Monday, July 31, 2006


The Ingram Foster Biplane hanging from the ceiling at ABQ International Airport

The Foster-Ingram biplane with the information board underneath

I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico on the 10th of July. Primarily my job was to visit the Eclipse 500 VLJ (Very Light Jet) design and manufacturing center located there. I did write about the VLJ earlier. Just a quick note again, a VLJ is like a really small personal jet that some companies are also thinking of using as an air taxi service. The entire concept is new and it remains to be seen whether it makes business sense to operate a VLJ as anything other than a personal toy. The Eclipse 500 has some worthy competition in the form of the Cessna Mustang, and Embraer Phenom.

I was on my way out of Albuquerque and was at the ABQ Airport (Sunport as it is called fondly) and proceeding towards security and the gates; I came across a large hall. Hanging from the ceiling is an old biplane. The aviation department of ABQ has set up an information board underneath the hanging biplane. I was early and had plenty of time to hang around and read the stuff, take notes and gaze at the display. Unluckily, I had left the camera in my checked in bag and there’s no way of retrieving it. Luckily I had a camera phone. Saved the day although that’s probably not the best tool for better photography.

The hanging airplane is a real one, constructed in the year 1914, from original materials. The model is a 1914 Ingram-Foster Biplane based on a popular Curtiss Biplane. It is mounted with a Roberts engine rated at 100 HP. The airplane is constructed out of wood, fabric, metal and bamboo.

Jay Ingram, a Ford car dealer those days based at Decatur, Texas, met Charles A. Foster who had been flying a Curtiss Pusher Bi-plane and using the same design, made their own airplane and called it the Ingram-Foster Biplane. The present one was also manufactured by them and kept in a box until it was sold from a private owner to the ABQ Museum and Department of Aviation in 1987. The ABQ Department painstakingly put the Airplane together and has now displayed it.

Glen Curtiss, the original designer of the Curtiss Airplane was the main rival for the Wright Brothers between 1909 and 1911 and his models were copied by many others. Curtiss Airplanes made a lot of historical records in Aviation.

1908 – Glen Curtiss won $2,500 from Scientific American to fly an “officially witnessed” flight of 1 kilometer (0.62 Miles).

1911 – Eugene Ely with a Curtiss Pusher was the first to take off from the deck of a ship. In the same year, with a similar type of Airplane, Lincoln Beachey was the first to fly an airplane upside down. He also set the altitude record of 11,642 feet.

1913 – Again Lincoln Beachey was the first to loop the airplane.

In the year 1911, a Curtiss pusher, delivered from the factory at Hammondsport, New York, costed $4500-$6,000 depending on the size of the engine. Today’s value would approximate $78,000 for the upper end model. The engines were 4, 6 and 8 cylinder ones. The last one was required to fly the Airplane out of hot and high airfields such as ABQ.

All this information can be found beneath the hanging Ingram-Foster biplane. The one thing I found wanting, is that there were no brochures or printed information leaflets, that one could have carried home. The next time one of you go to ABQ Airport, look it up, take some pictures and be nice, pass them to me, for posting!

Monday, July 17, 2006

FROM 39,000 FEET

For a change, I don’t have to sit up front in the cockpit and fly. For a change I am sitting in the passenger cabin of a mid sized corporate jet. The airplane we are flying is a Raytheon Hawker 800XP, taking off early from Van Nuys near LA across the USA to Little Rock, Arkansas. My seat is a plush lateral and side tracking (means that the seat can swivel around in all directions), work table, phone, electrical outlet for my laptop, remote control audio and video. I get to eat fresh strawberries, cookies, muffins etc while someone else flies the plane. The airshow monitor shows that we are doing 499 MPH at 39,000 feet and the outside air temperature is -58 degrees. Why am I doing this trip? We are going to Little Rock (home of President Clinton-no we are not visiting him) where Raytheon Hawker has their new Aircraft completion center. We are half way there already, time remaining 1 Hour and 10 minutes. Total flying time is 3 Hours and 15 minutes with some headwinds coming our way. That’s not too shabby for an airplane this size.
Chuck, Boss and me in the back of the executive jet

We are flying in a 2002 model and going to see some new ones with options, all at the manufacturers cost. It does feel funny to be sitting back here instead of the familiar environment of the cockpit, wearing a full shirt, corporate style trousers, feeling like a millions bucks. But, I’ll take it! I did visit the cockpit, chatted with Capt. Errol, who is flying the airplane and talked about India. He thinks India is a growing economy and is surprised at the number of airplanes that Indian companies are buying. I agreed with him, of course. I am a part of that acquisition action at the moment anyway. I look behind me and three guys including Chuck Smith, Doug (from hawker) and my boss in an animated conversation about airplanes.

