Saturday, November 21, 2020

Whiskey Seven and the Belle of the Ball


With the high CHT issue apparently resolved, I craved a flight to someplace new. After reviewing the latest New York state rules around cross border pandemic travel, I decided to stay close to home. I pored over the chart looking for local(ish) airports where I had not landed previously in an effort to add a new one to my map. Places like Buffalo Airfield (9G0) or Cooperstown (K23) came to my attention, the latter reputedly a very nice grass runway. But there was nothing to do at either one of those places and there seemed to be little point in visiting them.

Then I considered Geneseo (D52), the grass-only airport home to the National Warplane Museum and the annual Greatest Show on Turf airshow. Despite being twenty miles south of Rochester and literally in my aeronautical backyard while based at Le Roy, I had never landed there. With a small museum on site, there was certain to be something interesting to do in Geneseo. That is how it became my 209th airport, correcting a years-long oversight.

Going to Grass

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
21 Nov 2020 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - D52 (Geneseo, NY) - DSV (Dansville, NY) - GVQ (Batavia, NY) - SDC 2.1 2185.8

Geneseo Airport, D52

After a 27 minute flight southwest from Sodus, during which time I completed an airborne VOR check off the Geneseo VOR (because why not?), I arrived over the grass field. Unlike the grass strips in Michigan where I was "raised", there are no yellow cones defining the outline of Geneseo's runway. It and a portion of a parallel grass taxiway are nonetheless obvious from the air and I entered a right downwind for runway 23. On short final, there was a sketchy-looking blotch on the turf about one-third of the way down the runway. I added power to float over it before settling the wheels onto the grass. I think that it was my first turf landing since Benton in 2019.

A museum staffer emerged from the main hangar to marshal me to parking. I recognized him as Craig, whom I met in 2018 when I hosted him at the Williamson Flying Club for a seminar about returning the museum's WWII veteran C-47 (Whiskey 7) to Normandy, France in 2014. Once it was clear that I understood where he wanted me to park, Craig hurried off to oversee some ongoing maintenance work on Whiskey 7.

Flashback to 1918

I paid my $8 admission fee at the administration building, emerging just in time to see activity around the replica WWI Fokker D.VII parked outside the main hangar.

Jeff started building the D.VII in 2005 after extensive research into the different variants to ensure that his specific airplane had a consistent set of historically concomitant features.

I recognized Jeff from the Williamson-Sodus Airport where he is a helicopter instructor for Ray. I already knew that work was being done at Geneseo on a D.VII and I had heard that Jeff was working on a scratch-built WWI replica, but did not put all of the pieces together until I saw him with the airplane.

It was cold in Geneseo, just a bit over 40°F. Test pilot Reuben bundled up as best as he could. Having more time in helicopters than airplanes, Jeff was still training with Reuben and left the test flight to the more experienced fixed wing pilot.

Jeff explained that the test flight was intended to investigate some recently completed engine work (like Warrior 481, it was all about the carburetor). He also noted that the linkages to the throttle control did not allow the throttle to close completely. "It idles really high," Jeff concluded.

Aloft, Reuben flew some steep turns. We were thrilled to see the unique silhouette of the Fokker over Geneseo, though I think it would have looked better against a crisp blue sky.

True to Jeff's commentary, Reuben landed hot, bounced once, but got the D.VII down and stopped before the end of the runway.

Over 3,300 D.VII aircraft were produced during WWI. It was such a successful fighter that the Armistice of 11 November 1918 that ended the war specifically stipulated that Germany had to surrender all D.VIIs to the Allies.

After stopping the engine, Reuben hollered out to Jeff and the other museum staffers gathered to watch, "It idles a little high!" The next thing I heard him say was, "I can't feel my fingers."

Jeff and Reuben debrief after the test flight

Afterward, Jeff spent time with me talking about his inspiration for building the replica Fokker and sharing many details about its construction. I was impressed by his exacting passion to get both the historical details and the craftsmanship as correct as possible.


After the test flight, I wandered the museum grounds, visiting various aircraft displayed both inside and out. Many were in different stages of restoration.

Aerial photograph of the National Warplane Museum grounds

I believe that the C-130 is a relatively new acquisition.

I had never been inside a Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar before.

The cargo space of the Flying Boxcar lives up to its name with an aft clamshell style cargo door oriented vertically.

I was impressed by the excellent visibility from the flight deck, though if it were me, I'd rather have a seatback for the pilot to prevent undesirable pitching up on take-off.

An outdoor C-47 (not Whiskey 7) demonstrates the combined ravages of sun and birds.

The Naked Texan

I was particularly taken with the museum's skinless North American T-6 Texan.

Every time I see a J-3 Cub, I have to smile. Now that I've earned my tailwheel endorsement in one, the smile is even bigger than it used to be.

A privately-owned Fairchild PT-19 WWII era trainer

Despite looking vaguely T-6 like, the Vultee Valiant (BT-13) is no T-6. Still, this privately owned example was in beautiful condition.




BT-13 cowling

C-45, the military version of the Beech 18


Whiskey 7

Over the years, I have discovered that a significant perk to arriving at aviation museums in my own airplane is that this often grants me more latitude to climb through some of the airplanes on display than I might have otherwise. Examples include the Air Zoo's Ford Trimotor (disclosing that I was a former museum docent did not hurt, either) and the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum's Black Widow. When I was offered an opportunity to climb into some of the National Warplane Museum's aircraft, the already passable day I was having suddenly became great.

