The Fifth Annual Stearman Field Fly-In at Benton, Kansas • Brian FitzGerald
Stearman Field is located just outside of Benton, Kansas on its Southeast side. Back in the 80’s I was flying an older edition Quicksilver called the MX and for a while it was hangared at the field which was then called Benton Airport. At that time it was relatively undeveloped. There were a few “T” hangars and an FBO hangar/workshop. Then a few years ago the field was acquired by new owners. Since then they have put serious effort into developing it into one of the nicer “Aviation Theme” housing developments in the country. The runway has been extended and can accommodate business jets but the flavor of the early days remains with a well kept grass landing field adjacent on the West side of the asphalt. One of the growing attractions at the field is the restaurant. They call it the Stearman Field Bar & Grill. It is very nice and has an indoor section, a “convertable” indoor/outdoor area and an outdoor patio. The two outdoor sections are ideal for watching planes land, taxi and take off.
I have attended 3 of the last 5 Annual Fly-Ins at Stearman Field and each time has given credence to Kansas being a windy place. This day was notable in that respect. Of course, when it comes to flying, wind is a mixed blessing. Sometimes is is really good – sometimes not quite so good. Going to the Fly-in this morning – it was good. Because the McConnell Air Force Base airspace is in between Stearman Field and my home base Selby Aerodrome, I have to fly a little dogleg to the east before heading North to Benton. I checked on the map and this is a total distance of about 23 miles. This morning I made the trip in about 15 minutes which calculates to 92 miles per hour. I think that is a little high because the quickest my GPS showed me coursing over the ground was about 82. Regardless, with my engine throttled back for an economy airspeed of about 40 miles per hour, that made the tailwind at 1200′ AGL in the 40 mile per hour range. Regardless, it was a very smooth wind and it was fun getting there…
So here is what you see when making the Easterly “dogleg” before heading North. The shot below was taken from 1,000′ AGL looking Northeast. You can see from the shadows it was fairly close to sunrise. Generally I like my aerial pictures not to show parts of the airplane in them but this time I figured it would give you a better idea of how it looked to me from my seat.
After heading East to circumvent Derby, I headed NNE bound for Benton, Kansas and the Fly-In at Stearman Field. At this point I am starting to get a nice push from the tailwind. I decide to level out at 1200′ AGL. At that altitude the tailwind is very smooth. As it is most mornings, there is no turbulence at all.
I’m now showing about 80mph ground speed on my GPS. I was surprised to see relatively little action at Hidden Lakes Golf Course as I pass over its Southeast corner.
A little farther North of the golf course I spied an interesting pattern. Even though, suburbia is encroaching, below you see a fairly large horse stabling operation. The attractive rows in the field are cut hay waiting to be baled. I’m thinking this is brilliant to be able to raise your own hay adjacent to the stables. It has to be a money saver.
It seems like most people don’t know it anymore but YMCA means “Young Men’s Christian Association”. Over the last 20 years, though, it has come to mean “Waterpark, Daycare, Women’s Workout Salon, Coffee Shop w/ a few guys playing some B-Ball and lifting weights”. I exaggerate a little for effect but if you look up the term “Mission Creep”, today’s YMCA will be in the definition. I really don’t have anything against the concept of a public gym. Co-ed is fine if that’s what people want. I just think the “Y” should change it’s name and probably get a new “charter”. The “Y” is obviously no longer what it started out to be. It is no longer a Christian mission designed to help young men maintain a healthy lifestyle. In that respect it has lost sight of its original mission. In that it now has abandoned its original path, I do not think it should be able to compete against commercial gyms while maintaining a 501 (c) 3 tax status. It’s just not right and in effect puts an undue burden of taxation on the commercial gyms it competes against for customers.
OK. Now that I said that there will be no more politics in this post…
After crossing Kellogg Blvd / HWY 56, I see the High School of Andover, Kansas. It is quite a spread with lots of money put into athletics. I tried to put a link to the school website below but the website wouldn’t come up.
With the welcome tailwind I was riding, it wasn’t long at all before Stearman Field popped into view. I did not take any pictures of it while entering the pattern as I think it always most important to be constantly scanning for traffic when close to any airport. This is doubly important when approaching a scheduled event as you should expect even more traffic. As it turned out this morning, traffic was pretty much non-existent when I entered downwind. During my arrival and landing I only saw one airplane – a low wing Piper – who hadn’t bought into the standard pattern entry mode. As I was getting ready to turn Base, I saw him super low making a “straight in B-52 approach” from parts far North. I extended my Downwind leg, dropped in behind him and then landed on the grass strip. As I taxied looking for a place to put the plane, I knew I was “in the groove” when I saw a tie-down with my name on it just a hop and a skip from the restaurant – definitely a good omen.
