Keep Your Eyes to the Florida Skies

Welcome to the Florida Mystery Writers Blog Hop and Sandy Parks‘ True Airspeed.

“Florida is a giant bug light for crazy people.” ~Phyllis Smallman, Sleuthfest 2014

It’s no surprise to any author living in Florida that some of the craziest stories we write are actually inspired by true events in our Sunshine State. Join us in exploring a different side of Florida than the travel bureau promotes with our first Blog Hop sponsored by Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. READ Sandy’s blog about flying in Florida, comment, share your favorite stories, ENTER the contest to WIN a Kindle Paperwhite, and CLICK the links below to read another member’s view of crazy Florida.

Since I write stories full of action-adventure, mystery, and a quirky band of characters who legally steal big airplanes for a living, I chose to write about Florida from the perspective of people who fly in our skies. What do pilots and their passengers encounter living in this swampy, beach-lined, and lightning capital of the US, that they might not in other states? I asked that very question of two pilots at the Sun-N-Fun airshow last week.

T-6 Warbird

T-6 Warbird

Thom Richard, who races P-51 Precious Metal in the Reno Air Races and lives in Kissimmee, had a definitely unique Florida tale. He was flying his T-6 Warbird (similar to the one pictured above) to Marco Island at night. When he approached the airport, he was asked to do a low flyby down the runway. For anyone who flies a unique aircraft, this is not an unusual request. Aviation fans love to watch and hear the powerful (and loud) warbird aircraft. But this was at night, in the dark, when no one would be able to see much. He did as directed and executed a low flyby and came back and landed. After he taxied in, he was curious as to why they requested the flyby. Simple. It was the best way to get the twelve-foot saltwater crocodile off the runway! We have more than gators in Florida.

Thom Richard, Reno Air Race pilot of P-51 Precious Metal.

Thom Richard, Reno Air Race pilot of P-51 Precious Metal, at Sun-N-Fun 2014.

Florida Crocs and Gators can be found in the most unexpected places...like runways.

Florida Crocs and Gators can be found in the most unexpected places…like runways. (Nile croc photo from Wiki Commons/Leigh Bedford. Gator photo by Will Parks.)

Chuck Gardner works at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Texas, but has many hours in the Florida skies. He flies warbirds like the Stearman biplane (shown below), the T-6, or the famous P-51 Mustang. His favorite time for flying in Florida is March in an open cockpit. That time of year a low level flight over central Florida orchards brings the sweet sweet smell of orange blossoms wafting (rather blowing) into the cockpit. Sure hope he doesn’t have allergies.

Orangeblossomcollage

Stearman Biplane with the open cockpit makes a great way to smell the orange blossoms in Florida.

On the other hand, Chuck had a number of things were not so great about flying in Florida. There are the afternoon thunderstorms that are accompanied by lightning…lots of lightning. A few years ago a small tornado blew through the Sun-N-Fun airshow at Lakeland, overturning aircraft and tents. No injuries, but a lot of damage and shook-up fans. Mother nature has other very small, very annoying ways to cause problems flying in Florida that every driver here will understand…Love Bugs. Those two little black bugs that are stuck together and airborne. The front end of a car can turn black with bugs stuck to them, and so can the propellors and leading edges of an aircraft. Yuck. BIG, beautiful birds are another claim to fame for the state of Florida. Contact with one in the air or on the ground can cause quite a bit of damage to an aircraft. Chuck said frequently when taxiing out to fly, he has to rev his engines to clear stubborn Sandhill Cranes who refuse to move off the runway.

The Sandhill Crane can be curious and rather fearless, when it comes to cars and planes.

The Sandhill Crane can be curious and rather fearless, when it comes to cars and planes.

Last but not least, since I write about extreme characters who steal/repossess airplanes for a living (REPOSSESSED and coming soon OUTFOXED), I thought I’d mention that there are several people in Florida who have recently become well-known for a reality TV show on Discovery Channel called Airplane Repo. One of the stars is Mike Kennedy who lives in Orlando. He’d make a great character in a novel. Another is Ken Cage of IRG, who has part of his business, International Recovery & Remarketing Group, at the Orlando Executive Airport. It’s a strange world out there, folks, so pay your bills and they won’t take your airplane back.

