Beyond the Crowd Line
I was born into an aviation family; we won't dwell on how long ago. When I hear the term "barnstormer," I think of biplanes flying from town to town, and a local kid eagerly hauling gas cans for the pilot with the hope that maybe, just maybe, he would be rewarded with a ride, all Waldo Pepper-ish. Well, that kid describes my Dad. He loved airplanes, flying, and he really, really loved working on planes. He first worked on OX-5 powered aircraft and got a big dose of radial engines as crew chief on B-24's and B-29's in WWII.
After he returned from military duty, of which he was so proud, he continued building an airfield on the family farm in Harvard, a town about twenty-five miles northeast of Rockford, Illinois. My parents built their home on the airport, and together raised five children. I look back now, and with aviation's upswings and downturns, am pretty amazed they did it.
I am number four in the pecking order, with three older brothers. I have been asked about being of the female gender in a field with mostly guys, and I feel it is pretty much what I have always known, not anything unique. Besides, I never set out to prove anything, I just so happen to really like this aviation stuff.
In my single digit years, I wanted to be a crop-duster. Smelling some of the chemicals the crusty pilot who flew out of our airport worked with helped me rethink that a little. Throughout my teens, I knew I wanted to be a freight dog. Give me a job flying Beech 18's (only the taildragger versions would do), and I would be content forever and ever.
I went to Southern Illinois University, and obtained my aircraft and powerplant mechanic's licenses. My Mom raised her eyebrows on that, but my Dad thought it was cool and worthwhile. As I came out of school, the airlines were laying off big time, so I chased jobs like commuter flying, hauling canceled checks (obviously pre-computer era), and even had an interesting stint flying helicopters on pipeline patrol and right of way clearing for utility construction. All those jobs taught me something, and I wouldn't have traded those experiences for anything.
Eventually, the airlines slowly started to once again hire, and I had the thrill of being hired by American Airlines. Though many years have passed since my first day there, I still am in awe of how lucky I am to enjoy this career: I fly the planes, and they buy the fuel.
Throughout, I still nurture my love of general aviation. I am fulfilling a childhood dream where I stood at an airshow while a big, loud biplane trailed smoke and did huge loops and other maneuvers. I love flying airshows in my 450 h.p. Stearman, Big Red, but it is the people I have the opportunity to meet that make it truly rewarding.
By Susan Dacy
A Salute to the Golden Age of Aviation . . .
Step back in time as Susan Dacy puts her 450 horsepower, Super Stearman, ‘Big Red’ through its paces with a dazzling display of barrel rolls, slow, slow rolls, Cuban eights, hammerhead turns, loops and much more, in a style reminiscent of the barnstorming era of flying.
Big Red started life as a World War II trainer for young naval aviators. Originally powered by a 220 h.p. engine, Big Red is now outfitted with a powerful Pratt & Whitney 450 h.p., supercharged engine. With injected fuel systems, and inverted fuel and oil modifications, Big Red is ‘at home’ both right side up and upside down. Other additions to the aircraft include a canopy, wingtip strobes, lights, modern radios and removal of the front cockpit to make room for the inverted fuel system, and environmentally safe airshow smoke. Weighing in at over a ton, Big Red has a wing span of thirty two feet, and is more than twenty five feet long.
Susan is one of only a few females performing airshows in a biplane, and is the only woman flying exhibition in the Super Stearman. Attending airshows as a child, Susan remembers being in awe of the big, loud, smoky biplanes. As a teenager, yearning to fly, Susan felt the only way to fly a Stearman was to have one of her own. At the family airport, located in Harvard, Illinois, Susan worked in the office, fueled planes, and eventually acquired a rebuildable Stearman Project. While in high school, every spare hour was spent restoring the aircraft, which she still owns and operates today.
At sixteen Susan learned to fly in a Piper Cub (her Stearman wasn’t yet ready). She attended Southern Illinois University, where she earned a degree in Aviation Operations and Systems, along with aircraft mechanic’s licenses. Following college, Susan pursued flying jobs throughout the country. Scurrying cancelled checks before midnight deadlines in twin engine airplanes, flying for commuter airlines, and even pipeline patrol was eventually rewarded with a job offer from American Airlines. Susan is a Chicago based Captain, currently flying 757/767. Susan has flown more than sixty different types of aircraft, and has logged more than 28,000 hours.
brought to you by Wayne Gauldin