Monday, July 30, 2007


Making Baby Windmills

I've commented a few times on the relative lack of scenery in my corner of the Midwest. The terrain is basically flat, and just about every square inch of undeveloped land has been cultivated with corn or soybeans. You can spend many enjoyable minutes admiring them from the air, but they do tend to get old. One unique crop that we do have is wind turbines. There is a large wind farm east of town that makes for interesting viewing from the ground and the air. They are still installing several new turbines, and there are enough in various stages of construction to make for an interesting view of the process.

This appears to be the Windmill Maternity Ward, where components are staged prior to being transported to each turbine site.

There are a number of individual turbine blades lined up, as well as sections of the pylons and some turbine nacelles. Occasionally you will see a semi carrying such pieces through town on the way out to the farm and they are huge. The nacelles alone are about the size of a Winnebago.

Planting the seed. The foundation looks to be reinforced concrete. I'm not sure how deep it goes, but considering the wind loads on a 400 ft turbine, you've got to have some significant support below ground.

Putting the cap on. Those are bulldozers (and large ones) next to the foundation.

Gathering the pieces. We've got three sections of pylon, the turbine nacelle with its radiator, prop hub, and three blades.

It takes some pretty big cranes to put one of these up.

The prop gets assembled on the ground, then it's hoisted into place.

Delivery - a baby windmill takes it's place in the family.

And it's a big family - there are about 250 wind turbines planned for this facility. This is how it looks on the sectional. The turbines appear to be Vestas V82s

Monday, July 23, 2007


In the Wilderness of Western Iowa

While transiting Iowa by car on my way to Bloomington in May, I decided to take a detour to check out the Iowa Aviation Museum at Greenfield Municipal Airport (KGFZ). I had seen the signs on I-80 a few times but this was the first time I was driving by during the museum's hours of operation. I wasn't expecting much - maybe a dusty hangar on a rustic one strip airport, with displays of Billy Bob's helmet and goggles from his crop dusting days, and perhaps a couple of post war jets dragged out of Davis-Montham and mounted on poles outside - but after several months of aviatory idleness, I was ready for some aeronautical adventure.

After a 12 mile drive south of the interstate, it looked like my premonition was accurate. The airport was indeed rustic, with a few decrepit hangars and nary a living airplane in sight. And there were two boneyard relics on the lawn. I almost turned around and headed back to the interstate, but I was bored, and having come this far, I summoned up what little airplane geekdom I've managed to retain while enduring my unintended Yellowbird sabbatical, and went inside.

The friendly hostess greeted me, took my $3.00 admission and invited me to browse around. Inside was a collection of old military uniforms, a few radios, and seemingly random airplane bits and pieces in glass display cases. I was trying to figure out how long I could feign a polite interest before leaving when she gestured towards a door off to the side and said: "And the airplanes are in there."

Airplanes? Maybe this wasn't a wasted trip after all. I went in there, and ... well, keep reading...

"In there" was a tidy modern hangar packed pretty tightly with a little over a dozen vintage aircraft, mostly from the 1920's, 30's and 40's. They were in a superb state of preservation, many showing signs that they had been restored to flying condition. At first glance, the collection seemed to be randomly assembled, but the information cards for each aircraft revealed that most of them had some connection to Iowa and the Midwest. Some had flown regionally. Others had been owned and donated by local flyers, including one by a prominent aerobatic pilot. And some had even been manufactured in the area, providing a reminder that the Midwest has always been fertile ground for aeronautical fruit. As a whole, they told an interesting story of the early days of aviation in America's heartland.

1928 Curtiss RobinFirst we have a 1928 Curtiss Robin. The Robin was conceived in part to provide homes for surplus Curtiss OX-5 engines. The museum's Robin is not only the oldest plane in the collection, it's the oldest known Robin in existence, being the third one produced at the Curtiss factory near St. Louis.

Curtiss Robin instrument panelYou didn't get much in the way of instrumentation in your Robin: Airspeed indicator, altimeter, and tachometer. The single magneto switch is on the left. Above it is the lever for the venetian blind cooling slats on the radiator, and opposite that is the choke lever.

