A Lesson in French Hospitality
Sometime around mid-morning, Bernard Chabbert called to announce that the Waco would be trucked into LeBourget by late this afternoon. I had thought that the plane would never be delivered on Friday, that the truck driver would most certainly never have wanted to deal with Friday afternoon rush hour traffic, and would probably make up some excuse to delay until Monday. I was wrong.
At mid-day, the world's greatest Waco biplane pilot called me on the phone and said he had just checked into the hotel and would be right up. Carl Dye is the chief pilot for the Waco factory, and certainly the man who knows more about this awesome airplane than any man alive. He is here in Paris to oversee the re-assembly of my plane, and to test fly it when it is all put together.
We spent a couple of hours going over some aeronautical charts of England and Ireland which I brought from the US. We were looking for the differences in chart notation between the US and Europe. (There are plenty!)
To my surprise, Francois Bricheteau, the Directeur General of Euralair Industries called to say that my biplane had arrived at their hangar at LeBourget (only a half mile from my hotel!) and would I please come to his office to deal with unloading it. Carl and I set out immediately.
Within an hour we had half a dozen Frenchmen and two Americans standing around this 40 foot container on a truck, all trying to figure out how we could get the plane out of it and on the ground. We all had our own ideas, and it was more than a little difficult to try to communicate to each other with our limited understanding of each other's language. Finally we settled on a method which involved a mobile loading platform and a winch, and within 4 hours we had the plane out of the truck and on the ground. Here's a picture of the moment:
To celebrate our achievement, Francois Bricheteau appeared with several bottles of some superior French champagne and lots of glasses to share it with us and the half dozen mechanics who were involved in our endeavor. What a wonderful surprise! What a very hospitable and charming host we had taking care of us. We stopped in mid-task (for we still had to unload the wings from the back of the truck) and poured bubbly and toasted 'cheers', and a successful 3 month tour of Europe, among us all.
Another of Euralair Industries' chieftains, Jean-Yves Bonnetain, the Quality Assuance Manager, was clearly smitten by the Waco, and it seems that he is an old airplane buff, and he took the time from his busy schedule to show me through a French magazine which had stories of several vintage airplane shows coming up this summer.
Euralair Industries is a very major player in the aircraft industry, and they surely were going way out of their way to deal with this little insignificant Waco. It was not because of business that they did this, because they rolled a Boeing 737 out of their main hangar just to accommodate us! It was not because of the pure love of biplanes either, I found out later. Francois Bricheteau mentioned to me that my friend Bernard Chabbert had contacted the very highest level at Euralair and requested help in getting us airborne for the Paris Air Show. Bernard is an aviation writer in France, and is well known, so when he calls, people are apt to listen up. His simple request was enough to activate huge resources (and on late Friday afternoon!) to get us going.
Unfortunately, there was no schedule for mechanics to be working on the weekend, so while we got the plane off the truck, we will have to wait until Monday to put the wings on and test fly it.
So I have the weekend to explore Paris. Bummer! :)
All I can say is that it was a very great pleasure to see my beautiful biplane again after more than 50 days without it. It was shipped more than 4000 miles without a scratch, by rail, truck, ship, and winch. It had numerous opportunities for disaster and came through with *flying* colors. What a great plane!!
After the work was done, we returned to the hotel for some refreshments and spent the evening quaffing beers with some Brits who were in town for the Air Show. I met a fellow Irishman named Brian Duffy whose uncle runs the airport at Knock, in the west of Ireland, and I plan to look him up when we are there.
The rest of the evening will be devoted to figuring out how to get a photograph out of my new digital camera and up onto my web site so you can see it!