The first aircraft I ventured into has become an icon of the National Warplane Museum, Whiskey 7; our own local winged celebrity. Whiskey 7 is a C-47 that was one of the lead aircraft in the D-Day invasion on 06 June 1944 over Sainte-Mère-Église in Normandy, France. In 2014, the National Warplane Museum flew her back across the Atlantic, returning her to the French countryside she once helped liberate.

In his seminar for the Williamson Flying Club, Craig described the emotional outpouring of affection for the airplane from the French, a gratitude still palpable after 70 years. It was an amazing tale of human connection across nations underpinned by the technical challenge of flying a 70+ year old aircraft from the United States to Europe. For the National Warplane Museum crew who flew Whiskey 7 back to Normandy, it must have a once in lifetime kind of adventure.

I entered through the rear cargo door and climbed the steeply inclined deck toward the flight deck as Whiskey 7's floorboards creaked and groaned beneath my weight. In the cockpit, I settled myself into the left seat where I captured evidence that my camera lens needed a cleaning.

While ascending the sloping deck, I had a sense that I had climbed to a significant elevation. Looking out the pilot's side window confirmed that sense.

Compared to the Flying Boxcar, the visibility out of the C-47 was much less expansive. But who cares? I was sitting in the left seat of Whiskey 7!

As I sat in the cockpit, I tried to imagine flying the old warbird across the Atlantic Ocean from Labrador to Greenland, the same route she followed in the 1940s on her way to war. I thought of the pilot who occupied the same seat and gripped the same wheel in 1944 as he guided the paratrooper-filled ship through flak-filled skies. The history embodied by Whiskey 7 is simply amazing.

I bet those twin GTN-650 navigators made life easier en route to Europe. They were clearly an aftermarket mod.

Sitting left seat in Whiskey 7 truly made my day. 

Ode to a C-47, Reo C. Trail

The Belle of the Ball

At the 2010 Greatest Show on Turf, I spent $5 to climb through the "The Movie" Memphis Belle. (As the name implies, this is the B-17 that portrayed the Memphis Belle in the 1990 movie starring Matthew Modine. The actual Memphis Belle is on display at the National Museum of the USAF.) It was a rushed tour because I had a line of people waiting behind me. This time, I was told to take all the time I wanted. 

The Memphis Belle is a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber of the type that is virtually synonymous with long range bombing missions over Germany from British airfields.

During my Air Zoo docent days, my friend Joe told stories of his tour of duty as a ball turret gunner in B-17s. Shuddering at the thought of climbing into such a confined space, I asked him, "How did you pull that duty?"

"I was the smallest on the crew," Joe answered. I miss Joe.

From inside, the ball turret hatch was visible. I am quite sure that I could not have climbed through that. As it was, I awkwardly skirted the ball turret to clamber into the next compartment.

While the center section of my airplane's instrument panel is known as the "radio stack", back in the day, they really know how to stack them.

Going from the radio room to the cockpit required walking the plank across the bomb bay. The center of the catwalk is supported by a metal superstructure that I heard one of the museum staffers aptly refer to as "the V". I was able to squeeze through "the V" sideways, but barely. Anyone larger than me would have gotten stuck.

The cockpit generally appeared to be period-appropriate, though an overhead console incongruously contained a modern transponder and a GNS-430 GPS navigator.

The view from the pilot's side window is dominated by two of the 17's four engines.

A large opening in the floor immediately aft of the flight deck leads below the pilot and copilot positions into the bombardier's domain. I ducked through it and crawled into the forward compartment.

The Norden bombsight was once considered one of the United States military's greatest secrets, though it was not nearly so precise in real world application as it was hyped to be.

"The Movie" Memphis Belle framed by the wings of the AN-2 Colt

For a Good Time, Call Natasha

There is something about the proportions of the Soviet-designed Antonov AN-2 Colt that unambiguously flag it as a foreign design. Considering that 18,000+ examples of the burly, single engine biplane were built between 1947 and 2001, it was clearly a successful design regardless of how ungainly it may appear in my eyes. (A 54 year production run? Wow.)

Of course, the airplane would look slightly more normal if it were not missing its nose.

View of the Memphis Belle from the AN-2 cockpit

Although the instruments and controls generally make sense, there is a unique aesthetic to their arrangement. I found it interesting that the primary flight instruments are about knee height.

To the right of the throttle quadrant was the largest ADF indicator I think I have ever seen.

Many of the instrument markings are written using the Cyrillic alphabet. In many cases, new placards in English covered the original Soviet markings.

While this looks like a legitimate placard, a museum volunteer told me that somewhere within the AN-2 is a Cyrillic placard that translates to, "For a good time, call Natasha." Maybe he was pulling my leg, but it was fitting given the name of the airplane...

"Natasha" photographed at the Greatest Show on Turf, 09 July 2016


I spent roughly three hours at Geneseo literally crawling through history and thoroughly enjoying myself. For me, the highlights were sitting in the left seat of Whiskey 7 and poring over every inch of the interior of "The Movie" Memphis Belle. Thanks to Jeff, Craig, and the other folks at the National Warplane Museum for showing me such a fantastic time. When I departed Sodus that morning, I had no idea that I was in for such a fantastic day.