1931 Kari-Keen Sioux Coupe 90-BAnother rarity with an even more local pedigree is this 1931 Kari-Keen Sioux Coupe 90-B. A bit of Googleing reveals that Kari-Keen was a Sioux City luggage manufacturing company that got involved in the aircraft business in the 20's. The Coupe's designer was one Swen Swansen from the University of South Dakota. You can't get much more Midwestern than that, can you?

Kari-Keen Sioux Coupe engineUp front is a 90hp Warner radial. The propeller was made by a fellow named Ole Fahlin, who turns out to be a bit of a legend in the world of handmade wooden propellers. A Swedish native, Ole was active in the aviation scene of the Midwest and produced wooden propellers for many aircraft through the 1940's.

Kari-Keen Sioux CoupeKari-Keen went bankrupt in 1931, with Coupe production being continued briefly under the Sioux Aircraft Corporation label. Only 32 Coupes were built. This one is #31.

Kari-Keen Sioux Coupe instrument panelThe panel looks pretty busy for the era. With the addition of oil pressure, oil temperature and a compass, you have twice as many gauges as the Robin.

Kari-Keen Sioux Coupe interiorSide-by-side seating and a single lap belt must have made the Coupe a fun little plane for taking your best girl out for a date.

Aetna-Timm Aerocraft 2SAHere we have a rare Aetna-Timm Aerocraft 2SA - the only one still in existence. The Aerocraft was built in 1941 and was intended to be a military trainer, but it didn't make the cut. Only six were built. This one is #4. The Timm company had a number of more successful designs to its credit, including the N2T-1 Tutor trainer operated by the U. S. Navy.

Aetna-Timm Aerocraft instrument panelYou solo from the rear seat. The brass placard above the inclinometer reads: "Don't do anything dumb".

deHavilland Tiger MothThis is one of two deHavilland Tiger Moths in the collection. This one was built in Australia.

deHavilland Tiger Moth instrument panelIt still has the original instruments, including the unique British style turn and slip indicator and the large horizontally mounted compass.

deHavilland Tiger Moth airspeed indicatorA spring loaded airspeed indicator is mounted on a wing strut. It must have made for an interesting instrument scan pattern.

deHavilland Tiger MothThe second Moth was built in Canada. Both date from 1941.

Piper J-2 CubThe Cub is a J-2 from 1937. The museum also has a 1946 J-3 which still flies, but it was not on display.

Piper J-2 Cub instrument panelTypical Cub panel, but not as stylish as some J-3's.

1946 Taylorcraft BC12A 1946 Taylorcraft BC12. Compared to other aircraft in the collection the Taylorcraft looks almost modern.

Taylorcraft BC12 instrument panelStill, the panel is basic, although more than adequate for VFR flight. After all, who needs instruments in a T-crate?

Stearman C-3RYour typical Stearman today is a veteran of military training during WWII, but this Kansas-built C-3R dates all the way back to 1929.

Stearman C-3RIt carries a lot of regional history, having flown the mail out of Sioux City in the early 1930's.

Stearman C-3R instrument panelThe panel appears to be of a more recent vintage than the airframe, being equipped with modern gyroscopic instruments and a transponder.

1929 Northrup Primary GliderA few gliders and ultralights hung from the ceiling. This is a Northrop Primary Glider from 1929.

1956 SCHWEIZER SGU-1-20 Primary GliderThis 1956 Schweizer is one of the newer aircraft in the collection.

A-7D Corsair II, Iowa ANGOutdoors is an A-7 from the Iowa Air National Guard.

AH-1 Huey CobraThe Iowa Army National Guard is represented by an AH-1 Huey Cobra.

Iowa Aviation Museum hangarMost of the collection is housed in this modern hangar. It also contains a library, assorted aviation artifacts, including remnants of the plane in which boxer Rocky Marciano was killed, and the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame.

Iowa's Aviation PioneersA plaque, complete with miniature windsock, honors Iowa's aviation pioneers: "These are the names of the persons who managed Iowa's early General Aviation (Fixed Base) Operations. They are the dedicated few who worked long hours on mostly small, county seat airports and were the grass-roots builders of the General Aviation business in Iowa as we see it today."

