The Summer of 2019

February 10th, 2018

While certainly not my next flight, planning continues for a summertime trip to Europe in 2019 in our C-47/DC-3. “Daks Over Normandy” should be the largest gathering of the type to cross the English Channel since the night of June 5, 1944. Several participants will display D-Day livery and carry jumpers for commemorative demonstrations. The ceremonies and festivities in France will last until the 9th of June. That’s an important day in Clan Sessions history because on that day in 1944 my father made it back to the area where he was supposed to have been dropped as a member of the 101st Airborne Division. For over seventy-two hours, he and a band of brothers from various units engaged the enemy by day and hid by night (the Germans would not leave the roads at night so the forests were relatively safe) until they reached Carentan. Only one problem. They approached from the direction of German strength. As my father later reflected, there is no such thing as “friendly fire.” This short digression explains why I enthusiastically accepted the invitation to visit Normandy to honor the paratroopers, glider troops, pilots and other military personnel who participated in the greatest invasion in history.

But there’s more. After we’ve done a proper job of honoring D-Day, our DC-3 will continue to Berlin for the 70th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, the first “battle” of the Cold War. Alaska Airlines answered the call by providing pilots and planes to that historic effort so we will seek their permission to apply appropriate period markings for that portion of our journey. On our return to base, we will re-trace the Lend/Lease route through Duxford, Shannon, Reykjavik, Narsarsuaq, Goose Bay, Churchill, Edmonton and home. Care to guess the cost of fuel? Unfortunately, that tab will not be covered by the Army Air Corps.

In the meantime, we look forward to the 2018 flying season with our HFF members and friends.

Happy Anniversary, Grant County Airport

June 29th, 2016

Tomorrow afternoon B-25 “Grumpy” will cross the Cascades for a visit to Grant County Airport on the occasion of its 50th Anniversary. Prior to its current status as a general aviation airport, the facilities were known as Larson Air Force Base. Larson served as the primary defender of Manhattan Project activities at a rather curious facility called Hanford. Congratulations to Grant County Airport and all the other airports east of the mountains with vintage aviation enthusiasts, including Yakima, Pasco, Wenatchee and Spokane.

This will be Grumpy’s first flight following the David Thatcher memorial flight on Monday in Missoula. Our crew flew from Paine Field to Missoula last Sunday afternoon, which was brilliant across three states. That evening we were invited to visit with Dawn Thatcher (David’s wife of 70 years) and Dick Cole, Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot and now the only surviving Doolittle Raider. Dick smiled as he considered the odds against his singular status. At the time of the raid, he was one of the older participants. He is now 100 years young.

David Thatcher personified a generation. Several of the Grumpy crew had gotten to know him over the years at Raider reunions. He was a quiet hero. The only enlisted man on the crew of Raider 7, the “Ruptured Duck,” David saved the lives of all four crewmates after their crash landing in China. The only one who could walk, he and friendly Chinese avoided Japanese soldiers for days as they carried their comrades to safety. His pilot, Ted Lawson, later wrote Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, in many ways a tribute to David Thatcher. For his courage and valor, David was awarded the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross. He continued his service in the European Theater. Following the war he worked for the Postal Service in his beloved Missoula.

On Monday we followed (not too closely) a B-1 from Ellsworth Air Base to the grave-side ceremony. The B-1 made a low pass as an airman completed taps. We then flew the four points of a cross followed by an ascending spiral of three turns, departing to the west. It was a proper farewell.

Three of the crew from our Missoula mission will join all of you in Moses Lake tomorrow. Have a great time. The balance of the HFF road crew will participate in “Wings and Wheels” and “Freedom Fair” at Tacoma.

The Answer Is Within Reach

May 18th, 2016

The 2016 flying season commences Saturday when a number of aviation organizations band together to produce Aviation Day at Paine Field. This week many examples of old equipment (planes and pilots) have taken to the skies in the unending quest for mechanical and flying excellence. The challenges this year include a steeplechase course of ground anomalies and one of the longest pilot “brief” recordings (“Automatic Terminal Information Service” or “ATIS”) on the planet. A runway has been leased to a significant aviation company for five years to store troubled aircraft. A second runway often advertises restrictions on landings, take-offs, or some types of each. And the third, the principal runway, adjoins a labyrinthine collection of taxiways being rationalized this summer by trucks and bulldozers. Yesterday construction required constriction of the parallel taxiway, Alpha, to allow only aircraft having a wingspan of fifty feet or less. One more piece of background to make this story fly. The Grumman F7F Tigercat was designed to be stopped by a tail hook and cable. Brakes were an afterthought. Consequently, one “rolls out” a Tigercat using quite a bit of runway to slow down. Yesterday as I rolled out the Tigercat on the main runway, a familiar voice working ground control from the tower reminded me that to travel south on taxiway Alpha, my wingspan could not be more than fifty feet; this, due to construction. I stopped with what hot brakes I had left to ponder the possibilities. Alas, an idea. I reached back over my shoulder (not so easy in a parachute and five restraining straps) to grab a certain lever as I said “watch this.” The old Navy wings folded ever-so-neatly as if preparing for storage below the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. “How do you like me now?” “That’s great” was the reply from the ground controller. Feeling my oats, I inquired, “you mean other airplanes don’t do this?” Without missing a beat, the controller replied “not intentionally.” Please say hello if you make it to Paine Field on Saturday. HFF will be open 8-5. The flying demonstration begins at noon.