Airplane Repo star Mike Kennedy and wife (center), Sandy (rt), Test pilot hubby Scott on left.

At 2014 Reno Air Races we ran into Airplane Repo star Mike Kennedy and wife (center), Sandy (rt), Test pilot hubby Scott (lt).

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you’ll come back sometime to read other blog posts on aviation, travel locations, or simply to check out some of the fun photography and crazy stories.

Enter Now to Win a Kindle Paperwhite

Now for the good stuff. As part of this blog hop with other mystery/thriller/suspense writers, we are giving away a Kindle Paperwhite. Just click on the following link and follow the directions to sign up.

A Rafflecopter Giveaway

No purchase is necessary. You must be at least 18 years old to enter. By submitting your entry, you agree to be entered into the participating authors’ email newsletter list. Your information will not be shared with anyone else, and you may unsubscribe at any time. Winner will be notified by email. Authors are not responsible for transmission failures, computer glitches or lost, late, damaged or returned email. Winner agrees for their name to be used in conjunction with the contest on FMWA and authors’ social media sites. U.S. Residents only due to postage constraints.

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To continue on this BLOG HOP, VISIT other Florida Mystery Writers, read they Florida stories, and WIN more prizes:

Victoria Allman, Gator Bites, http://www.victoriaallman.com/blog <http://www.victoriaallman.com/blog>
Miriam Auerbach, Bonkers in Boca, http://www.miriamauerbach.com/bonkers-in-boca <http://www.miriamauerbach.com/bonkers-in-boca>
Gregg E. Brickman, Crazy South Florida—How it got to be home, http://www.GreggEBrickman.com/blog.html
Diane Capri, Fishnado!, http://www.dianecapri.com/blog
Nancy J. Cohen, Characters Too Weird to Be True, http://nancyjcohen.wordpress.com
Joan Lipinsky Cochran, The Million Dollar Squatter: Crazy in the Land of Coconuts and Bagels, http://www.joanlipinskycochran.com/blog.htm?post=952677 <http://www.joanlipinskycochran.com/blog.htm?post=952677>
jd daniels He Did What? http://www.live-from-jd.com <http://www.live-from-jd.com/>
Joy Wallace Dickinson, “In Florida, It’s Great to Be a Cracker”, http://www.FindingJoyinFlorida.com
Dallas Gorhman, http://www.DallasGorham.com
Linda Gordon Hengerer Crazy Treasure on the Treasure Coast, http://footballfoodandfiction.blogspot.com/ <http://footballfoodandfiction.blogspot.com/>
Vicki Landis, Eavesdropping 101, http://www.victorialandis.com <http://www.victorialandis.com/>
Sandy Parks, Keep your eyes to the Florida skies, http://www.sandyparks.wordpress.com <http://www.sandyparks.wordpress.com>
Neil Plakcy, Moscow on the Intracoastal http://www.mahubooks.blogspot.com/
Johnny Ray Utilizing Google Plus Air to Facilitate Author Interviews, http://www.sirjohn.us
Joanna Campbell Slan, Honey, You’ll Never Guess What Rolled Up in the Surf http://www.joannaslan.blogspot.com <http://joannaslan.blogspot.com/

 

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Baton Blog Hop

Book 1 in Hawker Inc Series. Winner of Daphne du Maurier Award, Maggie Suspense w/ Romantic Elements, HOLT Award of Merit.

Book 1 in Hawker Inc Series. Winner of Daphne du Maurier Award, Maggie Suspense w/ Romantic Elements, HOLT Award of Merit.

Delightful author JB Lynn of the Killer Chicks invited me to participate in the Baton Blog Hop. This “hop” is of interest to readers who enjoy mystery, thrillers, suspense, or romance, and works this way: I answer a few questions about my work in progress, and then pass the baton along to three other authors. Hopefully that will introduce you to new writers you might have never read before.