Greenfield Municipal Airport main rampThe main ramp at Greenfield Municipal shows a mix of rustic and modern facilities. The main hangar appears to be used for storage - dimly visible through the windows were the skinless carcasses of a couple of taildraggers and other assorted odds and ends.

Greenfield Municipal Airport hangarsOne of two t-hangars - this one houses a few boats and trailers and a small piece of construction machinery, but nothing with wings.

Greenfield Municipal Airport fuel pumps100LL can be had for $3.26. The sign above the pumps reads: "No spraying planes are allowed to fuel".

Greenfield Municipal Airport pilots loungeA small shed serves as a pilots lounge. It was surprisingly comfortable and well-equipped inside, with restrooms and a computer terminal for flight planning.

In general, Greenfield Municipal seems a pleasant little airport, although it was very quiet the day I visited. The Iowa Aviation Museum is a gem and well worth the effort to visit. Hours of operation for the museum are from 10:00 am to 5:00 PM Monday through Saturday, and 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM on Sundays.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Cropping the Dust

While up for an afternoon jaunt, I caught sight of this fellow working a field a few thousand feet below me.

We didn't see too many crop dusters back in New England, so I wouldn't know an AgTruck from an AgWagon or an AgCat from an AgDog. Still, I'd never seen one quite like this one.

What caught my eye initially was the white paint scheme and the long wings. If it hadn't been so low, I would have thought it was a sailplane.

But you don't see too many biplane gliders.

He sure looked graceful, swooping and turning down there.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Yellowbird's Godfather

Back when I first bought Yellowbird, the gang at the message boards held a contest to come up with her name. The winning entry was suggested by a student pilot who went by the name of Cap'n Denny. Of course, the prize for the winning nomination was to be a ride in the newly christened bird, but living in Missouri, the good Captain was a bit out of range to collect his reward. Now that Yellowbird and I reside in the same time zone as Denny, there are no more excuses. Since he was passing through the area on a weekend trip, we made plans to meet up. The weather cooperated, and Denny even dressed for the occasion!

Denny is now a certified private pilot, and Yellowbird gave him a good workout. We explored the area, checked out the windmills, and went out for lunch. Well, done, Denny, and thanks for a wonderful name!

Friday, July 20, 2007


Checking out the Neighborhood

Once settled, we took a few days to explore our new surroundings. Things are pretty sparse compared to the Northeast, but it's not all cornfields.

About 35 miles to the east we find this sleepy little field, with about half a dozen hangars and not much else. They do have fuel, for somewhat less than out home field, so it may be worth an occasional visit. There's a whopping big displaced threshold when landing to the south, for the benefit of the farmer across the street, no doubt.

The same distance to the west brings us to this more developed facility, with a full service FBO and a couple of non-precision approaches.

Bouncing back to the east, we have this impressive but uncontrolled field. It used to be very well controlled - you needed to be wearing a blue suit and flying something with the Stars and Bars on the side to get in.

To the north, a scene that plays out continually during the summer months: a small squadron of crop dusters prepares to launch a sortie against whatever critters are munching the corn.

To the south, a similar field, but boasting a grass crosswind runway and a small museum. A crop duster was in the pattern as I stopped in to touch rubber to runway and add another identifier to the logbook. He wasn't making radio calls (as dusters often decline to do), but fortunately his bright yellow livery made him visible enough to the attentive eye.

At another field frequented by dusters, I stopped in and found the conditions a bit... rustic.

There seem to be far more private strips than public around here. This one apparently used to be open to the public.

Just what the well-to-do Ag pilot would want - two nicely groomed grass runways, a couple of hangars, and two big yellow taildraggers.

No airport here, but a nice panorama from a thousand feet or so showing that there is some variety to the scenery. Of interest are the wind flow patterns in the crops that appear when you look downwind on a breezy day. It's been said that with the plentiful straight roads, you'll never need to look far for an emergency landing place. And if you know where to look, you'll never lack a wind indicator either.

They also have sunsets in the Midwest.