Winging It

Barnstorming Carnival revives aerial tradition

By Mark Luedtke

Photo: A 1929 Travel Air gives two passengers the open cockpit biplane experience over a local Springfield-area farm

Dewey Davenport is living his dream. Having grown up in the Dayton area, the owner and sole proprietor of Goodfolk and O’Tymes Biplane Rides fell in love with planes and flying at an early age. Like many kids, he started building model airplanes then graduated to rockets, then radio-controlled airplanes. But unlike most children, Davenport didn’t stop there.

“When I was 18 years old, my parents let me take my first flying lesson in Waynesville, and I started flying in a 1946 Piper J-3 Cub,” Davenport remembers. “What makes Waynesville unique is they have antique airplanes like that that they rent. They’re tail-dragger aircraft. I got my license through the Waynesville airport. That’s how I got interested in antique classics.”

Davenport turned his passion for flying into a career. He recalls, “I’ve flown everything. I started out flying skydivers when I was 21 years old. When I was 25 I flew USA Jet Airlines up in Detroit, flew there for almost eight years, flying Falcon 20s and DC-9s. I flew cargo and passengers. Then I went to NetJets for a couple of years out of Columbus. In 2010 I started corporate flying and government contract work that took me pretty much everywhere in the world.”

During all that time, antique, tail-dragging aircraft remained Davenport’s passion, especially biplanes. Davenport compares flying corporate jets to flying antique aircraft. “A lot of the old aircraft are tail-draggers, and they really don’t produce those anymore because people don’t really know how to use their feet,” he notes. “All the aircraft now almost fly themselves. Going to Waynesville is very unique, and flying these antique aircraft is a different technique. Antique airplanes weren’t designed to fly themselves, so you really have to use different techniques and pilot skills to fly the antiques and classics.”

Because of the differences, Davenport refuses to call modern pilots aviators. He reserves that term for pilots of classic and antique aircraft. He prides himself on being an aviator, so he put that long, corporate flying history behind him and started his own business giving biplane rides in the old barnstorming tradition.

Barnstorming history

Davenport is not only a passionate student of aviation. He’s also a student of aviation history, especially the barnstorming era.

“Barnstorming is really the golden age of aviation,” he says.

After World War I, there were many trained pilots, but not much use for their skills. There was also a surplus of World War I aircraft.

“They bought these aircraft, and they started flying around the countryside out in the Midwest and offered airplane rides to people,” Davenport says. “Back then horse, buggy and Model-T cars were pretty popular, but roadways were few and far between, so these pilots would show up, fly over town, land out in a hayfield or a field next to town and offer rides. Taking a biplane ride was kind of a status thing because if you could afford to take a ride in an airplane like this, you could brag about seeing the world from the sky. No one else got to do that.”

As the era advanced, so did the pilots and their shows. Pilots came together to produce barnstorming carnivals. They invented activities like wing walking and aerobatics to entertain customers.

Davenport’s Curtiss-Wright 1929 Travel Air 4000 biplane is a workhorse from the barnstorming era, and he can hardly contain his pride in it. “It was designed by three very well-known aircraft designers. Walter Beech of Beechcraft, Clyde Cessna–everybody knows Cessnas–and Lloyd Stearman,” he relates. “They were built in Witchita, Kansas. They called it the Wichita Fokker because the rudder has a bump on the top, the wings had elephant ear wing tips, and it kind of looked like a German World War I fighter plane. The aircraft was designed to barnstorm. It was one of the first aircraft certified by the CAA [Civil Aeronautics Administration] which is now the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration], and that’s why I’m able to give commercial rides in it. I’m able to carry two people.”

Davenport’s plane was used for several purposes and is famous in its own right. “My aircraft was owned by Andy Stinis who worked for Pepsi as a skywriter,” he says. “One of his aircraft is in the Smithsonian. After that, it was a crop-duster. After their use barnstorming or training in World War II, people used Stearmans for crop-dusting for years.”

Davenport’s plane has been refitted to its original barnstorming configuration for carrying passengers.