Before we start, I’d like to say a few things about JB Lynn who writes the humorous series about a neurotic Hitwoman. If you love to laugh and enjoy quirky characters, this is a series you should enjoy. I’ve also heard she has a dark thriller in her past published with Carina Press. I just added another of her books to my TBR pile.

Now to the questions about my current project. I’ve been working on a series called HAWKER, INC about a team who repossess high-end aircraft. When the rich don’t pay, someone has to take their toys away. What happens when you put an ex-military pilot who grew up in the family casino together with a conman on the run, a mechanic who paints her nails to match the country of operation, and a sexy Greek lawyer who has his own secret agenda? Then, of course, there is the mysterious boss that hides his identity from his crew. The first book in the series, REPOSSESSED, won two major national contests last year.

1. What am I working on? I’m editing OUTFOXED, book 2 in the Hawker, Inc series. This book is unique because it has become relevant because of the missing Malaysian airliner. OUTFOXED deals with the loss of a team member over a botched B737 airliner repossession and the team’s attempt to even the score. What could happen when a B737 goes missing and how is it possible? While the theme may revolve around aviation, I write for the characters (they make me do it). This book deals with a team that has been demoralized by the loss of one of their own. Each sees the death as failure on their part. Come along for a ride to four continents and find out if Jet, Gregori, Lenny and Roxy can pull off this caper and bring their team back together.

2. How does my work differ from others in this genre.

My characters are a bit quirkier than most in the action-adventure, thriller genre. I take suspense and action-adventure, and combine it with touches of humor and personal relationships. Jet is a loner who moves at her own fast pace. Her mother runs a fly-in casino with a dirt strip near Vegas. Gregori, is a legal eagle from an uber wealthy Greek family. He has missing years in his background that reveal he does a lot more than sit behind a desk. Roxy is a female mechanic who believes in only being the best. She is following in her dad’s footsteps. Lenny, a conman, is a displaced New Yorker not able to go home because he stepped on the “boys” toes while extracting Roxy from the midst of trouble. He does the teams groundwork and snooping for the repo team and can usually be counted on to get them into trouble.

3. Why do I write what I do?

First, I love to tell stories and to share them with others. That means putting the story on paper (or digital these days). Take that and mix it with a family who eats, sleeps, and breathes aviation. Visit my website if you’d like to see more details on my dad, hubby, brother, niece, son, and me who are involved in aviation. I flew as a kid with my dad in light airplanes and later learned to fly at Edwards AFB while my husband was going through test pilot school. Yeah,  I only fly puddle jumpers, but I get to live vicariously through the other “s@#t-hot” pilots in the family.

4. How does your writing process work?

My best answer to this is it changes with time, topic, and genre. The one overall process I try to stick with is a relatively thorough plot and character arc. I don’t consider myself a “seat of the pants” writer because my topics necessitate research for topic and locations. There are times, though, when I think I should have done a better job plotting details, and others when it seems I plotted things too tightly and had to loosen up to let my characters breathe. One thing I’ve learned over many years of writing, is that the process is fluid. As a writer, you’ll get better at some things and see where you need to improve on others. That means a tweaking of how you write. My biggest wish…I had more of the journalism touch and could write faster.

More great authors to check out: These authors will be posting next Monday on March 24th.

Enjoy romantic suspense and some inspiration with author Connie Mann. As the blogger at Busy Women~ Big Dreams and a boat captain (sounds wonderfully adventurous), Mann’s Angel Falls is currently #5 on Amazon’s Christian Suspense Romance Bestseller list. Join Regina and Brooks as they protect a young orphan from killers, while struggling to overcome problems from their own troubled pasts. Connie is a serious writer who has been honing her craft to great results. She’s an enjoyable, gracious lady, and a fellow Floridian.

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Hold on for a ride with romantic thrillers from Vanessa Kier and her Surgical Strike Unit. Vanessa is writer friend from the Kiss of Death Chapter. This chapter of writers goes on yearly trips to killer locations all over the US. We’ve been to the CIA, FBI, military installations, the State Department, FEMA underground shelters, fire and police departments, bomb squads (blowing up things was fun!), and have even met the LA mounted police. She has lots of great background to have written the six books in this series about a private special ops group. Visit Vanessa next week at her Facebook page or website.

