By Fred “Crash” Blechman
This is a story about two V-tail Beech Bonanzas, a twin-engine Beech Baron, three Lancair 360s, eight pilots, one passenger, three airports, a super Sunday buffet and racing flames you can add to your car or airplane.
It all had its beginning when I met, and flew with Brian Dixon, in his V-tail Bonanza, on a recent Airventurers Club flight to Santa Barbara (Airport Journals September 2006 issue). When I met Brian at Van Nuys Airport and saw his van, I thought it had a brilliant paint job. He told me all the lettering and decorations—including flames—were special art decals he produced. More on that later.
I had a great time flying his V-tail Bonanza at 500 feet above the Pacific Ocean, making sharp turns to follow the rugged coastline as it twisted in and out along the shore. The beaches were crowded, as was the Pacific Coast Highway, with cars seeming to just crawl along as we zipped by at about 150 miles an hour.
That’s when I found out that Brian cranked up his Bonanza every Sunday and made a breakfast flight to some Southern California airport restaurant, usually with other pilots. He invited me to go along one Sunday—and I did!
At 9:25 a.m. this particular Sunday, Brian took off from Van Nuys Airport’s Runway 16R, with me in the right seat. The visibility was poor—about three miles—as I took the controls, turned north and climbed 800 feet a minute at 140 knots. Apparently we were flying through an inversion layer—or perhaps residual smoke from a major fire raging to the north—because when we reached about 2,000 feet, the visibility was excellent, under a cloudy 10,000 foot ceiling.
By prior arrangement, flying in formation slightly below and behind us, Tim Hutchinson had joined us, in his twin-engine Beech Baron, along with his passenger, artist Bob Wakefield. We climbed to 5,500 feet and headed north through the Newhall Pass, and then picked up a heading of 30 degrees for Rosamond Skypark, a small field about four miles west of Edwards Air Force Base.
I made necessary turns very gradually, since I was leading this two-plane formation. We flew east of Agua Dulce Airport, then headed north over Fox Airfield. Brian took the controls, and we made a two-plane pass over the Rosamond runway, broke to the left and landed smoothly at 10 a.m. on the narrow runway, followed by Tim in the Baron. We parked right alongside the Golden Cantina Restaurant, which opens at 10 a.m. on Sundays.
Before we had a chance to go into the restaurant, along came another V-tail Bonanza, which landed and taxied to park along side our planes. Out came the pilot, 87-year-old Bob Steele—a local aviation legend known for his sense of humor, and long, flowing gray hair—and his passenger, Steve Thompson.
As we chatted, I discovered Bob has been flying since1944, has flown over 1,000 hours on instruments, and has owned five airplanes since 1955. This one, a turbo-powered V-35 that Bob has flown to 29,000 feet, is called Concubine III, and is also decorated with Brian’s colorful vinyl decals. (Incidentally, Bob Wakefield designed that decal for Brian to produce.) His passenger, Steve, has been a pilot since 1980, and is a CFII (certified flight instructor – instruments), as well as a concert pianist and opera singer.
The six of us had just gotten a large booth in the restaurant, next to a large window facing the airport, when we noticed three small planes in formation streak by, break off and land. They were homebuilt Lancair 360s, almost identical, but with different color schemes. These low-wing, sleek, single-engine, side-by-side, two-seat aircraft were flown in without passengers. David LaFaille flew in the yellow one, which he’s had for three years. Randy Shatz flew in the silver one, which he’s owned for two years. The brown/yellow/white Lancair was flown by John Carpenter. Each of these Lancairs sported Brian’s decals.
The Golden Cantina all-you-can-eat Sunday champagne buffet ($13.95 plus tax and tip) was fabulous. In addition to a glass of champagne, you choose any add-ons for a custom-cooked omelet. You have your choice of many breakfast and lunch entrees and desserts, and free refills on the included soft drinks. It’s easy to see why many local residents join the Sunday fly-ins for this buffet.
After the great buffet, I made arrangements to fly with Tim in his Baron, while Bob Wakefield flew with Brian. Brian took off first, at 12:20, and went into a left orbit as Tim took off and rendezvoused into formation. We went into trail foundation as I took the controls and followed Brian. This was great fun, as Brian made turns and I turned behind him, keeping him in the center of my windscreen. It was just like tail-chasing in a Corsair 50 years ago. Tim handled the two throttles, so it was easy for me to just control the yoke and rudders to maintain position.
Brian flew to Agua Dulce Airpark, where we landed at 12:40. I had flown to Agua Dulce several times on Sundays, where many people drove or flew in for the regular Sunday BBQ. But, as we taxied to the parking area near the restaurant, it was like being in the twilight zone!” The place was empty. No airplanes in sight. No people. One car in the large parking lot! Yet, the grass was mowed, and all the white lawn chairs and tables were clean. Strange! Where was everyone?
As we nosed around, we found one person in the office and two people loading a station wagon. They told us that the field was still open (daylight only), and self-serve fuel was available, but they had no ground radio contact, and the restaurant had been closed for months. For more than two years, some local residents, primarily because of the noise, had been trying to close down the airport. On Nov. 14, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to allow the facility to expand. The owners will be allowed to add 18 hangars to the present 37, build a 20-room hotel and restaurant, and create a 250,000-square-foot area to tie down airplanes.
We took off for Van Nuys Airport at 1:00, again with Brian leading in his Bonanza, and me following in trail in the Baron. As we approached the airport, Tim took the controls, pulled in close to the Bonanza, and, with the tower’s permission, we made a two-plane flyover and landed in formation at 1:15 on Runway 16R. It’s a credit to the piloting skills of both Brian and Tim that they made such a smooth approach and landed in formation, with two completely different aircraft—a single and a twin.
Afterwards, I spoke with Brian Dixon about his Van Nuys business near the airport, Scott T’s. His business has printed and embroidered garments and supplied advertising specialties since 1994. In 1997, he added all sorts of signage production for both small and large companies. This includes colorful and futuristic graphics, printed on vinyl magnets for placement on cars and airplanes—and they stay on, even at high speeds. The famous F8F air racer, Rare Bear, is decorated with Brian’s nose art, as are many other aircraft.
Contact Brian Dixon at 800-632-1229, or visit his website at [http://www.scottts.com]. Fred “Crash” Blechman’s two flying books, “Bent Wings – F4U Action & Accidents: True Tales of Trial & Terror!” and “Flying With the Fred Baron,” are available at [http://www.amazon.com] or [http://www.bn.com].