Winter & Spring, 2011-2012

After many comments regarding my lack of updates…an update…finally.  Apologies with no excuses.

After spending the winter, which seemed to flash by in an instant, at home in Reno, Nevada I returned to the small Northern Italian village of Nervesa della Battligia in late April, 2012.  Located about 40km north of Venice, it is the home of the Johnathan Aircraft Collection of Mr. Giancarlo Zanardo.  For more information on this very interesting man who is very passionate about the history of Italian aviation, Google his name as above.  For a YouTube video of his most fascinating Caproni Ca 3 project, go to:   

Another gem on this airfield is a real WWI Bessoneau Type H hangar.  The wood frames are the original, found in the UK.  Mr. Zanardo has made a more modern copy of the canvas covering to protect his WWI collection.

Arriving to spectacular spring weather, work on the Staggerwing was aplenty.  The annual inspection had expired during the winter so that work was started.  Most fortunately, I had met an American chap, Jon Roth, married to a French woman, Marie, and they live in Sweden.  They work together as a team in the restoration of Stearmans…mostly.  One of their personal aircraft is a Staggerwing. Another is a Cabin WACO. Their two children love to play in the back seat during flight, when not lulled to sleep by the rumble of a big round thing on the front of the aircraft.  Jon is an FAA A&P and an IA.  For you non-aviators, this means he can fix them and also inspect them to comply with rules of aircraft on the US register.  He was a great discovery for me and we have become good friends.  When I finally get as far north as Sweden I will be visiting them.  That probably will not happen this year.  In the meantime, they have spent some time in Italy and may be planning to escape the frigid winters of the far north.

After nearly a week of work, the inspection was over.  Some of the days were very long.  Jon had already completed several inspections on N (US) registered aircraft for other owners and it was time for him to be home in Sweden with the family.  He had driven down to Italy to do all these inspections and had towed a small trailer to carry his equipment, etc.  One of the heavy items he lugged down to Italy was a set of jacks just for my Staggerwing gear retraction tests which were a part of the annual inspection.  The trailer caused him more of a challenge on the ferry boat crossing between Sweden and Germany than just driving a normal car.  Guess this falls under the category of “Nobody said it would be easy”.

But Jon kept smiling and enjoying the work on the Red Rockette.  He stated that he was very impressed with the workmanship of the Croydon Aircraft Company, especially the metal work.  It’s challenging to find good metal workers to produce the difficult compound curved metal sections which were required during the aircrafts restoration.  He was even more impressed when I answered the inevitable question, “Why New Zealand”?  Just one reason is because the owner of the company personally visits British Columbia every few years to actually go into the forest and select the very trees from which his wood for aircraft restoration projects will be milled.  Prior to making these trips he had received very poor wood for aircraft restoration use by just ordering it sight unseen.  Naturally, this wood could not be returned, thus a great financial loss was incurred.  By using his knowledge of wood, his trips to BC would pay for themselves in savings over time, and guarantee quality output at the end of the project.  It was actually difficult for me to have the fabric applied to cover all the magnificent wood work this little NZ company had produced.  Is there a clear see-through material with which to cover aircraft?  I wish there were.

I remember a wonderful sight years ago at Oshkosh.  In front of the Red Barn of the Vintage Division of the EAA, sat a WACO restoration which was, indeed, covered in a clear material for display purposes.  Watching parents show their children what was UNDER all the fabric of the aircraft surrounding them was worth the price of admission.  The look of awe on the children’s faces was wonderful.  And isn’t that a big part of what Oshkosh is all about?

But let’s get back to Italy.  It was time to visit a new friend near Piacenza.  A beautiful flight westward along the Italian Alps just north of Verona, across Lago di Garda, north of Brescia, then turning southwest getting down to 1500 feet in the Po Valley.  This part of the journey became quite odiforous.  It was late in the afternoon and the very strong smell of barnyard hung in the air.  Guess natures “fertilizer” had just been spread on the fields.  Ugghh.  But what a beautiful afternoon for flying in a magnificent part of the world, northern Italy.  A wonderful dish of homemade risotto, some excellent Italian wine, and the company of new friends topped off a most enjoyable day.

The next morning it was time to head southeast for a visit with friends in Rome.  My new Italian friend from Piacenza would join me in the journey.  It was another beautiful day in northern Italy.  When flying VFR (Visual Flight Rules) in Italy, a pilot faces a great number of airspace and altitude restrictions.  It’s a challenge to remain out of controlled airspace.  We wiggled our way between restricted areas staying at low altitude to avoid others which we could fly under.  A fuel stop was required and Reggio Emilia was chosen.  No grass runway here, only a long bit of concrete.  As some of you know, I like to land on grass and takeoff on a hard surface runway.  This procedure saves a good deal of wear on the tires, which are becoming difficult to find.  Having fueled up with some shockingly expensive fuel, we headed southeastbound through some valleys but mostly over the Apennine mountains.  Air Traffic Control in the vicinity of Florence was very accommodating to us by letting us fly directly over the city saving us many miles.  Passing very close to the small, hilltop village of Cortona which I had visited with my oldest daughter and her husband last year, we proceeded past the famous wine town of Montepulciano, over Lago Bolsena, landing at the delightful small airfield called Alituscia Vejano.  Met by old friends, we all joined for an outstanding lunch at the airfield restaurant “Barrone Rosso”, or the Red Barron.

It’s late and I need a nap.  This brings us up to the middle of May, 2012.  To be continued.

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