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Public health nurse, Beverley Bateman, writes murder, mystery, medical thrillers, and romantic suspense. Imagine finding yourself along on a Caribbean cruise with no memory and someone trying to kill you. That’s the premise of Beverley’s latest book “A Cruise to Remember.” Another of my Kiss of Death Chapter mates, Beverley works as hard for the chapter as she does on her writing. Check out her blogspot next Monday to learn more about her books and writing.

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That’s it for the Baton Blog Hop. Please stop by and check out these authors and I welcome any suggestions of authors you love to read.

The Case of the Mysterious Biplane

My husband has a new hobby– uncovering the family history. A few weeks ago a distant cousin came up with a photo of two relatives standing in front of a biplane. We knew their names and that they were from the Atlanta area. The young gentleman held a stylish straw hat with the ribbon band popular in the late twenties and early thirties.

The Mysterious Biplane Family Photo

The Mysterious Biplane Family Photo

Being a family full of pilots, we had to discover something about the plane behind them. So I posted it on Facebook, friends started passing it around (thanks to you all), and the guesses started coming in. Each time someone proposed a possible plane (Sopwith Camel (supposedly offered in jest), Travel Air, Waco, Stearman), I spent time on-line looking it up. However, biplanes are a true weakness in our household repertoire and I failed to get any kind of match.

This weekend I attended a 99s meeting (women pilot’s organization). While there I mentioned to Bobbi Lasher about the biplane mystery. Without a second thought, she said send it her way. So I did, expecting another wait and round of guessing. Never underestimate a 99. She sent the photo out to over 170 aviation friends and information started coming in almost immediately. Would these new guesses to the plane’s identity match up with the facts concerning the young couple?

Dick Peiffer, from the Melbourne Area Pilots Association, in particular mentioned taking a close-up look at the aircraft and seeing lettering on it beside the couple. He was pretty sure it said “MAIL.” I took the photo and did my best to enhance that area. Below is the photo showing my efforts where the writing and symbol on the side can now be seen more clearly. But still, I wasn’t sure of the plane’s identity.

Photo enhanced picture after Dick Peiffer suggested he could read something on the aircraft.

Photo enhanced picture after Dick Peiffer suggested he could read MAIL on the aircraft.

AldermanSymblCrop2

Close-up of symbol and writing on side of aircraft.

Wayne Eleazer, an Air Force Lt. Col who retired after 25 years of active duty, came in with the first identification. Here’s what he had to say:

“My first thought was that it was a Pitcairn, since they have characteristic sleek and small rear fuselages and hefty fronts. And looking in the Juptner book (Reference: U.S. Civil Aircraft Series, by Joseph Juptner, Vol 1, P.228) at Pitcairns, I found that there is an “airfoil” symbol visible below the cockpit of one of the pictures of a Mailwing. The Juptner book has a couple of pieces on the Mailwing, one for each of ATC number assigned each version. That seemed to confirm it.”

This upclose look at the Pitcairn Mailwing symbol from Wikipedeia and attributed to Photographer FlugKerl2, 25 July 2011, is from a PA-7s Mailwing. This one appears to be sport configuration with Mail paint scheme.

This up close look at the Pitcairn Mailwing symbol from Wikipedeia and attributed to Photographer FlugKerl2, 25 July 2011, is from a PA-7 Mailwing. This one appears to be sport configuration with Mail paint scheme.

“The aircraft appears to be a Pitcairn Super Sport Mailwing, PA-6, which was the Mailwing mail carrying aircraft modified for passenger use. Normally that big hole in front of the cockpit would be for carrying mail or in the case of the Super Sport, a covered compartment for up to two passengers. The type certificate ATC #92 for the PA-6 was issued in December of 1928 and the revised type certificate for the Super Sport was issued in April of 1929.”