The issue of the tie-down was quite significant to how my day would turn out at Stearman Field’s 5th Annual Fly-In. Two years prior, I arrived and everything was taken on the East side of the runway so I was stuck on the West side (the grass runway side). It was also much later in the morning and the wind was at least 20 mph across the ground. That is enough to push an unattended MXL along at walking speed or even tip it up on one of the wings. I carry some tie-down ropes and stakes with me in the plane but I don’t carry a hammer to pound in the stakes. Every time I have needed to tie the plane down away from my home field I found a rock to pound in the stakes. That year the wind was much too high to risk running across the field to search for a hammer (or rock). There was no rock near where I was parked and nobody would go get me a hammer. So, I hung out for a while with the airplane’s tail down and into the wind and stood in front of my horizontal stabilizer to keep it from moving. From that position I chatted with a few interested folks. After about a half hour I had to leave.
Another great thing about my tie-down spot was the neighborhood. Right next door were two Long-EZ homebuilts. From their placards I saw they were owned by some guys in Wichita. Long-EZs are a variant of the Vari-EZE designed by Burt Rutan – one of the great aircraft designers of our generation. He is also a spacecraft designer.
A fun thing about Fly-Ins is the opportunity to share what I know about my plane and what I might know about other airplanes. This day I had at least 5 occasions to explain how the Long-EZ takes off from that “funny position”.
Wichita has a very active and dedicated CAF Squadron. They call it The Jayhawk Wing. I wish I had a better shot than the one below but I was just settling down to breakfast when I heard them coming. I snapped off the shot you see below as I was leaning around a column inside the “open air” part of the Stearman Field Bar & Grill.
In this shot, you can see some of the elements that made up the Fly-in in their formative stages. In the middle toward the left is the forward section of an F-15 that is owned by my buddy Steve Cannaby of Augusta, Kansas. He recently acquired it (on eBay!) and has been showing it off around the region. You can get your picture taken in the cockpit for $5. At the lower right quadrant of the picture are a couple of exceptionally nice motorcycles that came to be on display. Above them in the distance you can see the start of what eventually became 30+ members of the Corvette Club. And, center right, making the line abreast pass, two members of the CAF – the club’s Fairchild PT-23 and an SNJ flown by Mike Flynn of Wichita.
Besides getting to see the interesting airplanes, cars, motorcycles and displays, a good Fly-In also means Friends! I ran into some of my favorite folks in the restaurant. The breakfast was good. I enlisted our waitress to take the shot below.
After finishing breakfast everybody broke up to venture around the area. Brian Shirley had grown up in a house only a section away from The Wichita Gliderport which is only a few miles West of Stearman Field. This was during the time I hangared my MX there. One day at Church (we both are members of Central Christian Church in Wichita) he reminded me of a time that I came up to their house to make sure the family wouldn’t mind if I flew low over the crops adjacent to their home. I was shooting my first movie on Ultralight Aviation and was working on a piece in it featuring my buddy Randy Vyff flying his Phantom down low over the plains of Kansas. The scene we were working on had him passing low over a large pond near the Shirley House. This music video was called “Down on the Deck” and was an early version of the music video “Lil Prop” which is in my more recent “UFM2“.
My neighbor Capt. Andy Vanderziel gave his wife Nicole some time off and brought the kids to the Fly-in.
When he is not in school, Josh Vanderziel likes to come down to my house to see what I am doing. For a couple of years we have talked about flying and my ultralight. Finally this was the day that he got a chance to see and sit in the flying machine.
I had told the Vanderziels if they made it to the Fly-in I would show them how the plane flies. After they had been walking around the Fly-in for an hour or so in the hot sun the youngest Vanderziel was ready for a nap so it was time for them to leave. I asked them to hang on for another 15 minutes while I cranked up the motor and took the MXL around the patch. With surface winds in the 20’s I was airborne in moments. I made a few passes and then landed.
I snapped the picture below on the downwind leg of the pattern. The area on the field where the pictures of the Fly-in have been taken thus far is on the far side of the runway between the left and middle flying wires that are cutting through the shot.