English as a Second Language

July 22nd, 2015

Friends ask how the 2015 air shows tour of England compares to the display and formation flying we enjoy in North America. I answer “very much the same, but for the language.”

Most of the Battle of Britain 75th Anniversary commemorations include “BBMF,” or the “Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.” Last week, a few European pilots and I joined the BBMF at the Royal International Air Tattoo, Britain’s largest air show. Our tribute included twelve Spitfires, five Hurricanes, two Me 109s, a Blenheim light bomber, and in a second phase, a Vulcan bomber and the Red Arrows, Britain’s military aerobatic team. BBMF features RAF officers taking a break from Tornados and Typhoons to fly Spitfires and Hurricanes. Good chaps to the last one, each with a nickname. Our leader, Duncan, is “Dunc.” Most take four letters from their surname and add a vowel to the end, so Parkinson becomes “Parke” with a long “e” and Milliman becomes “Milli,” pronounced as if the last “i” also is a long “e.” My surname poses problems so I became “Yank” or “Red 3,” the latter referring to my position in the lead element of the Battle of Britain demo formation.

Having sorted nicknames, you next need a dictionary to translate the pre-flight brief and verbal exchanges in the air. BBMF pilots favor oblique expressions and speak as quickly as possible. And if one word works, use three.

The engine start time is “spark up.” Doing a good job draws a “lovely” from the lead, though it is pronounced Lawv-el-ly. Tight formations are lawv-el-ly (wingmen looking across the aileron at the lead’s nose, two feet behind his tail), but if they get too close, expect to hear “don’t squeeze the water out of it.” Backing off from the formation a bit to scan panel gages is “minding your tees and pees.” “Gentlemen, continue to speak kindly to your airplanes” suggests aircraft are not breaking down in numbers. Too much backtalk and you might get “It’s my hammer,” meaning shut up and do as you’re told. “Take it forward to do the picture thing” means fly especially well in front of the crowd. Every flight has a “loser plan” for transition to different roles if one or more aircraft must land early. The expression I fear most suggests you can’t possibly miss such a conspicuous landmark. “It stands out like a dog’s bollocks.”

But I will cope as long as they let me land a Spitfire on grass.

July 12th, 2015

Greetings from Duxford, England and the Flying Legends Air Show.

Last Wednesday and Thursday I flew locally with check pilots, the goal being to earn a “Display Authorization” or “DA” for the shows this summer commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. My check-out included a sortie to Humberside where my examiner, a former Air Marshal of the RAF and good friend, Cliff Spinks, delivered a Spitfire and retrieved an ME 109. On the way home we learned that our arrival would coincide with a visit to Duxford Airfield by HRH, Prince William, so we simulated a dogfight prior to landing. Poor Cliff made the ultimate sacrifice for the Fatherland, once again. Returning to the hangar of Aircraft Restoration Company, we noticed Prince William (a tall chap) through the back window of a black Jaguar at the center of a full-on motorcade. Cliff and I offered “thumbs up” without straying too far from the centerline, a challenge in a Spitfire as one needs an extra hand to control it on the ground.

“HRH” translates to “his royal highness,” and “ARC” is “Aircraft Restoration Company,” but asking to return to “ARC” on the Duxford ground frequency does you no good. Apparently “ARC” is a sailing vessel described in the old testament, but “A-R-C” (the letters) refers to a fine aviation establishment at the east boundary of Duxford Airfield. And “POB” means persons-on-board, which must be confirmed even for a one-hole fighter. So now you’re briefed and ready to fly at Duxford.


