We’re Back in Kansas Toto!
Could this be the best fly-in in the country?
The jury is still deliberating, but all what can be said is that the National Biplane Fly-In (NBFI) that took place at Junction City, Kansas, Freeman Field on May 31st to June 3rd is ranking at the top of the list of all the people who attended it.
What makes it different?
After all, it is not the biggest, nor does it present exceptional displays, and does not even takes place in the best of facilities. No, its major appeal is the people behind it. Nowhere else you will such friendliness and benevolence. When you set foot on the airfield, you know immediately that you are welcome, and that, no matter what, you will find help in case of need.
Knowing this, Freeman Field is the place to be on the first weekend of June every year. Thursday is the traditional hardcore antiquers day, and a few airplanes make it in time for the traditional dinner at the EAA hangar. With a weather pattern dominated by low ceilings and menacing rain, it is understandable that only seven biplanes graced the field in the evening.
One of the planned activities for Friday was a fly-out to Abilene for a lunch sponsored by EAA Chapter 1364 and an afternoon visit of its points of interest. Abilene, Kansas, was, from 1867 to 1871, the end of the Chisholm trail, where the cows crossed the street to take the train east. It is also the boyhood home of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the US, and the site of the Eisenhower Library and Museum, close to the modest home he was raised in.
However, the best-laid plans, especially when it entails flying old airplanes, are subjects to the vagaries of the weather. With rain over the horizon, plan B had to be implemented, and everybody piled up in cars to make the 20 miles trip. None-the-less, with or without wings, the fun factor was still there.
Friday dinner was topped by a presentation of EAA Vice-President Jeff Skiles of US Airways Flight 1549 fame, about the latest programs of the organization to promote general aviation, followed by a traditional Q&A session. The main question asked, tinted with a certain benevolent irony was “Did you get your seaplane rating?” The answer being that this was accomplished in 2011.
Saturday dawned with blue skies and mild temperatures, rising to the high 80's by early afternoon. Airplanes of any age and shape started trickling in from 7 am onwards to reach the normal levels observed at Junction City. These were mostly locals coming to enjoy a day in the sun and look at airplanes. By noon, attendance had peaked and the field was graced with about 75 airplanes from biplanes to monoplanes and production models to home-builts, by way of a few warbirds.
One of the good points of the NBFI is that flying during the show is encouraged, if not rewarded. An afternoon ice cream social at Prairie Cottage Airport, 11 miles on a 241 radial from Junction City was a strong incentive to light up the fires and fly a short hop to indulge in cold treats and hangar camaraderie. About 30 airplanes took advantage of the offer, all of them returning late afternoon to thinned airplane parkings, as most of the one-day visitors had already left Freeman Field.
A few of the participating airplanes worthy of attention were Jim Clarks Waco EGC-8, in its very attractive CAA colors, Bud Silvers 1931 Brewster Fleet 7 N798V (c/n 378) sporting a new speed-ring, which, according to its pilot makes it faster by about 5 mph, and with its 17 lbs, moves the CG slightly forward, making the airplane marginally easier to fly. Also noteworthy was Jeff Skiles’ 1935 Waco YOC N15244 (c/n 4327), a cabin biplane that can be seen at multiple venues around the country
On the monoplane side of things, the most unusual was Ed Hund’s 1972 Scottish Aviation Bulldog 100 N432BD (c/n 163) paying a neighborly visit from Wichita, sporting an impressive -if not accurate- shark mouth. Becoming increasingly scarce at airports around the US was Cessna L-19E N4431C in period US Army markings.
None-the-less, the unquestionable draw of the fly-in was Mark Holliday’s 1951 Knight Twister N7D (s/n D-1), a diminutive homebuilt biplane racer with actual racing history. The airplane was the focus of everybody’s attention on each of its flight during the week-end.
Only in its 3rd year of operation, the NBFI is rapidly acquiring the well-deserved reputation of an event to attend. The 2013 edition, which will take place from May 30th to June 3rd at Freeman Field, should attract even more planes and people. Keep your fingers crossed for good weather!
Story and photos by Gilles Auliard