Greetings from The Aero Experience Team


The Aero Experience is a celebration of Midwest aviation and aerospace achievement. We invite you to join us as we explore the treasures of Midwest aviation through first-hand experiences. Our contributors take turns flying lead, and we are always looking for new destinations. Check in with The Aero Experience frequently to see where we will land today, and then go out and have your own aero experiences!

Blue skies,

Carmelo Turdo, Mark Nankivil and Fred Harl - The Aero Experience Team

Saturday, November 18, 2017

New Book Tells the Story of Aviation Pioneer Thomas Benoist

By Carmelo Turdo
The new book, Swift As an Arrow: The Story of Thomas Benoist, Pioneer American Aviator, by Melody Davis and Gary Liming, was introduced at the Missouri Aviation Historical Society meeting Thursday. A work in progress over a ten-year period, the book is the authoritative work covering the life of Thomas Benoist, a leading figure in the first decade of aviation. The story is told using primary sources that include documents from members of the extended family. The authors, Melody Davis, the great-niece of Thomas Benoist, and Gary Liming, Board member of the Missouri Aviation Historical Society, have taken great care to ensure that Swift as an Arrow is a book worthy of its subject.  

Chuck Benoist, Nephew of Thomas Benoist, Melody Davis and Gary Liming

Members of the Benoist extended family at the book launch

"I didn't know much about Tom (Thomas Benoist) when I started doing some research, and through the course of the research I found out that this was a huge story because Tom was really a prominent early aviator," Davis said. She credited Chuck Benoist and her grandmother, Thomas Benoist's sister, who saved scrapbooks containing valuable documentation of his life. "When I started the book, I thought it would just be a family history that I would just make copies of for the family," she continued. "But it turned out to be much bigger than that...The further we got along with the research, we realized there was so much more to it."

Gary Liming added some insights on the research process, especially on historiography - the study of the methodology of historians in developing history as an academic discipline. What that really means, according to Liming, is "How do we know what we know about the past is true?" This question arises in everyday life when witness accounts about current events vary considerably, and when biographical works from different authors present contradictory views of the same person. It is of course more difficult to research a person like Thomas Benoist, whose aviation career spanned about 10 years before he died in 1917 at an age of only 42. "I am proud to say that this book is almost exclusively done through primary (original) source evidence...There are some things in here that I don't think have been in print yet, so we discovered a number of things about Tom that speak well to that."

Following the introduction of the book, Gary Liming gave a presentation on the highlights of Thomas Benoist's aviation career. A true Midwest Aviation pioneer, he was born in Irondale, MO in 1874 to a French Canadian family that came to the U.S. seeking labor jobs during the American Civil War.  He grew up on a farm and later went to St. Louis where he learned how to run his own automobile supply company with his brother, Charles.  He associated with the St. Louis aviation community and began working on gas-filled dirigibles.

In 1909, Thomas Benoist opened the first aeronautical supply company in St. Louis.  That year, Glenn Curtiss visited St. Louis and demonstrated his ability to control his aircraft in flight.  Benoist, inspired by the potential of the Curtiss aircraft, formed the St. Louis Aerial Experiment Association, the first home-built, or experimental, aviation group.  The Novice Meet, as it was known, was the first experimental aviation event. 

Thomas Benoist acquired a Curtiss aircraft in 1910, and he exhibited aircraft he assembled from other manufacturers during a trade show later that year. He opened a flight training school in 1911 with a modified Curtiss pusher aircraft, and Tony Jannus became the lead demonstration pilot. He established an aircraft factory in St. Louis in today's Delmar Loop shopping district in 1911, and by the next year he developed new designs. The Type XII was considered the first successful U.S. tractor aircraft design (with propeller in the front).          
Jannus flew Benoist aircraft on cross-country flights to prove their reliability, often carrying gifts from one city mayor to another. Though not always problem-free, these flights showed that aircraft were becoming a practical transportation choice. Creve Coeur Lake soon became a testing area for Benoist seaplanes.    

In 1914, a Benoist Type XIV was used to provide the world's first scheduled airline service, between St. Petersburg and Tampa, FL.  Two round-trip flights per day, each carrying one passenger, were made from January 1 - May 5, 1914. The Type XV was built at the St. Louis Car Company owing to the space needed for the larger aircraft. In 1916, the factory moved to Sandusky, OH to be closer to the Roberts Motor Company and lakeside facilities. Thomas Benoist became a founding member of the American Association of Aircraft Manufacturers to deal with the Wright Brothers patent litigation issues. He was scheduled to meet with Rear Admiral Robert Peary in 1917 regarding the use of Benoist aircraft for anti-submarine patrol, but he was suddenly killed in a trolley-car accident shortly before the meeting.   

The list of Thomas Benoist's many accomplishments is long, considering the short time he was part of the budding aviation industry. The book, Swift As an Arrow: The Story of Thomas Benoist, Pioneer American Aviator, presents an authoritative and detailed look at the life of this great aviation pioneer. The Aero Experience thanks everyone involved in the book's production for their great contribution to aviation history.

Army Aviation Heritage Foundation Gateway Chapter to Be Featured in Future PBS Special

By Carmelo Turdo
The Army Aviation Heritage Foundation Gateway Chapter, based at Creve Coeur Airport, will be featured in a future episode of Living St. Louis to be aired in the spring of next year. Crew Members of the KETC Nine Network, including award-winning Senior Producer and Director Anne-Marie Berger, visited the chapter's hangar Wednesday afternoon to learn more about the AAHF mission and the restoration to flight status of Huey 315. This additional coverage follows the chapter's appearance with an OH-58 Kiowa helicopter static display at the KETC Nine Network St. Louis premier of the film Take Me Home Huey during Veterans Day week. Berger and her crew will return periodically to record the continuing restoration and the first flight of Huey 315 as it unfolds.

