Mendocino Missive

by Pierre Wildman and Susann Flowers

This article appeared in the September 1996 issue of the Falco Builders Letter.

John Harns watches as Larry Black parks his Falco.

The Seventh Annual West-Coast Falco Fly-In was held this year in scenic Mendocino, California. Mendocino is a small coastside town billed as an artist's community in the tour guides (that's marketing-speak for "there are a lot of strange-but-harmless people there"). The 30 or so attendees stayed at the Hill House, which is the setting of much of the TV series "Murder She Wrote".

The weather was generally cooperative, although it sure kept us all guessing. Thursday morning, Larry and Ann Black's Falco was the first to grace the quiet Little River Airport. A short while later Per and Lena Burholm arrived in their Falco. The afternoon saw the arrival of John and Pat Harns, Dave and Barb McMurray, as well as Jim and Doris Kennedy (in the "Tin Falco").

Friday was the first serious day of flying, mixed with lots of socializing and storytelling. Several ground-bound arrivals endured the winding roads that lead to Mendocino. This was our secret plan to motivate people to fly instead of drive! The Frati stable spent a lot of time in the air that day, with the owners graciously giving rides to anyone who wanted one. John Harns provided a special treat for a lucky few who got to see the Falcos in flight, up close-really close! Legend has it that John has more close-formation time than all the rest of us have flight time!

In between flights, lots of questions were fielded about building techniques, tools, aircraft performance, and the like. Everyone had something to add. All the builders were looking for ways to do it better. Dan Dorr had the most memorable quote of the fly-in with "Perfect would be okay with me". Jim Kennedy found himself answering lots of questions about the F.22C, which was a nice centerpiece of the Falco line-up. Some people brought photo albums and even the odd piece of airplane for show-and-tell.

Friday night brought a special event-a ride into the towering redwoods on the famous Skunk Train. A fun dinner was served at the Mendocino Boys Camp, located deep in the forest.

Saturday morning we learned the good news that John and Chris Shipler had arrived late the previous evening, adding yet another Falco to the flight line. This was also the morning for the fly-out breakfast at Clearlake, California. Breakfast at the Sky Room was great, and spawned a lot of conversation about whose Falco was fastest. And so was born the First Annual Falco Air Race!

All parties agreed that a race would be held from the Ukiah VOR to Little River Airport, about 25 miles. The rules were to start wing-abreast over the VOR at 4500 feet, indicating 135 knots. On my count, each pilot would pour on the coal, and the first to arrive over Little River Airport at 4500 feet would be declared the winner. Sound simple enough?

You learn a lot about people when they race! One pilot, flying an award-winning beauty, is alleged to have applied full power early. Another, ex-military pilot remedied that infraction by initiating a descent. After the race, yet another pilot claimed "Yeah, but I still had a couple of inches of manifold pressure left".

Doris and Jim Kennedy in the F.22

Flying lead in my Seneca, we found that we had to keep adding more power to stay in front of the lead Falcos, which were closing slowly. Dave Nason was riding with me as the official observer, keeping me posted on the whereabouts of the contestants. By the time we crossed the airport at 2000 feet (so much for the rules!), we were indicating 190 knots, with 2 Falcos right behind us, and the rest not too far behind them. We were all really moving, and it was all we could do with 440 hp to stay in front of the 160 hp speed-demons!

Who won? Well, there are a lot of opinions about that! Dave McMurray was the first across the airport, with John Harns a very close second. But somehow it seems inappropriate to declare an official winner, under the circumstances. It looks like we'll have to have another race next year, maybe with some 'clearer' rules.

While all this hell-raising was going on, Susann led a group to the Botanical Gardens, where beauty of another sort was on display. The main highlight was a spectacular Begonia display, and who could forget the hike through the "Redwood forest that meets the sea." Afterward, they had lunch at the Wharf restaurant overlooking the Fort Bragg harbor where Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell fell "Overboard." After lunch, they couldn't wait to get back for some last-minute shopping in the quaint Mendocino boutiques. Barb McMurray drove the "cargo shuttle" to help transport the loot back to the hotel. I think it's safe to say that the ladies were well-entertained by the Mendocino coast, and they almost forgot how much fun they were missing by not hanging around the airport.

Back at the airport, Saturday afternoon was filled with more poking around airplanes, and of course, flying. Dave McMurray was coaxed into removing some panels so the rest of us could see how he installed his battery and such. Cowlings spent more time open than closed. Naturally, all the owners were more than happy to answer questions from all sorts of people.

In keeping with tradition, we had a banquet dinner Saturday night. The food was great, and people really enjoyed themselves. After dinner, Susann and I gave a talk and slide show of our transatlantic flight in the Seneca a while back. The evening concluded with several people offering thanks to the whole group for making it such a great time.