Everybody’s welcome at the Big House*
(Casa Grande in Spanish)
The end of February marks the time for the great snowbird migration, when for, however so short, few days, it is time to bask in the sun surrounded by swarms of airplanes of all kinds and shape, and more significantly, as old as possible.
2013 being no different from prior years, I found myself at the Casa Grande Municipal Airport attending the 55th Cactus Fly-In, taking place on March 1st and 2nd.
Organized by the Arizona chapter of the Antique Airplane Association -incorporated in 1964-, the event is pretty low-key. Run by volunteers, it is opened to everybody who has in interest in antique and classic aviation. It draws mostly from the local pilot fauna, but also from the surrounding states for two days of displays and flying in CAVU conditions.
The weather patterns during the 2013 extended week-end were pretty typical for the time and place, with plenty of sunshine, temperatures ranging from the high 40s, low 50s at sunrise, warming up throughout the day to the high 70s, low 80s by early to mid-afternoon.
At Casa Grande, the wind can be a problem. However, this year was blessed with a little breeze increasing with time, while staying within everybody’s comfort zone. Those were perfect conditions for walking up and down the lines of airplane offered for scrutiny.
Being the first event of the season, and with good chances for enjoyable weather, the Cactus Fly-In attracts up to 300 airplanes. This year was no exception, as some 250 airplanes made the trip to Casa Grande, most of them only on Saturday, traditionally the busiest day.
The 55th edition could be dubbed the “Gooney Bird Special”, as three examples of this once plentiful type attended. First, the well-known Flabob Express N103NA made the trip from Riverside, California, as part of a contingent that included Mark Lightsey’s Hatz N1279 and Don Newman flying his old trustee PT-23 N48671.
Also from California, a strong contingent of airplanes calling San Diego home migrated for the duration of the fly-in. This included Dave Stillinger’s 1953 CASA built Bucker Jungman N443BD, John Hickman’s 1940 Dornier built Bucker Jungmeister N133JH, one of the most authentic of the type in existence, in his Swiss Air Force markings, and Bob Kemper’s amateur-built Bucker Jungmeister N100BU replica powered by a flat-four Lycoming camouflaged in a radial housing.
Unfortunately Bill Allen chose to come up with his pristine 1941 Boeing Stearman PT-17 (B75N1), once owned by Steve McQueen - still carrying his reform school number 3188 as registration- in lieu of his Stearman 4D, accompanied by a few more examples of the same type based North of the border.
The rarest sight at Casa Grande, however, did not land there. After multiple difficulties and mucho deniros, Fifi, the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) B-29 is flying again and took the time to greet the fly-in attendees on Saturday. The sight was well worth the ticket price.
The Arizona Wing of the CAF, based at not too far Falcon Field, in Mesa, also participated with a fly-by from their B-17 “Sentimental Journey”, as well as their recently leased from the Wings of Flight Foundation DC-3C N53ST, in an Israeli Air Force livery. This airplane was employed at one point as a corporate hack for the Hoover Vacuum Company during its long career.
The same organization delegated its Beech C-45 “Expeditor” N145AZ to Casa Grande, one of the four examples of the type that attended, including Leland Jones’ Beech D18S N5804C, Rick Loomis’ D-18S N1140 and, finally, only on Saturday Oak Holdings’ modified C-45 N9WM advocating fly-in fishing expeditions. This was a stronger showing than usual for the Beech 18 family of airplanes.
This year, unfortunately, the antique contingent was very poor, with Jim Juranich’s 1928 Command Aire 5C-3 N946E toping the Charts. Coming a long way from home, he was accompanied in his trip by his brother Bob in his 1934 Waco YMF-3 N14080. Others noteworthy antiques making the trip to1939 Waco UPF-7 N226E, Dave Roberts’ 1930 Waco RNF N110Y, and Michael Still’s Fairchild 24 N28648
One surprise visitor came from the neighboring Eloy Municipal Airport. The 1943 Lockheed model 18 “Lodestar” N631LS had been a fixture there for the last 12 years, progressively getting worse for wear, until a crash restoration program took place in 2012. The plane is now for sale in airworthy condition for $290,000. Also coming from Eloy, Skydive Arizona’s DC-3 N86584 was the last of the type to join in.
Even though the antiques showing at the 55th Cactus Fly-In was quite disappointing, this edition was well worth migrating away from the dreary weather of the Northeast to attend.
Photos and story by Gilles Auliard