Homecoming, of Sorts
My direct association with Dick Schreder designed sailplanes began in July of 1985, when I made my first flight in an HP-16. I was hooked! These planes offered really great performance, were not very expensive, and in this case, pretty easy to crew. In 1987, I moved on from the HP-16 to a Zuni II. The Zuni is more nearly competitive in the 15 meter class, but I still had a fondness for the Schreder ship.
In early 1990, Bob Park purchased a large number of gliders and parts from an estate in Seymour, Texas. One of the sailplanes he purchased was HP-14, serial number 1. The original HP-14. The last homebuilt sailplane to win a US National Soaring Championships. This was quite a discovery. I had been thinking of finding an HP-14 and installing a motor to get a self-launching sailplane. The price was right, so my birthday present to myself in 1990 was this HP-14.
Bob told me I could leave it is his hangar for a while (I was in the process of having my house built), so there it stayed until Thanksgiving of 1990. I borrowed Joe Roth’s trailer (He bought another HP-14 from Bob’s collection and spent the summer fixing it up and building a trailer.) and brought my newly acquired ship to my newly finished home.
She was in need of a new right aileron, repairs to two flap panels, new glass in the canopy and turtle deck frames, and a good general going through. This should all have been able to be done in a matter of months. But I let myself get sidetracked with other projects (like, the 604 in January, 1991, a K-8, an RHJ-9, and…. Well, you get the picture!). I did get the aileron built, the flaps repaired, glass installed in the canopy frames, and the ship pretty well completed. I had also purchased a trailer that I had at first thought would only need to be lengthened for the 14s longer wings. Turns out, it was in sad enough condition, that I needed to re-build the trailer from the frame up. That is why we call these things, “Projects”, right? We keep on “projecting” when we will get it done. I started off saying “Flying again, Spring 1991.”
Time went by and in 1997, George Applebay was sponsoring the First Antique and Classic Soaring Gathering at Moriarty, New Mexico. I decided that this would be a great time and place to show off this HP-14. Near as I could tell, the ship had been written off in about 1977 or 1978 when it was stalled in on landing. The fuselage had been repaired when I got the ship. What better time to bring the plane back to active flying than 20 years after it was thought to be a gonner? And what better place than an Antique and Classic Sailplane Gathering? With the goal set and the plane nearly ready, “all” I had to do was get the trailer complete and safe to haul the glider, and I would be on my way.
By Mid May of 1997, it was obvious that I was not making very good progress towards finishing the trailer. I decided to put all other things aside, and started working on it from as soon as I got home, until it was time to go to bed. With about a week to go, it was looking close, but still possible. One more bay to skin on the trailer, then lots of little fixtures, supports, etc. But things for some reason just seemed to stop happening. I couldn’t get things done, and I rapidly ran out of time. I could possibly have left Sunday or Monday morning (plan was to be ready to leave Saturday morning), but the trailer would not have been complete and I felt there was too much risk to the airplane to haul it to New Mexico. And there were still things to be done to the glider before it was ready to fly. So, I pushed the glider and trailer into the garage and took my Zuni.
For about the next three years, the HP sat almost untouched. In 2000 or 2001, I started getting interested again in getting the HP-14 going again. I have now given up plans to make this one into a self-launcher, as I think there is too much history in the ship to do such a mod. I had been able to get the original log books from a previous owner, so I now had its complete history documented. I began to slowly work on the trailer in my garage/workshop. Slowly being the key word. I had completed a revision I made to the panel, installed new plumbing for the TE probe, wires for a battery behind the seat on the right hand side, and even started installing an oxygen system (Not often needed in Kansas, but definitely needed in New Mexico). All was progressing slowly, but progressing.
Then, during the Sports Class Nationals in 2002, came the word that Dick Schreder had passed away. I saw that there was going to be a memorial sailplane gathering at Bryan, Ohio sometime in September. Now, I felt I had to get the airplane going. Dick would not be able to see his plane fly again from earth, but at least he would be able to look down from above and see it flying over his home. If I could get it done. Time was short, as I was to be Competition Director at a contest sponsored by KSA. Then, there was the annual trek to Ulysses over the Labor Day Weekend. This ended up leaving less than two weeks of evenings to finish a project that had been underway for nearly 12 years.
I once again went into “work until midnight” mode. This time, I guess the task was smaller, as I got the glider and trailer ready to go. I was to leave for Bryan on Friday morning. I was actually ready to go Thursday night! The trailer was done, the lights worked, the glider was secured, and the annual was done. All that was remaining was to get the liability coverage, get to Bryan, assemble, and fly. Remember the previous comment about “projects”? And have you ever read any of Dick Schreder’s tales of getting new ships done “just in time”? Well, it ain’t over till its over, as a baseball coach once said!
