when operated by Hullman from 63-73, it was then re-registered N5QQ, when replaced by a new corporate aircraft and put in storage for 15 years. Sold to a new private owner in 1989, who got it flying again, Walt bought it in immaculate condition in 2016 from a subsequent owner.
It was also great to see Walt flying his Lockheed Vega again, as well as his Waco SRE, and this year we got to see the Travel Air 6000 flying too. But the real highlights were four OX-5 powered aircraft together: Waco 10; Waco GXE; American Eagle, and a Command Aire. There was meant to have been five, but the Krieder Riesner KR31’s engine wasn’t making full power on take-off so the pilot taxied back. It is rare to see one OX-5 powered aircraft flying, but I haven’t seen four together for many years.
Other rare formations were arranged. We also had two Hispano-Suiza powered aircraft flying together – the Curtiss JN-4H Jenny and Waco DSO, as well as the rare sight of two original 1918 aircraft flying together, when the Thomas Morse flew with the Jenny. It was also great to see Frank Schelling and his wife taken for a ride in the Jenny by Andrew King. Frank had spent 32 years restoring it, and then took it to all the major fly-ins, including by truck to Brodhead (to fly at Oshkosh and Blakesburg) and letting many people ride in it, in the hands of by Eric Presten (and a few others). Later in the day Walt’s brother Drew also got to fly it for the first time, taking his son for a ride. Drew lives at Poplar Grove, IL and was recently checked out on that museum’s Jenny. [We reported on this remarkable aircraft here.]
While some aircraft were taken in and out of the hangars to fly, at the same time the opportunity was taken to line up in a fabulous collection of eight Wacos from Walt’s collection. They were Waco 10 4779 (1927); Waco GXE NC6974 (1928): Waco DSO NC605N (1929); Waco ATO C7446 (1928); Waco CTO N657N (1929); Waco RNF N686Y (1930); Waco QCF NC11427 (1931); and Waco SRE NC20967 (1941).
For the Warbird fans, we even had a fly-by from a Corsair! This was Goodyear FG-1D N11Y now owned by Gary Heck and based at Santa Rosa, which had been recently repainted in new colors.
Another interesting visitor was the Helio Stallion N550HE, which is believed to be the only Stallion currently airworthy of the 20 built, most of which went to the Khmer Air Force (the Cambodian state of the mid 1970s). This aircraft was exported to the Philippines in 1981 but returned to the US ten years later.
Eric Presten’s CASA Jungmann (fitted with a Walter LOM engine) was very nice to see, and the only ‘Bücker’ present. Although three others set off from San Diego, after one had a technical problem they returned home and all the people came in a Cessna 206 instead. Hopefully, we will see them next time.
We are looking forward to next year: several more aircraft at Brodhead, and under restoration elsewhere that we look forward to seeing, as well as some of those we didn’t see flying this year – and more of the same too! Nigel Hitchman.