After I landed, the Vanderziels said goodbye and headed home. It was getting close to noon and I was thinking about either going to The Gliderport for a minute and then heading home or just heading directly back to my home base. The wind was getting pretty raggedy across the ground by now. As I was pondering my next move I saw a familiar sight to the Northwest. It was Captain Doug Moler and his Bride Sabrina. They were burning holes in the sky in their Sport Racer. I decided I had to wait until they taxied in before I could leave. The next few shots are a sequence of their grand entrance. (I am embarrassed to say I can’t remember why I didn’t get a shot of them doing their fly-by…)
A little after the Moler’s settled into their spot, the two Long EZ’s decided it was time to bug out.
The Corvette Club brought a fine sample of America’s Sports Car. Vettes from the 60’s to the present were represented. Some were in original state and some were customized and race ready. Very nice!
I was told that this F-15 forward section is the only privately owned example in existence. It is a great compliment to the F-4 Steve already owns but it was not in attendance today. If you have an F-16 or F-18 you need to unload, give Steve a call. I think he needs them.
By noon it was getting really windy – about 30mph – and it was coming right out of the direction I would be traveling. That really doesn’t bother me, though, as long as I have enough fuel to make the trip. For me, being in the air is the ticket – fun destinations are icing on the cake. Since I had been at the Stearman Field Fly-In since about 7 am, though, I was thinking it was a good time to leave. I asked Doug Moler if he wouldn’t mind holding my “windward” wing as I taxied to the active. My plane is light enough that a good gust could flip it on to the leeward wing or even upside down. He and Sabrina came over to help. I had started untying my plane when we saw a famous WWII Fighter Plane approach the field and make a pass. I believe it was an F4F Wildcat (it could be an F6F Hellcat, though). I have never seen one of these in person and really wanted to check it out so we aborted my takeoff procedure.
While we were admiring the Wildcat, my MXL suddenly slid across the ground. It was then I realized that in preparation for takeoff I had untied the leeward wing before the Wildcat came into view. The windward wing was still tied down and a gust came up and pivoted the plane around the wind-side wing. Because I was only about 20 feet away, I was able to run over quickly to stabilize it. Nothing was scratched, dent or bent but the incident convinced me it was time to go. I’ll have to get some “up close” time with the Wildcat on another occasion.
I taxied onto the active, applied full power and was in the air with about 8′ of ground roll. That is one of the neat things this ultralight can do.
The flight home was rather uneventful. It was very hot outside so hardly anyone was to be seen below. The winds at 1,000′ were between 25 and 40 as measured by subtracting my airspeed from my GPS ground speed. At times I had only 10 mph forward speed across the ground. The air was fairly smooth, though, so I had a good time. It took me an hour to get back home against the wind. Keep in mind that my trip TO Stearman Field that morning only took 15 minutes to travel the same distance.
I had a lot of time to examine the countryside so I took some pictures of a few of the attractive Kansas villas I passed over.
Near the end of the journey is what I call “The Corridor”. It is a stretch between the South side of Derby, Kansas and a cell tower North of Mulvane, Kansas. There are no houses in this corridor so I use it to cross over when heading East from Selby Aerodrome and to return to it from the West. Out in the middle of it is an old circular milking barn that has been converted to a home. It is the red building below. If the air hadn’t been so choppy by this time I would have taken a better shot. This is the best of two attempts. The circular part of the house used to be more evident from this angle before that tree grew so high.
Since it was so windy I had been pondering how I would handle my landing, taxi and hangar entry upon arriving at my home field. We have a great hangar and it has an electric bi-fold door. To open it one must egress one’s airplane, go inside, release two door catch levers and then hit the power switch to raise it. This all takes a bit of time and I was concerned that, due to the strong wind, in the interim my plane might not be in the same place when I came out of the hangar as it was when I left it. Also there was the real possibility that it would be near the same place I left it but inverted. (This actually happened to my MX years ago at The Gliderport…)
My plan was to land and taxi to the North side of the Quonset Hut hangar South of the main hangar. I was going to use it as a wind break while I opened the main hangar door. But as it turned out, I was happy to see as I approached the field that the door was open! Hangarmate Bill Bailey was working on his Taylorcraft and had it open to get some breeze going through the building. I was able to land and taxi right into the hangar. Perfect!
The 5th Annual Stearman Field Fly-In – Fun Flying at its Finest!
‘Till Next Time…
Blue Skies & Tailwinds!™
Brian, great article… I glad to see that someone still enjoys flying ultra-lights.
F-15A cockpit dude