The Liberty Gazette
February 17, 2009
February 17, 2009
The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely
Linda: Back in December, Jared Calvert sent out a notice about a fly-in at Wichita Falls’ Kickapoo Downtown airport, formerly Call Field, where there would be a flying Curtiss JN4-D “Jenny.” That’s a 1917, WWI airplane, and it actually flies. In fact, the City of Wichita Falls purchased the airplane and keeps the maintenance and upkeep for it in the budget. If the weather was good in Wichita Falls, the old Jenny would fly that day. We were joined by a friend who is working on his instrument rating and wanted to share flight time. That made Mike a mere passenger on the trip, but he was a good sport.
When Jared Calvert says something, folks listen. He’s an impressive young man, all of 22. He hosted a fly-in last May in Ranger, a grass strip, which included an air show, barbeque, and good old-fashioned fun. Lots of people showed up because Jared is enthusiastic and in the world of aviation that’s a good thing.
When we arrived, Jared met us with his usual cheerful attitude and brought us over to meet the Jenny. The City of Wichita Falls bought the Jenny to promote their history and the contributions their airport has made to the community. It’s kept in a very nicely restored old hangar. But the city council wanted it to be more than just a museum; they wanted the Jenny to be maintained in flying condition and flown as a living memorial.
Mike: Call Field was an Army Air Corp base and in 1917-1918 it was used to train pilots for WWI. About 3,000 men trained there in a Curtiss Jenny, identical to the one showcased there now. It’s a bi-wing, fabric covered airplane with a wooden propeller. The airport’s website claims their Jenny is one of only five flyable JN4-Ds, and they are quite proud of it.
The list of qualified pilots to fly her however is short, especially considering the insurance company’s strict requirements. The designated pilots for the “new” acquisition are David Martin, of Possum Kingdom, Texas, a former US Air Force Pilot, Top Gun award recipient, and world-renown aerobatic pilot; and 87-year old Tom Danaher, of Wichita Falls, a pilot-actor and technical advisor for the motion picture industry who has performed aerial stunts in and advised on such movies as “Air America,” “Golden Eye,” and “Cliffhangar.” On the subject of insurance, Jared laughed, “We were thinking there was no way we could get insurance to fly the Jenny but when they asked who would be flying it and we told them, there were no more questions asked.”
The wind turned out to be stronger than they felt comfortable with so the Jenny did not fly the day we visited, but Tom Danaher did start it up a couple times. The crowd enjoyed the sound of the old bird’s rocker arms positioned on the outside of the airplane’s cowling as they clattered in perfect harmony. Both Linda and Jared said watching the exterior rocker arms reminded them of some old movies depicting factories during the war-era.
After the crew walked the Jenny back into her display hangar we headed down the street to a burger joint and added our small contribution to the economy of Wichita Falls before roaring skyward to enjoy the rest of a wonderful day.
Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com