Jill Tallman Archive

Barnstormers storming to the Midwest this year

Friday, April 13th, 2012

If you can get to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Illinois this summer, you’ll have a chance to drink in some mighty nice antique aircraft and hang out with the folks who fly them. The American Barnstormers Old-Fashioned Tour is making its every-other-year appearance in August. Weather permitting, you’ll see 14 aircraft and their costumed pilots, and even purchase a ride.

The airplanes will swoop into five cities this year. Pilot and PR coordinator Sarah Wilson says the tour has been scaled back just a bit from previous years (when it debuted in 2006, there were 15 biplanes and they toured nine cities).

“We just weren’t sure we could do it this year,” she says. Pilots come from all over the nation–in airplanes that average speeds 100 mph or less–to form the tour. But the “core group”–those pilots who have participated from the beginning–said, “Please, let’s do another one,” Wilson says. The pilots will remain three days at each stop, giving them more time between legs.

Here’s the schedule:

New to the tour this year are Wilson’s 1929 Stearman Model 4E; a 1937 Waco YKS-7, and a Curtiss Pusher.

My colleagues Al Marsh and Mike Fizer joined the group for their inaugural tour in 2006. (You can see the article, video, and photos here.) Al recalls without the least bit of nostalgia the heat wave that ensnared Michigan that July. With temps reaching 105, he wondered how the tour pilots handled it in their heavy costumes.

Still. Flying with biplane pilots on a tour of the heartland? Steven Tyler, you can keep your Rock ‘n’ Roll fantasy camp. This one’s more my speed.

Could you put it down for $10,000?

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

I’ve heard of spot landing contests before, but this one must surely take the proverbial cake.

Grand Forks International Airport will host a spot landing contest on Saturday, July 28. Each entrant gets just one shot. The one who puts it down closest to the target line takes home bragging rights–and $10,000. 

“No catch and no obligation,” says the website. You must be at least a sport pilot or higher to enter (too bad, Jacob Barson of Allentown, Pa., else my money would be on you), and the competition won’t be held if visibility is less than two miles and the ceiling is lower than 1,800 feet.

Brian Siefert, president of GFK Flight Support, says the event is being held to promote general aviation and encourage people “to visit our great airport.”

So how about it, hotshot? Are you in? Even in today’s economy, $10,000 buys a heckuva lot of avgas. See the website for more information.

Thanks and a tip of the aviator’s cap to Judy Birchler at LadiesLoveTaildraggers.com, who came across this contest first.

They don’t fly ’em like that anymore…

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Channel surfing the other night, I knew I’d hit the jackpot when I saw the Twin Beech zoom through a hangar. Yup, it was “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” starring Spencer Tracy, Jonathan Winters, Phil Silvers, and two stunt pilots named Paul Mantz and Frank Tallman.

Tallman (are you wondering if we’re related? More on that in a minute*) flew the Beechcraft D-18 through a billboard as well as the hangar. The billboard was constructed of balsa wood so that it would fly apart easily when Tallman blew through it. As it turned out, the balsa wood had been allowed to dry too long and hardened up, and the airplane was damaged when it went through.

As for the hangar stunt, Tallman supposedly practiced three approaches just skimming the roof of the hangar. Trees just east of the hangar at the now-defunct Rancho Conejo Airport near Los Angeles required Tallman to pull up rather sharply after it cleared the opening.

If you’d rather not sit through the three-hour film, a kind soul on YouTube has compiled his favorite flying scenes in this clip. The hangar stunt can be seen at about 8:10.

*Whenever I’m at a show, members of a certain age will squint at my nametag and then ask, “Are you related to Frank Tallman?” I always tell them this: “My husband’s father took him to see Flight of the Phoenix in the theater when he was a youngster. Don pointed to the credits where Frank Tallman’s name appeared and said, ‘He’s our cousin.’ Maybe he believed it; maybe Don wanted it to be true because he was a pilot too. But his son became an amateur geneaologist several years later… and we’re not related.”

A legacy is secured…and it only took 30 years

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

The brand-new air traffic control tower at Memphis International Airport has a name. It’s the Omlie Tower. Omlie, for Phoebe Fairgrove Omlie.

Omlie was the first woman to get an aviation mechanic license, as well as the first woman to earn a commercial certificate. She flew a Monocoupe Warner in the very first Women’s Transcontinental Air Race in 1929, competing against pilots like Pancho Barnes, Amelia Earhart, and Louise Thaden. She was one of the charter members of the International Organization of Women Pilots (the Ninety-Nines).

What’s great about this story is not that a building was named for Omlie (although that is a pretty neat thing). It’s the backstory–the story behind the story. According to the University of Memphis Department of History, the campaign to get some local recognition for Omlie began more than 30 years ago, when aviation enthusiast James Kacarides initially proposed in 1971 that the city name the downtown Memphis airport for her. (They didn’t.) * And later he suggested that the reveloped Millington airport be given her name. (It wasn’t.) Kacarides then proposed that the existing KMEM tower be named for her, but was told that it would take an act of Congress because the tower was federal property.

