June 28, 2006

Amazing Collection

In the good old USA we see a variety of aircraft collections displayed in various settings. Big or small these collections may be in spotless hangars with painted floors in big cities or grass airfields with dirt floored hangars out in the middle of the country. One well known collection, but not highly published, is Walter Soplata's collection in Ohio. A recent forum thread about his collection was posted on the WIX forum. Reprinted here is an article from my friend Randy who visited the collection. Enjoy this unique story about the quiet and private collector from Ohio.

Walter Soplata Collection Visit Report
Randall Haskin - July 2002

I had a chance to visit the Walt Soplata farm this past week...a very interesting experience.
For those who don't know about the Soplata Farm, Mr. Soplata is a junk collector who also happens to share an affinity for airplanes. The results of his 50-years of saving airplanes from the scrap heap and smelter are resting next to his house in Newbury, Ohio, along with all the other junk he collects like cars, books and magazines, trucks, old computer and electronics, and other scrap. It is not a museum -- the airplanes are not there for display, but are the personal collection of Mr. Soplata. The airplanes are all in derelict condition -- wrecked, in pieces, and rotting away exposed to the midwest US weather. He purchased these airplanes over the years as his own hobby, and in many cases, has saved some one-of-a-kind airplanes from destruction when nobody else (especially the US military) cared about them.
First of all, I was glad that someone had posted directions on how to find his place here on USEnet, otherwise I "never" would have found it. It is buried away from sight off a dirt road. When I got there, I was amazed by the sight from the dirt road in front of his house...what a junkpile! I'd seen photos of the Soplata farm on other webpages (
http://www.aircraftresourcecenter.com/Fea1/101-200/Fea182_Walters-Farm_Williams/part1/Fea182.htm), so I had a general idea of what to expect when I got there. What I didn't know, however, was what would actually be there, since I'd heard of at least two airplanes from there being sold off and restored (http://www.airrace.com/corsair74.htm). In addition, I'd read here on r.a.m. that Mr. Soplata was possibly dead.
Anyhow, I walked up to his house and knocked, but nobody answered. I heard of others visiting Walt's farm and just walking through things without asking, so I thought I'd go see what I could without being too intrusive.
Even right there at the house, and I was amazed with what was there. On his front lawn was a wingless T-6...in front of his door, a T-33 fuselage and the cockpit to a Victor...in the driveway the cockpit to a DC-7. I started strolling up the path through the junkpile, passing on the right side a B-52 fuselage on it's side, a Howard DG-A fuselage, a BT-13 fuselage, and a complete F-86F. On the left side of the path were a T-28 fuselage, what looked to be an AT-11 (I could just see the bombardier nose) and a Boeing commercial airliner cockpit. I spotted what I initially believed was a P-51H, but on closer inspection, it turned out to be the left fuselage of the XP-82 (44-83887). I snapped a few photos, then left the main path to the right and waded through the tall grass toward a complete FG-1Corsair with the wings folded. Next to the Corsair was one of the Skyraider prototypes (XBT2D-1, BuNo 09103). Also scattered around were a complete B-25J, a F7U Cutlass jet, and a P-47N fuselage. Further to the west was a C-82 fuselage and a Sikorsky helo of some kind stuffed amongst the trees.
It was at this point that Mr. Soplata walked out to find me...he is still alive and well and "working" on his collection. Initially he was not happy that I was out looking at his junk, and was "really" not happy that I was taking pictures! Apparently Mr. Soplata has had some problems with people visiting his farm and the IRS thinking he "runs a museum". So, he asked me to stop taking pictures, and to not publish the photos in any publications, which might encourage more people to come visit his airplanes. He asked me to leave, so I apologized to him and I followed him back out to my car on the dirt driveway. On the way, however, he asked me who I was and why I was there. During the course of our conversation, he must have realized I was an airplane enthusiast just like him because soon he was leading me on a guided tour of his collection and talking away about every single airplane!
Anyone who meets Mr. Soplata may get the impression that he's a doddering old man. It's true that he doesn't come across as the brightest individual, but after spending an afternoon talking with him about his hobby and his airplanes, I realize that he's really just old and eccentric. He has an amazing memory when it comes to aviation, and especially recalling specifics about his airplanes. Every airplane we'd walk up to, he'd give me a detailed history of where he got it, how much he paid for it, and even specific service histories of the airframes he had. It's very evident that he cares about his airplanes -- he does what he can to protect them from the weather by covering up cockpits and canopies, and building small shelters over some. He even talked quite a bit about how he was going to "put them all back together", which is obviously an overly ambitious project for an elderly man given the condition of some of the airplanes.
We talked about people buying airplanes from him -- I tried to talk him into selling me his T-6 or his BT-13 -- and he indicated that he didn't like to sell off his airplanes. "It's my hobby," he said, "and I paid for these with my own money." He said that people have come to him many times and offered to buy individual items or even the whole collection. "There's a guy in Texas who wanted to buy everything, and he even offered to build me a house down there just so I could still live next to my airplanes!" Another collector offered him $3 million for everything "and maybe I should have taken him up on it, I dunno." Recently he has sold off a P-82 Twin Mustang and an F2G Corsair, "so I could pay off the IRS," he said. He's especially against having any of his airplanes fly again -- he mentioned several times how angry he was that rare warbirds that have been restored to flying condition and are flown on the airshow circuit get destroyed in crashes. Apparently there was a stipulation with the sale of the F2G Corsair racer that it never be flown again. Other than that, he has no intentions of selling much of anything as long as he's alive.
When he dies, however, he says "everything will be for sale in Trade-a-Plane" with the money going to support his children. He mentioned who he planned to be the executor of his will and who will arrange the sale, but I don't remember who it was.
So, Mr. Soplata spent the rest of the afternoon showing me the rest of his collection, including his famous YB-36 which is sitting there cut up into many pieces. I also saw a complete TBM Avenger, F-86E, F-84, T-50, and Fleetwing (which he says is the only one still in existence). There were also fuselages for a Canberra, an F-105, a few T-28s, another TBM....there are just too many to list from memory.
All in all it was a very interesting visit. I sincerely hope that these aircraft find their way to a museum or into better care before they're gone.

