May 5, 1999


Let the flyin' begin! Last Sunday I went over to Middlesex and had a plateful of strawberry pancakes at their airport café. From now through October, there will be several choices of fly- in breakfasts to attend on any given weekend. One of the regular visitors was leaving Middlesex when he was asked where he was flying for lunch. He replied that he thought he would go up to Weedsport and have a cup of coffee while he decided.

My little Commonwealth takes me a lot of places, but I'm not just talking about destinations. There are many adventures that we go on without ever leaving the corner of the hangar. There was the landing gear adventure last winter, and an array of engine adventures last year. This spring we have already had a carburetor adventure. The airplane was built 53 years ago, in times when people had different expectations, and might also have had a better perspective regarding which things are worth worrying about, and what things aren't.

Many of the small- airplane carburetors of the day were made by Stromberg, and they were incredibly simple. Just like a lawn mower carburetor, they have no accelerator pump, and there is no labyrinth of hidden passages drilled through the housing. The little parts and pieces are large and durable compared to those of a modern carburetor. First cousin to a farm carburetor, it almost begs you to work with no more than a screwdriver and pliers, using the top of the tractor tire as an impromptu work bench.

I had been warned by other old airplane pilots that the Strombergs were cantankerous, so I put a question about them onto the Commonwealth network. One E-mail to the network address is automatically distributed to about 25 Commonwealth owners. I also called the Commonwealth "guru", a fellow in Massachusetts named Al.

Both inquiries turned up good information on my carburetor problem, but a conversation with Al generally ends up covering quite a range of subjects. One time it was all about making valve guide bushings, and another time it was a verbal tour of Commonwealth history. He has several Commonwealth fuselages, made by the factory in 1946, but never completed as airplanes. This time, he told me about his carousel.

It was such an ingenious solution to such a common problem that I am still surprised that I have never heard of such a thing before. It takes an airplane person to fully appreciate the problems that are created when several airplanes share one large hangar, but anyone can understand the fundamentals: If the owner of the plane parked in a back corner shows up to go flying, most all the planes in the hangar will have to be moved out of the way. After the needed airplane is pulled clear, all the other planes have to be moved back into the hangar. It is heavy and time consuming work, and wings and tails bump into things so easily.

Al's solution was to make a 60 foot diameter carousel for the five planes that were stored in his hangar. A central pivot pin was made from a piece of 3 inch pipe, and a hub placed upon it. Five lengths of 4 inch channel iron radiated outward to connect a parking platform for each airplane to the hub, and five more lengths of channel iron linked each airplane's platform along the circumference of the carousel. A set of wheels supported each plane's small platform.

One person was capable of rotating the five airplanes around the pivot until the desired airplane was centered in the doorway, though a power unit was later made from a lawn tractor transaxle and an electric motor. A winch was mounted onto the center pivot post, and could be indexed to pull any of the five resident airplanes backwards onto their platform after the flight.

My carburetor is now getting along with the engine, and the carousel would make a good excuse for a long trip, but anymore, the carousel only exists in a short video. It was installed in a hangar that is no longer a hangar, and it is now disassembled, awaiting a new home. Al is still there, though, and usually it is at least as interesting to meet the inventor as it is to see the inventions. He is near the top of my list of people to fly out to and meet.

My little plane takes me many places, but like I said, not all of them are on a map.

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