Barnstorming carnival

Having made his passion his profession, Davenport now strives to share his passion with others. Last July he organized the inaugural Barnstorming Carnival at Springfield Beckley Airport. The free, two-day event featured a fly-in of antique, classic and replica planes from the barnstorming era including several biplanes, antique cars from the barnstorming era, large radio-controlled planes, a parachute packing demonstration, a model rocketry seminar, a bouncy house for kids, veteran introductions, and food and drink. Every business at the airport supported the event.

It also featured biplane rides. Demand for the rides was so strong a second aviator took to the air to meet the demand.

Davenport was the center of attention because he organized this event and because he offered the coveted biplane rides, but he was also immediately recognizable with his gray vest and matching pants, old-timey newsboy cap and with his tie flying in the wind. About his outfit, Davenport says, “I’m a barnstormer. I want to be called a barnstormer. I wear it so when somebody takes a ride, they know they went on a ride with a barnstormer.”

Flying in a biplane still confers status, and for the same reason as in the barnstorming era: few have done it. Flying low and slow in an open cockpit is a unique experience. Flying in a modern plane offers no comparison. Takeoffs and landings are very short, and when flying, it’s like flying in windy slow motion, offering an incomparably detailed and complete view of the terrain and structures on the ground below.

Biplane passengers sit side-by-side in front of the pilot, directly under the top wings. That way they don’t change the balance and therefore the flight characteristics of the plane. After climbing into the passenger seats with barnstorming goggles and leather caps on their heads, the first thing passengers will notice is the nose of the plane blocks the view in front. Davenport ensures this poses no danger. “You don’t really need to see out the front. You just need to see around you. That’s why it’s open cockpit. You don’t need to look directly at any instruments or anything like that. When coming in for a landing, you come in much steeper. You get real close to the airport, then you put the nose down so you can see the runway out of the front.”

And by runway, he means grass strip. When I was flying with him, Davenport landed his biplane on the grass between the runways at Springfield Airport.

Davenport is especially interested in engaging children. “For many years, I’ve been going to elementary, junior high and high schools and speaking about my aviation career and how I got into it and how they can get into it,” he explains. “Seeing the kids and families walk around at an event like this, it far exceeded my expectations.”

But the stars of the show were the airplanes. “The main draw was 1920s, ’30s and ’40s antique aircraft. I wanted to have vintage antiques on display,” Davenport says. “I wanted it to be cheap or free for the community to come out and see airplanes designed in the golden age of aviation. You get to talk to the pilots. You go to airshows and spend $20 to get in, $10 to park and you never get to meet the pilots. You never get to do what we got to do at the barnstorming carnival.”

Davenport believes people are naturally attracted to the antique aircraft, especially biplanes, because they harken back to the bygone barnstorming era. People love the classic, round engines that burn more oil than gas because of the sound. The impressive turnout at last year’s barnstorming carnival supports his claim.

Fellow aviators

Davenport’s barnstorming carnival couldn’t have become reality without the group of like-minded pilots who flew their planes, for free, to the event. Every summer these pilots trek from Pennsylvania across the Midwest to their ultimate destination at the AirVenture Air Show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Davenport describes his compatriots: “All the pilots… it’s their art. They’re hobbyists. They buy these airplanes, keep them at their place or airport. Some of them maintain them themselves. It’s a very small community, obviously, because you don’t see airplanes like this flying around too often. It’s something that is very unique that came to the area and hopefully we can continue, but you’re not going to see a gathering of antique airplanes like this without having the friends and people like Andrew [King, the senior member of Davenport’s group] who really try to promote it, and like myself who really try to promote general aviation through family activities and things for kids.”

The Barnstorming Carnival will be held Saturday and Sunday, July 11-12 at Springfield Beckley Airport, 1251 W. Blee Rd. in Springfield. Saturday includes a pancake breakfast from 8-11 a.m. and general admission from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. General Admission Sunday is 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Parking and admission are free; donations are accepted. For more information, please visit barnstormingcarnival.com.

 

Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at MarkLuedtke@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Mark Luedtke
Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at MarkLuedtke@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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