June 24, 2006

Feel the power...

Well.... not quite.... one more picture taken by Ross.... Fun shot of the powerfull end of the 170.

Just a normal Saturday?

My Saturday started out looking like a good morning to fly. As I arrived at the airport several RVs and a Swift were launching off for some formation flying. A couple other friends were just about to take off too. So I pulled the 170 out to fly. As I headed west I noticed a low layer of clouds off in the distance. Come to find out the formation decided to return to the airport as well as my other friends! The cloud layer was moving toward the airport. I crossed over the top of the airport to enter the landing pattern and decided to let the other traffic land and flew out east a few miles. Still hazy but clear to the east. I landed and parked at Geezer HQ. After visiting with some friends for about an hour we launched off again. I chased my friend Phil in his Champ... well.... the chase didn't last long since he was flying at 80 MPH! I put in twenty degrees of flaps to stay in formation with him! When I broke off the formation to head back toward the airport I noticed the grey outline of an MD11 overhead. It looked like a whale coming through the clouds. FedEx was descending thru the puffy clouds on approach into Alliance (AFW). Then off to the North I spotted a hot air balloon. I flew by and waved to the riders in the basket. On entering the pattern a buddy of mine was on the taxiway taking pictures. (See the photo above. Thanks Ross!) As a part of the normal Saturday operations I cleaned up the 170 and walked up to the cafe for lunch. After lunch we were sitting around Geezer HQ watching arriving and departing aircraft... (why do they teach all new student pilots that no flap landings at 85 MPH are the norm??) ...when we all looked up at the same time to see an Aeronca heading right for us! It was on takeoff roll and lost directional control and came across the grass and onto the taxiway... we heard one of the tires bark... and then it made a slow turn back into the grass! That added a few moments of excitement to our afternoon! The Aeronca was fine... so it taxied back to the runway and departed! Ah... another fun day at the airport. OK.... time for me to go home...

June 13, 2006

Luscombe on boats

This great picture came in from Kelly of his Luscombe on floats. Based in Idaho this 90hp Luscombe was built up as a floatplane but just recently was mounted on floats. Looks like they are being put to good use!

June 11, 2006

Breakfast Flight

Dad and I flew up to Gainesville (40 miles North) to the Texas Antique Airplane Assoc. Flyin for breakfast Saturday morning. We usually spend the weekend up in Gainesville but I decided since I just spend the weekend before out in the heat I would only fly up for breakfast. When we left mid-morning there were about 130 airplanes in attendance. I hope to post a photo gallery soon. Above is a shot of my 170 next to a 1952 model 170 that lives in Denton. It was a nice flight up and back... and just enough time to walk the flightline and visit with a few friends.

June 5, 2006

Flyin Low

If you have about 4 minutes to spare check out this video! Low flying and great music! Watch for the pilot to start reading his map as he flies by the trees!

CA Trip Pictures

I took some time this evening to sort some of my pictures from the trip. Click here to see pictures from my visit to the Sonoma area. As I mentioned in another post I made a stop by the Castle Air Museum. Click here for those pictures. Hope to have the Merced gallery up in the next day or two. If you have any comments on the pictures feel free to click on the "comments" link at the bottom of this post.