Happy Independence Day

July 4th, 2015

Today we mark America’s birthday with visits to several parades and gatherings. The rules have become more restrictive since 911, but the sensory overload created by the B-25, Bearcat and Texan are sure to please, even from 1,000 feet. After forming up over the channel, we will pay our respects to mature neighborhood parades on Whidbey and Camano Islands. These events feature all the Americana we remember fondly from childhood. Decorated bicyles with flapping playing cards clothes-pinned to a wheel mount, hard candy and taffy thrown from floats, and many hand-held American flags. Perhaps Shriners in go-carts will race about. From there, we have a “time-over-target” date with the City of Everett followed by a more casual visit to the City of Arlington. Heading south, we will assess our time based on our noon rendezvous in Kirkland, likely filling the gap over Seattle, Renton, then Bellevue. Ninety minutes is a long time to maintain a formation, so we may “relax” in trail or with a bit of separation in the leg to Seattle. Hope you enjoy the visits. 239 years and counting.

Tomorrow I have the privilege of visiting England on behalf of HFF to participate in several commemorations of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Britain. The events are listed on our schedule. Should you attend one, please introduce yourself. It will be wonderful to see someone from home, or at least someone with a connection to HFF. Who knows? There may be a stray crew pass to share.

“D-Day Flight” on June 6, 2014

May 25th, 2014

To heighten awareness of one of the most important days in our nation’s history, HFF’s P-51B “Impatient Virgin” will lead a “diamond four” formation of Mustangs to thirty cities and towns in Western Washington on Friday, June 6, 2014, the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Also participating are P-51Ds from Heritage Flight Museum (“Val-Halla”), Flying Heritage Collection (“Upupa Epops”) and the collection of Mark Peterson (“Hell-er Bust”).

This idea hatched several months ago as HFF planned its calendar for the year. Invitation letters went to city managers, mayors and chambers of commerce. Many replied enthusiastically. Many also provided the names of WWII veterans active in their communities, veterans who will be honored at HFF on June 7th in a full day of activities beginning at 0900.

Back to the flight. Consider the realities of missions in WWII. “Time over target” required precise flying without a GPS, proper speed, course correction for wind and coordination of the formation. At approximately 200MPH and relatively low altitude, landmarks pass rather quickly. And when you spot the target (in our case, perhaps a crowd in a parking lot), you can’t just descend to wag your wings. You need to reposition a tight formation with gentle turns and adjustments in altitude.

We plan to take-off at 0900 for the first of two sorties. After “forming up” over Paine Field, early visits will include Everett, Stanwood and Marysville on the way to Skagit and Bellingham, then over to Port Angeles. The groups planning assemblies at our waypoints want to know our estimated time of arrival. We have ETAs, but the real answer lies in technology. We will place within the lead aircraft, a transponder to send signals to a web page available for tracking our progress. We hope this encourages understanding and forgiveness in the unlikely event (Ha!) we miss an arrival time at some point in the day.

At the conclusion of the northern/western circuit, “D-Day Flight” will return to Paine Field to fuel the aircraft and pilots. We hope this is accomplished by noon. More to follow.

January 5th

January 5th, 2014

Today the spiritual and meteorologic forces have agreed we deserve some clear-weather flying. Snow-capped Olympic Mountains stand tall, visible from at least 100 miles. “Glassy-calm,” the waters of Puget Sound reflect well on anything airborne. We will awaken some aircraft from winter hibernation and “warm up the oil.”

This also is the time of year for planning ahead. While air show and event promotors search for sponsors, HFF has established dates and parameters for some of its “home-base” offerings. Two early-season events have particular historic significance.

On April 18 and 19, we will mark the 72nd anniversary of the Doolittle Raid with a special presentation by Jimmy Doolittle’s granddaughter and aviation historian, Jonna Doolittle Hoppes, and an appearance by one of four surviving Raiders, Lt. Col. Edward Saylor (USAF, ret.). The official Doolittle Raider reunions concluded last year with “No. 71″ and subsequent consumption of Jimmy Doolittle famous bottle of cognac originally designated for the “Last Raider.” Surviving Raiders have a hard time traveling to these events. But Ed Saylor lives nearby and is remarkably healthy. Plans are ongoing to create a scholarship fund in his honor. Of course, B-25D “Grumpy” will fly on April 19th, weather permitting.

On June 6 and 7, we will commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day with a “diamond-four” of P-51 Mustangs, a military vehicle encampment and a tribute to all surviving veterans of WW II. We have started a roster of WWII veterans for this event. If you know of a veteran who served in any capacity during WWII, please send the contact information to

We hope to see you early and often in 2014.

Happy Birthday, “Grumpy”

November 11th, 2013

On the occasion of Grumpy’s 70th Birthday, which coincides with the gathering in Dayton of three of four surviving Doolittle Raiders, let’s consider the status of the B-25 Mitchell fleet. Thanks to David Poissant and the 2nd Tactical Air Force Medium Bomber Association for keeping track.

