By Fred “Crash” Blechman
The Van Nuys Propeller Aircraft Association held its annual BBQ on April 23 in coordination with a visit by B-17G Flying Fortress “Fuddy Duddy.” Elliot Sanders, president of VNYPROP, and Barbara Cesar, owner of Syncro Aircraft Interiors, co-hosted the event held at Syncro’s hangar on the east side of Van Nuys Airport.
VNYPROP is an organization of aircraft owners, pilots, aviation enthusiasts, homeowners, business operators and other individuals who have joined together to promote and enhance community awareness of general aviation and to assure that propeller aircraft and related businesses maintain a presence at VNY. Its goal is to provide a means of communication between individuals concerned with propeller aircraft and groups such as the Los Angeles World Airports Association, major leaseholders, homeowners’ groups, and the community around the airport.
Attendees, including a group of veterans from the WWII 447th Bomb Group, enjoyed the barbeque, followed by a ticket-holders drawing for three free rides in “Fuddy Duddy.” Then Elliot Sanders introduced Cesar, various VNYPROP movers and shakers, and numerous guests from the airport community.
“In the course of the last three years, from absolutely nothing, the presence of VNYPROP has had influence with the FAA, AOPA, the airport, its management, and the politicians that represent the area,” Sanders said. “Progress that had been stagnant for 15 to 20 years is now beginning to roll. Although we (propeller-driven aircraft) are not the highest income producers for many of the FBOs and the other fuelers, they have come to realize the necessity of our being here.”
He used flight training as an example.
“The only place it’s going to come from is single-engine aircraft,” he said. “You don’t start out in the back seat of a jet! You must start somewhere, and we basically show the need for that. There are now a growing—not declining—number of small single-engine privately-owned aircraft in the United States, due to the new upstart companies that are coming up, and including the old ones that are growing—partly due to the relaxation of insurance liability laws.”
There are almost 500 propeller-driven aircraft and seven turbine FBOs on the field. The jets have ever-increasing expenditures for land use from the city of Los Angeles, which is now in the midst of renegotiating their leases.
Sanders stated that they’ve never been closer to getting their leases established as they are now, and that LAWA has realized the need to implement changes at the airport in order to accommodate the balance that props have requested, and their right to stay. If the props were forced to leave, there could be a loss of government funding for various things.
Sanders introduced Coby King, chairman of the Van Nuys Citizens Advisory Council since 2000, as the featured guest speaker. He affirmed that the various groups—governmental and citizen—are starting to reach accord. As they get closer, the rent structure around the airport will become considerably higher because there haven’t been raises of any substantial amount for most of these people for years. That applies to all operators on the field—props and jets.
“The CAC works with the airport leaseholders to come up with solutions to some of the toughest issues we face at this airport,” King stated.
He credited Sanders with being the voice of the prop owners, and thanked Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas for his support.
King gave some details on Alternative J, the master plan that is in the approval process. Alternative J makes a permanent 35 acres available on the west side of the airport—the old National Guard site—and includes a leasing policy agreement that extends that by 15 acres, which would include the Condor Squadron and other locations. The buildings in the old National Guard area will all be torn down. A map showing the Alternative J acreage plan for props, jets and industrial areas can be found at www.vnyprop.org.
Councilman Cardenas spoke briefly.
“We’re working with the organizations and people in the community to make sure that we have balance,” he said.
Million Air will be all jets, thus displacing a total of 117 props, requiring coordination between seven different developmental leases—two of which are on the forefront—LAWA and the City of Los Angeles.
“This has been talked about for 15-plus years,” Sanders pointed out. “For all intents and purposes, our association is working much more in concert with tenants and LAWA, trying to get progress established here at this airport.”
Hosted by Charlie Ducat’s EAA Chapter #40, this B-17G has replaced the Experimental Aircraft Association’s “Aluminum Overcast” on its annual tour, since “Aluminum Overcast” is in repair from a landing gear collapse at Van Nuys Airport last year. Normally based at the Wings of Eagles National Warplane Museum at Corning Airport in Elmira, N.Y., “Fuddy Duddy” was built by Douglas Aircraft in 1944 at their Long Beach, Calif. plant and delivered to the Pacific theater where it was converted for use as a VIP transport.
In 1946, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower used the aircraft on his tour of the South Pacific. Gen. Douglas MacArthur also used it in the 1950s. Acquired by the National Warplane Museum in 1986, it was restored to resemble “Fuddy Duddy,” an 8th Air Force B-17G assigned to the 708th Bombardment Squadron, 447th Bomb Group in England. It was lost in a mid-air collision over Mannheim, Germany, on Dec. 30, 1944.
The aircraft’s paint scheme is that of the original “Fuddy Duddy.” Appropriately, a mini reunion of former members of the 447th Bomb Group took place at the Syncro hangar during the BBQ. Among them was James Lucas “Luke” Liakos, who was a lead bombardier in the 447th from April 1944 to March 1945. “This airplane is exactly—inside and out—like the Fuddy Duddy we had in the 447th before it was lost,” he said.
The hangar was alive with history. After the BBQ, and before the speakers, three tickets were drawn from those who attended for a free ride (normally $395) on “Fuddy Duddy.” Erin Thorpe, from Encino, is presently in Navy ROTC and wants to be a Navy pilot; she loved the flight. Mel Eckman, from Encino, an Army veteran and WWII buff, says the flight was “awesome” and “a dream come true.” Leslie Dinius, from West Hills, is a pilot and owns a Cessna 172 called “Bumble Bee.”