I loaded up the van with all sorts of supplies. I took some books, pictures, and information on the HP-14. I knew the weather may not be all that great, so I took along things to let me work on the trailer if I wasn’t able to go fly. I also took along things to work on the van if it should have a problem: blankets, sheet, a pillow and other things for making a long, comfortable stay in the van, as I knew I would arrive in Bryan after most motel managers have gone to bed and turned on the “No Vacancy” light.
I headed out still sort of dark and early on Friday morning. I watched everything about the early stages of the trip very carefully. Is the trailer behaving? Do the tires (brand new tires on the old rims) look like they are still holding air? Are the springs on the axle still working (I had a leaf spring break on the HP-16 when coming back from TSA, and my dad had a torsion spring fail on his ASW-20 trailer), is the trailer still hooked up? I stopped at the rest area on the Kansas Turnpike between El Dorado and Emporia, just to see how things were going. Wheel bearings were not hot to the touch, trailer still felt solid, it was pulling nicely, the glider was not moving around inside the trailer (I looked inside just to be sure). All that worrying for nothing!
So I thought. About 120 miles form home (the trip is about 900 miles each way), I got the shock of my life. I had grown accustomed to looking in the center rear view mirror and seeing the classic Schreder Fixed Vee Tail doghouses in a certain spot. I looked back, and they were GONE!!!! Had the trailer come off? I hadn’t felt any bumps. A quick look out the side mirror showed that the trailer was still there, but the back end of it was VERY LOW! I immediately pulled onto the shoulder and stopped. My heart was in my throat. My trip was ruined. The glider was surely damaged and I would not be able to fly it at Bryan. It was a sad site, indeed. Not even 10AM, and just over 100 miles and I have had the journey ruined.
I had used cheap pop rivets and a adhesive/sealant when assembling the back half of the trailer. I had used sheet metal screws for the front half, as I liked the way I cold pull the skins down tight, get sealant squeeze-out, and a good, shear joint on the fasteners. No need for you all to lecture me about pop rivets. A friend had used the exact same rivets on his HP-14 trailer, and it held up just fine. Difference is, he has a steel tube frame, and a continuous stringer along the top centerline of the trailer. My trailer had failed at the classic location: the first skin joint aft of the axle. What would Schreder do in this situation, I thought? He surely would not cry over this spilled milk. Compared to all the other effort put into this sport, this must surely be just a minor setback, I reasoned.
Then, it hit me. In the back of my van, I had all sorts of supplies. A cordless drill, a regular drill (useless out here without 110 volts, but I had it anyway), about 500 sheet metal screws (I thought I would eventually replace all the pop rivets in the back end of the trailer with screws), a hydraulic jack (very handy for picking up dragging trailer rear ends, or keeping you from having to turn that GM jack 20,000 turns to be able to change a flat tire), bricks (for use as wheel chocks or holding the droopy rear end of a trailer up while you reset the jack to raise it higher), sheet metal snips, hack saw, and even some extra aluminum. So, rather than cussing about what had happened, I set to work fixing it. In about 45 minutes, I had jacked the back end of the trailer back up and into position, replace all the failed pop rivets with screws, added a few more screws across the top (it is very important that at these times, you save the battery power for such things as drilling. Do not waste it installing screws. You can turn a screwdriver by hand much easier than you can turn a drill bit by hand! I did not think to bring my hand crank drill, though.), and was ready to continue my journey. I did look inside the trailer, and all appeared to be OK. I would look more closely when I got to Bryan.
The rest of the trip to Bryan was uneventful. I stopped off at Highland, Illinois to get gas, call about getting insurance for the glider, and see one of the St Louis gliderports. I had a nice visit, bought gas at the most expensive place on the entire route, and continued on my way. I got to Bryan at about 12:30 AM. I had to ask directions at the all-night grocery store as to how to find the airport. I had been there 10 years before, but it had been daylight. And I hadn’t been driving for 15 hours. I got to the airport at about 1:00 AM, and crawled into the back of the van to sleep.
I woke up at about 6:00 AM, as the sun was just starting to come up. It had been a cold, dewy night with not much sleep for me. I moved the van from my grassy parking place to what I hoped would be an out of the way corner of the ramp. It wasn’t long before I was being visited by Carol, Karen and Angie Schreder; Charlie Spratt; and, Joe Emons, among others. Everyone seemed happy to see the HP-14 prototype had been brought to the gathering. Oh, yes, and some even said they were happy to see me! Well, I got the plane assembled with help from several locals and then had to attend to all the details of a homebuilt, restoration in progress, ship. The strut pressure was low (I finally found a good use for those 250 psi , 12 volt tire pumps!), the tape did not seem like it would hold the fairings in place, the wheel brake did not work, and I still had to get a cockpit checkout for the liability insurance to be valid. The good news is, this turned out to be not much of a soaring day. So, I had plenty of time to get all these little things taken care of. And a close inspection of the ship showed no marks from the trailer drooping incident!