Wayne also mentioned he thought the aircraft may have been modified for airshow use. I’m guessing his reasoning came from the tall pole-like object seen sticking up behind the cockpit. [Update: Wayne later checked with his radio expert friends, who believe the tall object/pole is an antenna.] To help see the Pitcairn symbol being discussed, I added the detailing in yellow to highlight the areas from two photos above.

Overlay indicating the writing and Pitcairn symbol on aircraft.

Overlay indicating the writing and Pitcairn symbol on aircraft.

Aviation friend and pilot Bill Weiler also sent a long list of resources to check out which I’ll post at the end of the blog and he had this to say about the family photo:

“Absolutely a Pitcairn, but not totally sure of the exact model. A few confirming details are the logo markings, though faded on the subject aircraft, the elevator control wire location coming up from below, the shape of the pilot’s cockpit cut out, the windscreen, the longeron locations coming from the tail to the turtle deck behind the pilot, the bell crank location on the full span aileron, and the length and shape of the forward cockpit appears it’s a modified mail plane rather than a sport version. My guess is it’s an early PA-6 or very late PA-5 because of the lack of an engine cowling and the apparent extended fuselage.”

“Here’s a good PA-5 picture.”

“They claimed the PA-7 was the first 3 passenger, but it looks like when they created the cut out from the mail plane version there was enough room for 2 – and I’m sure no one worried about seat belts and gross weight. It does not appear to have a front windscreen like this PA-7 does.”

***So with all this good information about it being a Pitcairn, does it fit the family scenario?***

Remember back at the beginning I mentioned we believe the photo was taken in the Atlanta area? Would there have been any Pitcairn Mailwing aircraft in the region? My answer comes from Wikipedia so take it as you will. It all starts with FLORIDA AIRWAYS that Eddie Rickenbacker helped start in Florida in 1923. The airline flew to Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami. Florida Airways was the first to carry Commercial Air Mail (CAM) and eventually expanded the mail route to Atalanta in 1926. There could even be the initials C.A.M. under the word MAIL in the family photo, but it is impossible to see it.

Yea! Now we have an Atlanta connection. However, the planes they were flying were Stout 2AT’s like those pictured below.

This photo is of Ford's Stout 2AT's now in the Florida Photographic Collection

This photo is of Ford’s Stout 2AT’s (from the Florida Photographic Collection). Taken June 1926.

To expand the routes and stay in business, the airline needed to fly to Cuba. Pan American Airways beat them to exclusive rights. This was the demise of Florida Airways which was bought out by Harold Pitcairn (later to become Eastern Airlines). Pitcairn had the mail contract between New York City and Atlanta, Georgia flying the Pitcairn Mailwing biplane. Again this fits with the family being in Atlanta. Pitcairn was bought out in 1929 by the company that eventually became Eastern Airlines. That would place our photo likely before 1929 (before the logo would have picked up Eastern Air Transport and be painted on the Mailwing). This photo of a Pitcairn PA-5 in the Air and Space Museum shows that newer logo.

Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing in Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C. Photo by Parks 2015

Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing in Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C. Photo by Parks 2015

Close-up of PA-5 in Air and Space Museum.

Close-up of PA-5 in Air and Space Museum.

I certainly learned something about Florida’s involvement in the early air mail service along with tying in part of my hubby’s extended family history. Thanks to everyone who pitched in with information and links. If you’re interested in seeing more photos of Mailwings or further extending your knowledge, here’s a list of additional links.

Thanks for stopping by.

Some more good links from Bill Weiler:

Wikipedia Pitcairn_Aircraft

Aerofiles

Pitcairn-PA-6-Super-Mailwing-pictures

Elizabeth Pitcairn USplane PA-7

Airminded Photos and Specs

Wikipedia Pitcairn Mailwing

Interesting that Steve McQueen owned a PA-8.

Girls Fly Too- Graduation from Air Force Pilot Training

Today’s blog honors two occasions…my niece’s graduation from pilot training and Women in Aviation week. If you’ve spent any time on my website or reading through earlier blogs, you already know that aviation is a household word and a lifestyle in my family. Thus when someone gets a pilot’s license of any kind, it’s a big deal.