Kacarides went to Congress and somehow, somewhere, someone listened; President Ronald Reagan signed a bill permitting the change in June 1982. Guess what happened next? The air traffic controllers went on strike; President Reagan fired them; and in the turmoil that followed, “the FAA suddenly had other priorities,” as the University of Memphis puts it in what may be the understatement of the year.

At any rate, the plaque–if one had indeed been ordered–never arrived and the tower was never dedicated. But Kacarides didn’t forget. (See now why I love this story?) He and University of Memphis Professor Janann Sherman, who has written a biography of Omlie, helped to jumpstart the effort. A brand-new tower that went into service in June was officially dedicated on Oct. 20–and Kacarides and Sherman were there to see it. (Thanks and a tip of the flying helmet to Heather Taylor, producer of  the documentary “Breaking Through the Clouds,” for alerting me to this article.)

*Edited to fix reference to General DeWitt Spain airport. Thanks to reader Maurice!

Warm hearts; wagging tails

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

With all of the sadness that affected general aviation last weekend, it was nice to be in the midst of a small bright spot in Florence, S.C. That’s where the volunteers and pilots who sign up for rescue flights through Pilots n Paws met to transport dogs from a high-kill shelter to new homes in Virginia, Florida, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.

IFR conditions on Saturday kept the small number of VFR pilots who made it to South Carolina from participating in the airlift. But the IFR pilots stepped up and loaded their airplanes with more than 100 dogs. One of these was a spectacular polished Piper Lance based at Lakeland, Fla., whose tail is emblazed with the words Puppy Express.

With that many paws on the ground, you’d think there would be a cacophony of barking and a lot of messes to be mopped up. But from my perspective, the volunteers seemed to have their four-footed charges well in hand.

Pilots and helpers played a game of Tetris (thanks, Alyssa Miller, for giving me that image) as they loaded dogs–some in crates, some not–into baggage areas, back seats, and passenger laps. (In case you’re wondering, these pilots do prepare for accidents by laying down plastic sheets and tarps.) Doug Manual, who flew a Cessna 182 down from Leesburg Airport, told me he carried seven dogs: two in a crate, four in the cargo compartment, and one who rode in his wife Tammy’s lap. Mike Young, who coordinated the pilots flying from Florence to Warrenton, was the last pilot out on Saturday. He ended up “only” carrying four dogs in his Lancair. He usually takes more.

There were tears shed as foster “parents” turned over their dogs to the pilots. The fosters craned their heads and took photos as the airplanes lifted off and disappeared into the 500-foot ceiling. One foster mom of Chihuahuas and Yorkies told me she was sending six dogs to new homes–she’ll still have 16 to care for.

Pilots don’t need an excuse to fly, but a mission–whether you’re in search of the perfect $100 hamburger, or you’re introducing someone new to the excitement of flying, or you’d like to make a difference in an animal’s life–is always a great thing to have.

Time to buy

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Amy Carpenter and her Piper Dakota

My article on finding and buying a Piper Cherokee 140 brought me a nice tide of letters from our members. I expectedto hear from the Piper crowd, and I did, all of whom welcomed me to the fold. I got an invite to join next year’s Cherokees 2 Osh event. Flying my own airplane into AirVenture is definitely on my to-do list, so that’s an intriguing notion!

Shar Roos plans to learn to fly in this 140.

I also heard from a few puzzled Ercoupe lovers–what do I have against Ercoupes and why did I not buy one? Nothing against Ercoupes, Alons, Air Coupes, or any of the breed, I promise. My reasons were primarily based on payload and space considerations. I want to do animal rescues, and while I could probably plop a dog in the right seat, I’d rather he have a backseat of his own.

Mark Walker's excellent Ercoupe

Mark Walker of Phoenix, Ariz., kindly sent a photo of this beautiful robin’s-egg-blue Ercoupe that he bought with a friend after years of wanting an airplane. “We fly every weekend, weather permitting, and love every minute.” That sounds like an ideal situation to me–an airplane and a good buddy to fly places with. A super-cool footnote: Mark’s Ercoupe was the one Jessica Cox used to become the world’s first armless sport pilot.

I also heard from vintage airplane owners like John Sand, whose 1955 Cessna 170B is all the airplane he wants and needs. “It’s ‘stone simple’ so there isn’t much to go wrong,” he says. “I’ve found that if I keep it clean and change the oil once in awhile it’s like the old Timex watch.” He’s owned it 21 years and doesn’t plan to part with it any time soon.

John Sand's Cessna 170B

Probably most exciting were letters from people who said my story has prompted them to take another look at ownership and the possibilities that exist with purchasing an older airplane. For those of you who still want or need something newer and faster–or if you’re not financially able to purchase an entire airplane–please don’t forget AOPA’s Aircraft Partnership Program. It’s free to register if you are looking for a partnership, and costs $10 per aircraft per month to list a share. And owners: I’m hearing through the grapevine that there are lots of people out there who are interested in buying shares but not as many folks who’ve listed their airplanes. So what are you waiting for, and why are you letting that airplane sit idle if somebody could be helping you to split the costs and fly it?

Would you see a film about the Barefoot Bandit?