Me writing this blog from 39,000 feet

The boss does not profess to be computer literate, although he has a very sharp mind and can do basic stuff like e-mail. He is a smart operator, excellent with marketing the product and is averaging nearly double the hourly utilization in the World charter market and that’s not shabby either. Nice guy to work with, we take turns calling each other as “boss”, confusing everyone around us as to who is actually the boss. We are more like colleagues but he writes the checks and that’s good! That’s the way it is supposed to work, I fly the plane and he pays the checks, how much more fun can it get? I do lots of other interesting stuff on the side and that’s OK by him and the company and hey, I got nothing to complain.

I did not start this way, though. I have gone through trials and tribulations on and off, getting experience as I went from place to place flying around 22 different types of airplanes of all types, working for peanuts and trying hard not to turn into a monkey. Seems to me that I have indeed arrived, sitting in plush comfort with a bunch of people worth millions sitting around me. At the end of the day, I’d still like to get back to my familiar environment and take the controls.

We are coming up on Norman, Oklahoma as I write. That’s the same place where about 17 years back, I trained and obtained a Flight Instructor license that allowed me to teach people to fly airplanes and get their commercial pilot licenses. That was a fun gig too, didn’t pay much, but fun anyway. My wife always told me that I was a good instructor, probably because I talked so much, constantly. Norman also has the National tornado research center. Anyone who has seen the movie “twister”, this is where the storm chasers are based at and this is in the heart of the tornado belt in the United States.

Boss and me, notice Indian flag flying high in Little Rock, Arkansas

We are turning towards Little Rock now and time to close my computer, we will be descending soon. We are flying back the same afternoon, after enjoying some lunch at their facility and looking at various Aircraft at different levels of completion. We taxi into the Raytheon Hawker facility, a large complex with a private terminal and get off the airplane. There’s some of the top brass waiting to receive us and the best part is that they are flying the Indian flag on their flag pole as a sign of welcome! We have arrived indeed. My Birthday gift came early, a day early actually, I’ll still take it.

Friday, July 14, 2006


Thats me, the not so legendary guy, on the legendary WW II Fighter
Aviation buffs and history buffs will like this one. We are talking about the Second World War and the flying machines that did the Germans and the Japanese in. I had written about North American Aviation designed and produced WW II trainer called the T-28 Trojan in my earlier post and had also mentioned that the same company had designed and built the most successful fighter Aircraft of World war II that surpassed even the legendary Spitfire and that was called as the P51 Mustang. This piece is about the P51 Mustang.

I am still due to write about the T-28 flight but I’ll do that after my little side trip to Reno, Nevada in a B200 turboprop this weekend, followed by a Hawker 400XP executive jet day trip all the way across the US and back the same day on Monday. I still have a lot to blog about my trips to three different cities scattered across the US in the preceding four days and two of these cities have aviation historical background that I found interesting. That’s coming up next.

The P51D Mustang sitting in Chuck's hangar at Camarillo

Meanwhile, there are very few flying P51 Mustangs in the World and two of the best pieces happen to be here in Camarillo, California, where yours truly has landed up, exhausted, after all the other trips. How fun is that! To have one P51 sold to a guy in Sweden by Chuck Smith of C&J Aircraft sales (I had written about him and what he does, in my T-28 Trojan article) and that airplane parked in Chuck’s hangar for us to see, up close, real close!

Vidya had written in a comment on my article “out of Scotland” that my trip read more like the legendary fictional World War II fighter pilot called Biggles and there were a series of books on him. I guess Biggles flew the Spitfire alongside the allies the Americans flying the P51 Mustangs. The engines used were the Rolls Royce - Packard Merlin, so the Brits can claim proudly that their engine had good success on the American airframe. This Airplane out flew everything the Germans and the Italians and whoever were a part of the Axis powers had, in fact they destroyed 4,950 enemy Aircraft over Europe during the War. The 12-Cylinder Vee engines developed 1695 HP and the Aircraft top speed was 437 Miles per hour! That’s fast, by the way.

It’s a treat to be around such vintage Aircraft. These are the same airplanes that we, as kids read about in those commando comics borrowed from the neighborhood library for 25 Paisa per day, I think, and fantasized about flying those machines. If I had been stuck in one place in India, I’d never have had this opportunity but luckily I have been fortunate to be able to roam around the World and be able to see, feel and maybe even fly those magnificent flying machines.

Lots more coming up …