New Wings on the name tag

New Wings on the name tag

So in January, the family headed down to the rousing town of Del Rio, Texas. Once we left San Antonio, half of our cell phones went on hiatus in the great expanses of Texas lacking in cell towers (or really much populace at all save for perhaps a few prairie dogs). The perfect place to put a base with pilots learning to fly. Onward we pressed in the face of adversity, forewarned by my brother to be wary of speed traps. Imagine our surprise later when we passed the car with his family temporarily parked aside the road and my brother speaking to the nice gentleman whose car flashed colored lights. My brother must have smiled nice, because the man in blue gave him a warning and sent him on his way.

We had no doubts when we closed upon our destination as a buzz of aircraft swarmed the airfield. Opposite patterns ran to parallel runways, one which catered to T-38 jets and the other to T-6 turboprops. The entrance to the base took us past a line of aircraft on static display. We later discovered my father had flown a good number of them. Thus, as we traditionally do, we gathered all the military folks, put them in flight suits (some suits had shrunk since retirement) and did a photo shoot in front of the T(trainer)-28, a plane my dad had flown in his pilot training days.

Grandfather (KC-135), Dad (FB-111), Graduate, Uncle (Test Pilot)

Grandfather (KC-135), Dad (FB-111), Graduate, Uncle (Test Pilot)

To give you an idea of how proud my brother is of his daughter, just take a look at this close-up of the two. Kinda says it all.

Father and Daughter

Father and Daughter

Later, after formal ceremonies inside where awards were presented, all the students went out to the flight line, where their chosen “rated” Air Force officer officially pinned on their wings. My niece chose her dad and they pinned them on in front of the T-1, a trainer for those pilots going on to fly heavy aircraft. She is thrilled to be going to C(cargo)-17s.

Father pinning official flight wings on his daughter in front of her aircraft

Father pinning official flight wings on his daughter in front of her aircraft

The first plane my niece flew in training was the T-6 Texan II turbo-prop built by Raytheon Aircraft as a military trainer. The second half of Undergraduate Pilot Training brought a switch to the T-1, built by Raytheon and Hawker Beechcraft, with handling characteristics mimicking heavier aircraft.

T-6 Texan II

T-6 Texan II

T-1

T-1

A photo of the women in the family was taken in front of the T-6 and included Grandma, Aunt (that’s me), and my niece’s mom. We may not have been the military pilots in the family, but we all gave her encouragement through the years that she could achieve the dream of being a pilot.

Aunt, Graduate, Grandmother, Mom

Aunt, Graduate, Grandmother, Mom

The next photo is of my niece in front of the T-6 with her shiny new wings visible above the chest pocket of her uniform jacket. After all the stress and effort to get to this point, I can guarantee she has a lot of pride in those wings.

2Lt. Moffett in front of the T-6 Texan II

2Lt. Moffett in front of the T-6 Texan II

Of course, I had to have my special moment for a photo. I couldn’t be prouder and am glad my niece had an opportunity to fly for the Air Force that when I was her age wasn’t open to me. Thankfully times have changed.

Aunt and Niece

Aunt and Niece

Any time family gets together to celebrate there are always presents or food. Since we were on the road for this celebration, we ate out and brought gifts. Tradition has it that pilots build a “me” collection of plaques, patches, photos, and models as they go through their careers. This T-1 model of her first aircraft is a great way to start.

Niece with T-1 Model

Niece with T-1 Model

After all the ceremonies and photos, it’s dinnertime. For the military, it means official mess dress (cummerbund and all). But once they hit the bar, dinner changes to party time and the jackets come off. Just to show you formality doesn’t come without some sense of humor, I took a shot of the  pilots’ party shirts not visible when their  jackets are on. My niece altered these shirts for herself and a few friends (her mom helped to get them done in time). Those are shoes on her shirt. Every girl needs a pair or two to party, and these are a lot hotter than suede flight boots.

Congrats new Air Force pilot 2Lt. Moffett.

Party (Mess Dress) Shirts

Party (Mess Dress) Shirts