In the following views, Anne-Marie Berger interviews Gateway Chapter President Mel Keith and Joe Steimann installs a jet engine exciter on Huey 315 for the cameraman. The Aero Experience will report more on the chapter's restoration and first flight of Huey 315 as it progresses.          

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Elite Aviation Begins Monthly Speaker Series With Engine Maintenance Seminar

By Carmelo Turdo
Elite Aviation, the St. Louis area's newest flight school and maintenance center, held their first speakers series event Wednesday evening at their facility at Spirit of St. Louis Airport. The program, "Engine Maintenance and Monitoring," was an FAA FAASTeam Wings credit flight safety seminar presented by Bill Hopper, owner of HeliSat Helicopter Services and Technologies. FAA FAASTeam Program Manager Phil Dixon assisted with the production of the event, and Elite Aviation provided food for the over 40 pilots participating in the program.        

Co-owner John Tipton welcomed the attending pilots and gave an overview of his business philosophy and services offered by Elite Aviation. He emphasized that aviation is their passion, and that he is dedicated to providing the newest, best-maintained training and rental fleet and the highest possible level of customer service to the St. Louis aviation community. The flight training program uses the latest Cessna aircraft, a top-level Redbird MCX flight simulator and comprehensive ground school academic materials.  The maintenance department provides all aspects of service for piston-powered aircraft.  Elite Aviation also has special holiday offers for introductory flights, so contact them for details.     

FAA FAAST Team Program Manager Phil Dixon introduced the featured speaker, Bill Hopper, and set the stage for a lively discussion of aircraft engine maintenance issues that pilots should check before and during every flight. Hopper, known for engaging the audience during his presentations, began an interactive discussion with the attending pilots with the adage, "Ignorance in aviation isn't blissful, it's fatal." Hopper then pointed out that the pilot should know as much about the aircraft as possible before a flight through careful examination of maintenance log books and a thorough pre-flight inspection of the aircraft. The pilot should also have a reserve of knowledge about the aircraft's powerplant and flight control systems so that he or she can recognize latent failures, those maintenance issues (missing safety pins, loose bolts, etc.) that turn into active (immediate) failures later.

FAA safety seminars are an important way to address human factors in aviation, especially when it comes to reducing accidents due to maintenance and pilot skill deficiencies. Hopper asked the audience if they read the accident reports posted on the NTSB web site, and many responded that they did read them regularly. "You can take any year and read the twelve months of accidents," Hopper said, "and take any other year at random and read those twelve months of accidents and what do you find? The same things are happening. All that change are the dates and the people involved. Why does this keep happening?" The answer, in part, lies in the human factors that include lack of resources to keep the aircraft maintained and complacency in maintenance and piloting operations (see The Aero Experience post in which Hopper describes the Human Factors "Dirty Dozen"). 

Pilots should be willing to learn about their aircraft's mechanical operation, but only some take interest in this vital aspect of their pilot in command responsibilities. Bill Hopper reviewed the requirements for maintenance and inspection log book entries and the steps that pilots can take to detect maintenance issues before a serious active failure occurs. FAA regulations list the preventive maintenance that may be performed by pilots and what must be performed by licensed A&P mechanics. "The information that you need to function in this environment, in the aircraft that you fly, is out there," Hopper said. Regularly reviewing the FAA regulations, and seeking all the available information on the state of the aircraft to be flown, are two common-sense ways to avoid an aircraft incident or accident.

The Aero Experience thanks Elite Aviation, Phil Dixon with the FAA FAASTeam, Bill Hopper from HeliSat and those who attended for making this event a great success.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Midwest Meets West: Look Back on a Western Adventure

By Fred Harl
The Aero Experience recently posted a series of stories on the trip to the Cal Fire Tanker Bases, but there were other great destinations on that journey. Here we have a blast from the recent past from our western trip, including an appearance by Mark and Jack Nankivil and a previous stop at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.      

Commercial traffic Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

Commercial Traffic at Los Angeles International Airport

Estrella Warbirds Museum, Paso Robles, CA 

Grumman F-9F-8P Cougar

Hollister Municipal Airport, CA

Pacific Aerospace 750XL

Cessna 337B Skymaster

Cessna 337F Skymaster 

Luscombe 8A

Moffett Field Historical Society Museum, Moffett Federal Airfield, CA

Historic Airship Hangar 1 

Lockheed P-3C Orion

NASA Lockheed ER-2

NASA Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter

NASA McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet

Naval Air Station Alameda, CA

LTV A-7 Corsair II

Naval Air Station Point Mugu, CA Missile Park

McDonnell Douglas F-4S Phantom II

Grumman F-14A Tomcat

Boeing JB-47E Stratojet 

North American F-100D Super Sabre

Vought F-8U-1 Crusader

Lockheed SP-2E Neptune

North American RA-5C Vigilante 

Santa Fe Municipal Airport, NM 

General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark

Lockheed U-2RT Over Chico, CA

USS Hornet Museum, Alameda, CA

Vought F-8U-1 Crusader

Grumman F-14A Tomcat, McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II

Jet Blast Deflector

North American T-28B Trojan

Apollo and Gemini Test Spacecraft, Sikorsky SH-3H Sea King

Sikorsky SH-3H Sea King Apollo Spacecraft Recovery Aircraft

Sikorsky SH-3H Sea King Apollo Recovery Missions

Kaman SH-2 Sea Sprite

Piasecki HUP Retriever