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

In the “News That Makes My Blood Pressure Shoot Up A Few Points” category, the Huffington Post is reporting that Colton Harris-Moore, the Barefoot Bandit, has signed a deal with 20th Century Fox to do a film about his life story. The deal could be worth as much as $1.3 million. He wouldn’t get a dime of it, of course; plea bargains he made in June to the various felony charges (including stealing airplanes) prevent that. (By the way, check out Mike Collins’ account of the Barefoot Bandit saga here.) Harris-Moore is set to be sentenced in October.

He might not get a dime, but he’ll continue to get notoriety. Even if I vote with my wallet, I suppose his 80 zillion Facebook friends will make up the difference at the box office.

What about you? Would you see a film about the Barefoot Bandit?

Thanks, Harriet

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Like me, Harriet Quimby worked in newspapers for awhile and became intrigued by aviation through the pages of a magazine. That’s pretty much where our similiarities end.

Quimby was writing for something called Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly in 1910 when the magazine published an article promoting an upcoming international “air meet” at Belmont Park in New York. She went, watched the pilots, decided that flying didn’t look too difficult, and started taking lessons. On Aug. 1, 1911, she became the first U.S. licensed female pilot.

It sounds so cut and dried, but I find myself thinking about what she must have experienced to earn that title. Start with the clothes. She couldn’t wear pants, nor would she wear “harem-style” skirts that French female pilots favored. According to Eileen F. Lebow’s excellent book, Before Amelia, Quimby designed her own flying costume: a plum-colored wool suit that converted from knickerbockers that could be tucked into boots to a full skirt by undoing some buttons. If I had to design a completely new type of clothing for something I wanted to do, I’d probably take up knitting instead.

Some things Quimby experienced will sound very familiar to today’s aviators. Interviewed by the New York newspapers when she earned her ticket, she was asked about “the months of predawn rising, the inconvenience of weather, the expense”–was it worth it? Apparently so. She later became the first woman to fly across the English Channel, and would have been the first woman to participate in air mail delivery had she not died in an airplane accident 11 months after she earned her license.

I didn’t know a lot about Quimby before writing this blog. My own aviation role models are the women who ferried military aircraft during World War II–the WASP. Whenever I struggled with a concept or worried that I wasn’t up to the flying task at hand, I pictured those women in their flight suits, climbing into  B-26s, and B-29s, and drew inspiration from their strength. Now I wonder who their aviation heroines were. Could one of them have been a petite woman in a plum-colored wool flying suit?

Catching up with…Clay Presley

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

One of the frustrating things about AirVenture (if one can admit that there are some frustrating aspects of navigating the world’s largest airshow) is that missed connections happen on a daily basis at the show.

Today Clay Presley sent me a short note to let me know he had stopped by the AOPA tent (and I, of course, was nowhere to be seen). You’ll recall that Clay was a passenger on USAirways Flight 1549, which landed in the Hudson river in January 2009. We found out that Clay’s experience in part prompted him to start learning to fly, and he soloed in January 2011. I went down to his home airport near Greenville, S.C., to interview him for an article in Flight Training magazine, and a video for AOPA Live. At the time Clay mentioned that when the article I wrote for AOPA Online was published, he got calls from pilots around the country inviting him to come to Oshkosh. And he did.

And he had more big news: Clay got his private pilot certificate on June 24. I’m excited he finished up, and made it to the big show. He’s had a big year. Not as big as landing in the Hudson River, of course–but it’ll do.

Catching up with…Matt Pipkin

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Chet and Matt (right) Pipkin at AirVenture with Commit 65's airplane.

Back in December, Matt Pipkin’s Commit 65 project–an endurance flight in which he and his dad will seek to remain aloft 65 days nonstop–was just starting to gather steam. Matt had a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish and he knew he had a lot of work ahead of him.

I’ve kept tabs on Matt and Commit 65 via Twitter, and yesterday I got to meet him in person here at AirVenture. Thanks to the generosity of EAA, Commit 65 scored a booth in the Innovation Center. And they didn’t come empty-handed.

Some months ago, Commit 65 procured an essential component of the flight: an airplane. The Pipkins removed the wings from the 1958 Cessna 172 and trailered it to Oshkosh. The trip wasn’t without its issues. Rough roads in Wyoming jolted the trailer so much that a mount snapped. Attempting to reattach the wings, something slipped and a flap was damaged. But Matt wasn’t fazed. (Not too much, anyway.) After all, he told me, the airplane needs an engine overhaul, avionics, and a new prop anyway. What’s a couple more dings and dents here and there?

As the campaign builds momentum–and it has gained quite a bit, Matt said, thanks to national press and fundraisers in Boise–he’s continuing to work toward raising public awareness of childhood sexual abuse by incorporating other “out-of-the-box” ideas. One of these is a multi-college campaign in which students at 65 colleges around the nation would participate in an endurance challenge (Matt’s thinking paddle ball played while standing on a chair). The challenge would culminate with a 65-second “moment of noise” (as opposed to moment of silence), because Matt’s hope in raising awareness is to convince victims of sexual abuse to “speak their silence” and free themselves of guilt and pain. Now that’s what I call out of the box.