About 4:00 PM, sort of anti-climactically, I made my first flight in HP-14, N4736G. This was the first logged flight of the plane in nearly 25 years. And she had not forgotten how. For those that have not flown an HP-14, they are not the easiest to fly well. They have lots of performance, are built very stout, and pretty forgiving. But they are not easy to keep coordinated. I worked one very weak thermal from about 1200 feet to about 2200 feet. Others were doing better, and some not as well. I managed to stretch about 30 minutes out of the flight, with the last 4 or 5 hanging on while the towplane launched the local 2-33 for another demo flight. Gear Down on downwind, flaps to make the desired touchdown point. Where should that be? I know where I want to stop, but I have no wheel brake and I don’t know how well the ship rolls. Better to land short and stop short than go screaming past parked gliders. Flap loads are much lower than I expected. Approach looks good. Easy, you want to make this landing perfect. Chirp! And no bounce! Flaps up to let it roll. Man, it sure gets loud when that hard plastic tailwheel is on the runway! And we are stopped. About 50 feet short of the intersection. What a way to end this first flight!
That evening, Angie hosted a wonderful chicken dinner in the Schreder hangar. Many stories were told by people and on people. Karen and Carol did an excellent “You Might Be Dick Schreder if…” version of Jeff Foxworthy’s routine. You might be Dick Schreder if: You consider a Hammer to be the most important tool in the glider assembly kit. You ever considered buying stock in the company that makes Bondo. You ever made the President of the US wait in a holding pattern while you practiced single engine approaches. There were many other stories that were just as good. Charlie Spratt told tales of business trips and a most memorable one involving a shipment of Taco Sauce to Florida. It seems the company that made the Taco Sauce for Taco Tico needed a shipment taken to Florida. And they needed it done ASAP. Dick was the man, and Charlie was going along in the right seat. The twin (a Piper Navajo, I think) was loaded full of boxes of Taco Sauce. So, full, in fact, they had to get in before the last boxes were loaded, as the last boxes filled the aisle. They had checked and rechecked the weight and balance. It was within limits, but Charlie didn’t think the airplane looked right. If Dick says it is right, then it must be right. As they pulled onto the runway, Charlie said he asked Dick one more time, “Are you sure this is OK?” Dick responded, “Well, if it isn’t, they won’t be able to tell us from the Taco Sauce!” And with that, they headed for Florida!
Sunday dawned much the same as Saturday had. Since there looked to be little chance of good soaring, most everyone headed for home. By about 10:00 AM, there were some alto cu visible to the west and south. Well, at least some air is moving somewhere. During the previous day, I think there was a wind gust to all of 5 MPH! I got a tour of some of the facilities, and we even got the HP-20 out of its trailer. It is a fine looking sailplane. All metal construction, tee tail, double tapered wing planform. I hope it can eventually end up with he US Southwest Soaring Museum. But it needs to be flown more, first.
Cu started popping about noon, and I decided that I would indeed fly today. One of the towplanes from Chicago had stuck around, in case I wanted to fly. I think I finally launched about 1:30 or 2:00. There was lots of Cu to the north, east, and west, but none visible to the south. I got off tow at about 2300 feet in what I hoped would be a good thermal. It was. I wanted to let those on the ground know that this was a good day. But I had left my hand-held radio on overnight and had run down the batteries. Let’s see. No radio. Not sure of the phone number. No crew. Ah, heck, it is a good day. I won’t venture “too” far from home! I flew about 45 miles North to Adrian, Michigan, then over to Butler, Indiana (about 15 miles west of Bryan), down to Hicksville, Ohio (about 20 miles southwest of Bryan), then home. This day, I was in the air about 3:15 and covered about 125 miles cross-country distance.
Of course, the airport was almost completely abandoned when I got back. Angie had taken Karen to Toledo so she could catch her flight back to her home in Arizona. Carol had gone home, and Charlie had gone with her. I did get a helper for loading the glider into the trailer and found a note inviting me to dinner at Carol’s house. The directions were a bit confusing, but I did get there. A wonderful way to end this part of the trip.
I got up early on Monday morning and hit the road. I new it was going to be a long drive and I would have to go back to work on Tuesday morning. This time, it was truly an uneventful trip. When I got home, there was a message from my Kansas City brother, Ron. He said that his spy network had reported seeing me going through Kansas City at about 5:00 PM, and he wanted to know how things had gone. Jeez, you cannot go anywhere or do anything now without being seen, can you? Of course, you are pretty easy to identify when driving a black van and pulling a 30 foot long, shiny silver trailer.