June 4, 2006

CA trip - day three

On Saturday morning I set my alarm so that I could make it to the airport early to shoot some pictures in the morning sun. Sounds different to be on vacation and setting my alarm but, it is all about the airplanes! There were about 50-60 airplanes on the field as of Friday. It sounds like in years past there were as many as 1000 airplanes in attendance! Not all were antique airplanes but a good many of them were. The steady stream of incoming airplanes made for many opportunities to shoot pictures of the arrivals. My quick count of airplanes on Saturday was about 150-160 that flew in.
California has many climates that seem to exist within just one part of the state. Merced is south and east of the San Francisco area. The local area is very flat but off to the east the Siearra Nevada Mountains show off their snowy peaks. The sun heated up the event and by mid-day is was up into the 90's. Just Thursday I was in the Sonoma area enjoying the temps in the 70's and 80's! The Merced show plans for the show to be the antique airplanes that are displayed by their owners. Later in the day the owners fly in a parade of flight. About twelve of the antique airplanes fly around the pattern to give the general public a chance to see the rare machines in the air. Also there were three airshow acts that flew short aerobatic demonstrations, an Edge 540, an Su-26 and a P-51. The P-51, named Hell-er Bust, was actually just passing through town on its way to a new owner in the Seattle area. So it was a great treat to see it fly a routine in the hands of Ed Shipley.
The awards banquet Saturday evening was a very nice steak dinner. The Flyin Chairman handed out the awards and the top award went to the Curtis Robin. One event that I wasnt expecting was an invitation after the banquet to the local dirt track. Oh yeah, dirt track car races! Evidently the pilots from the Sonoma area like to take in alittle local culture on Saturday night! This was highly entertaining to watch. Not only the people that were in attendance, these were serious racing fans, but the cars themselves were entertaining. Sponsers for the beat up junkers were a local cigerette store, corner garages and car dealers. The group I was with made guesses on what the most popular race car driver name was. Bubba maybe?The trip to California was well worth it. Fun times in Sonoma to visit the airports, pilots and airplanes I had only read about, and it was a great flyin at Merced.
Pictures to come in the next couple days.

June 3, 2006

CA Trip - Day Two

Friday was a nice drive from Sonoma to Merced. It was cool enough to drive with the windows down most of the time as I drove by all the vinyards. The temps climbed quickly as I made it down toward the flat valley down near Merced.
Nearing Merced I noticed a sign to the Castle Air Museum. Couldn't pass up an aviation museum! This outdoor museum is in a clean, nicely groomed grass field and on display are most of the military bombers and transports from World War Two to the Cold war. Watch for a link to these pictures in a future post.
At merced the antique airplanes trickled in as I walked around the warm ramp... parked on the ramp were a very nice Curtiss Robin, Monocoupe, 450 Stearman, C3 Stearman. The Mustang painted as Hell-Er Bust came in early afternoon.
About 3:00 I went and checked into the hotel to cleaned up for the evening dinner. There were about 50-60 people that ate the "early bird" dinner. As the sun set the groups gathered under the airplanes and watch some formation flybys. One formation was a Champ, two Cubs, a Steraman, a Cessna 180 and a Porterfield! Great day. Saturday will be the big day. Looking forward to even more antiques!

CA Trip - Day One

One of my goals this year was to attend an airshow/flyin that was new to me. The Merced Antique Airplane Flyin was my pick. I launched off early Thursday morning for my planned trip to California. The United Airlines flight I was on was direct from DFW to SFO. The flight being over three hours long included an inflight movie. King Kong was the show for the flight and
since I had already seen it I was taking naps inbetween some of the scenes I liked. At one point I was awakened to loud exclaimations of four letter words! The elderly couple behind me was obviously surprized by one of the startling scenes in the movie. Then it happend again! What I realized next was it was not the old man... it was the old women who had the colorful mouth! After a few minutes of her colorful language I had to work hard to ignore her. As we started our decent info SFO the flight attendant announced that when we arrived to please stay in our seats for there was a medical emergancey! Most of the airplane waited patiently as the EMTs came on and gave an elderly lady some oxygen. Sounds like she was just having shortness of breath. For some reason the older lady behind me began going off on the lady who needed medical
attention! Guess her mother didnt teach HER any manners!
OK... off to my flying activities... I jumped in the rent car (a cool little Chevy HHR!) and drove across the Golden Gate bridge (that was fogged in) and was winding my way into Sonoma in just over an hour. I met my friend Eric Presten at Sonoma Skypark airport. Eric was working on a friends Cub when I arrived so I nosed around the hangar he was working in. In this hangar was a one of a kind Luscombe! (I think it was a model 4 - will confirm later) This was just the begining of the tours Eric gave me all day at Skypark and Schellville, which is just two miles away. To get to Schellville we jumped in Eric's Piper Clipper. Clippers sure are neat machines. Four seats, 150HP Lycoming, 130MPH... wonder why we don't hear much about these airplanes!? Note the gear on the Clipper! Two sets of tires! Just some of the airplanes on the hangar tours were the Curtiss JN4, Curtiss P-40 N Ryan STA, Alexander Eaglerock. Truely amazing to see so many rare airplanes at these two fine airports.
To finish off the day Eric and I stayed up late at his house (while his family packed for Merced) looking through some of his collection of antique airplane photos. Eric recently published another book from the photos in his collection. (Email me if you want details on the content and if you want to purchase the book.) All this is just one day of vacation! More to follow...

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