Michael McCafferty - European Biplane Tour
An Excursion into the streets of Paris
The morning started with cafe gran avec creme and a tarte de pomme (a coffee with cream and an apple tart). The pastry is beyond extraterrestrial. I had two, with two coffees. It's a good thing because it was the last food I was able to eat until dinner at 8pm.
After this quick breakfast, I was back into the Metro, the subway system in Paris, headed for LeBourget airport. My mission today was to get my biplane out of the display area and into safe harbor at Euralair at the other end of the airport. This was the first day after the Paris Air Show and every one of the 1600 exhibitors would be tearing down their displays and chalets and flying their planes back home. I was expecting a zoo. And that's exactly what it was.
It looked like a war zone. Debris was everywhere, cranes were lowering dissected helicopters into huge crates on top of flatbed trailers, forklifts were speeding everywhere, thousands of workers milling about, police, show officials, and total chaos as far as the eye could see. Somehow I had to find someone to speak English and determine how I get a tow out to the main ramp so I could start the plane and taxi to the other end of the airfield to Euralair. The phone company was, for the first time in history, too efficient. There were only empty places where there used to be pay phones.
That's when it struck me. (It's been so long since I have flown, that I almost forgot.) I have a radio! I jumped in my plane and flipped on the avionics switch and dialed in my radio to the Ground Control frequency, and asked them to send a tug to tow me out to the ramp. They said no problem, there would be one right along. I should have known it was too easy. An hour later, still no tug. So I call again. This time they say that there is a Boeing 707 holding everything up. It is stuck in the way of everything trying to get to the taxiways. There is a double semi Volvo truck that seems to have been abandoned in place and it is just too tall for the wing of the 707 to get over. This I've got to see.
I take a walk several hundred yards down the display area to check it out, and sure enough, everything is stopped waiting for this impasse to end. But it seems to me that my little biplane just might be able to make it past, if I could get it partway under the wing of the 707, real close to the outboard jet engine. If I could do that, then I could just barely make it past the other plane, and a truck, and then freedom. I paced the distance off. It was exactly 10 paces, 30 feet. My upper wingspan is 27 feet, leaving 18 inches on each side. Hopefully.
So I call Ground Control again and inform them of my situation, negotiating for the approval to attempt something, which if it fails, will clog up everything until the next Air Show in two years. They go for it and send a tug that arrives in 15 minutes, but without the ropes I requested for towing. Just another detail that I had to improvise my way out of, and finally borrowed one that was just barely long enough. Getting underway at last, we crawled past the big jet stuck there with all the traffic waiting behind it, the envy of everyone, not just because we were the best looking plane at the show, but because we were moving, and they were not.
Reaching the taxiway, I disengaged the ropes and fired up the engine for the first time in 9 days and taxied the mile to Euralair's big hangar. The doors opened as if by magic just as I cut the engine, and I pushed the Waco to dry safety just a few minutes before the sky opened up for a torrential downpour. If I had not been so persistent or resourceful in getting a tow, I would have been sitting in the open cockpit out on the ramp getting soaked to the skin. Lucky me!
The folks at Euralair were very helpful in getting my right wing adjusted. It was flying just a shade low and all it took was a turn and a half on the rear "N" strut, and some minor adjustment to the aileron connecting rod and it looked like I could have gone flying, if it weren't for the weather.
I visited Customs, who promised to have some paperwork for me tomorrow. Then I got the information about the place where I have to go to get the HSI replaced, if it still looks like it needs it when I finally get to test fly it. Next, a little bit of cosmetic black paint to repair a gouge that occurred when someone ground their heel when attempting to look into the cockpit. And last, but certainly not least, I visited my hosts in management at Euralair, and thanked them profusely for their hospitality and professionalism, and promised to come back in September when we could do all this again, except in reverse!
Walking back into the hangar, and looking at my Waco in its state of readiness, I was struck with just how beautiful it is. I was really looking forward to flying it.
The plan right now is to see if Customs will allow me to fly it after they give me the paperwork tomorrow. If I get past that hurdle, then I will go for a test flight to an airport just outside of Paris, where the HSI was tested and where they have a spare if needed. I'll go there and do some landings and test my navigation equipment. If everything checks out, then the next day I'll go wherever the sun is shining, and I haven't got a clue where that will be!
There is no photo today because it was a gray, gloomy, overcast, rainy day. There was nothing pretty or interesting about it, except how great the Waco looked sitting in the hangar, ready to fly. And you have already seen a picture of it, so now you and I can just imagine it!