There are forty-one airworthy Mitchells with twelve more being restored.

To determine age, the North American serial number tells all. B-25/40-2168, “Miss Hap,” provided General Arnold’s personal transportation long before being added to the collection of American Air Power Museum in Farmingdale, NY. It is the oldest airworthy B-25, though never a bomber. The oldest bomber is B-25D/43-3318, “Grumpy,” wearing RAF 98th Squadron markings in honor of the original “Grumpy” Mitchell, a survivor of 125 combat missions in the toughest months of WW II. Other airworthy survivors manufactured in 1943 include “Yankee Warrior” (Yankee Air Museum), “Barbie III” (History Flight Inc.), “Yellow Rose” (Yellow Rose Squadron), “Apache Princess” (Fantasy of Flight), “Pacific Princess” (Aero Trader), and “Maid in the Shade” (Commemorative Air Force).

Fifty-two others are on static display in museums and air parks. Of these, twenty-seven are in the United States and four more in Canada.

In Dayton this weekend, the Raiders opened the “Doolittle Cognac” for a final toast. At HFF, we flew Grumpy around Mr. Baker and Hurricane Ridge. Here’s to the next seventy years!

Ellis Knowlton

August 25th, 2013

I met a fellow Spitfire pilot at the Abbotsford Air Show earlier this month. Here is a bit of his story in his own words. Ellis will be 90 later this year.

Hi John,
Firstly I would like to thank you again for the privilege of sitting in the cockpit of your Spitfire. I flew an almost identical model on ops for 208 Squadron during the war. You mentioned you would like a little of my background, so here goes.
I spent much of my early life, including the Battle of Britain in the town of Woolston, a suburb of Southampton in England. Woolston was the home of the Supermarine works, the birthplace of the Spitfire. We lived about 1/2 mile from the factory and I had family who worked there. Consequently I knew about the Spitfire, long before it was a household word. My younger cousin (who worked there) and I would cycle out to Eastleigh, a few miles north of Southampton where the Spitfire had their final assembly. Woolson had no airfield. We would watch Jeff Quill, the Supermarine chief test pilot put the prototypes through their paces, never believing that one of us would eventually fly them.
I passed the Supermarine factory every day as I traveled on the ferry between Woolston and Southampton. One day in the summer of 1939, I noticed the hangar doors (which opened on to the river) were open. When I looked inside, instead of seeing rows of Spitfires being assembled I saw a large four-engined bomber. I forgot about this until a few years ago when I discovered it really existed and two prototypes were being built. It had a vastly superior performance to anything else and had it gone into production, would have been formidable.
Once the Battle of Britain started there were sporadic daylight and a few night raids… these were not targeted. I am now going to describe four air raids and add my own speculations on their purpose. The first two have not been recorded in the history books. One Saturday afternoon some friends and I were playing soccer when, without warning, a Heinkel 111 appeared overhead, fired machine guns and dropped a couple of small bombs. They may have been aiming at a barrage balloon which was on the ground at the edge of the playing field. They missed the balloon (and us) and it seemed pointless, until recently when I plotted the course on a Google map. It had been flying over the Supermarine works. A couple of weeks later, I was in the garden when I heard a roaring in the sky. I looked up and there were about thirty five JU 88 dive bombers actually in the dive. There was no time to go to the shelter so I dashed into the house and told everyone to get on the floor away from the windows. None of the bombs hit the factory; there was a strong west wind blowing and the attack was from the east. There were probably significant civilian casualties as again, there had been no warning. The bombers had been heading as if they were going to bomb the naval base at Portsmouth (where a warning was given) and only changed course at the last minute. This attack told Supermarine that they were a target and could not be defended. Supermarine began evacuating partly completed spitfires and machine tools and dispersed them among the large garages in the area. There were two more attacks, both which have been recorded. The first was by about 200 medium level bombers. This largely missed the target, only a corner of the plant was hit. Finally a couple a days later a large force destroyed the factory. This was right at the end of the Battle of Britain; daylight bombing ceased a week later. By that time a large wartime factory was producing Spitfires and the flow was never interrupted. This raises the question why bomb when the Battle of Britain was already lost by the Germans? Were these attacks the swan-song of the Battle of Britain, or a pre-emptive strike against the Supermarine bomber? With the drawings and prototypes destroyed, work was abandoned and the RAF ordered the much inferior Short Stirling four-engined bomber.
This is rather long so I’ll close for now. Thanks again Ellis