Saturday, July 23, 2022

The Full Top Gun Maverick Experience

I loved the movie "Top Gun" when it came out in 1986 and have been impatiently waiting for the sequel to be available.

The only thing better than watching Top Gun is watching Top Gun with a real Top Gun Instructor!  

My enthusiasm for the new movie has been all the more intense because one of my very best friends is a retired Top Gun pilot and instructor -- Capt. Donald "DIRT" Kingery (photo above -- note the patch on Don's shirt matches the patch on Tom Cruise's shirt!). 

Don and I met in my early days working At Scripps Research at the introduction of another good friend, Dan Schrokosch (thank you, Danny!).  My greatest adventure with Don was flying back seat in a fighter jet piloted by Don in 2014!

Flying with "DIRT" 

 Don, Shirley, Nan and I wanted to do Top Gun Maverick the right way, so here are all the things we did to maximize the experience!

March 14, 2022 - Lunch with the Quiet Birdmen

Don invited me to go as his guest to a meeting of the "Quiet Birdmen", a secretive club in the United States for male aviators. Members, called QBs, must be invited to join, and they join for life. The club's membership is organized into regional "hangars" -- Don took me to the Palomar Hangar (PAL) meeting.

Quiet Birdmen

The guest speaker was Capt. Greg "CHASER" Keithley who presented his experiences as the technical advisor on "Top Gun Maverick". Chaser is the current Executive Director of the Tailhook Association.  His extensive resume with the US Navy includes piloting the F-14 Tomcat and the F/A-18 Hornet.  

Before the Master of Ceremonies introduced Chaser, he introduced Pete "VIPER" Pettigrew.  Pete gave a shout-out to "DIRT", making me very proud to be sitting at Don's table. 

For those of you who saw the original Top Gun movie, you will remember that one of the main characters was "Viper" -- a role modeled after Pete.  Pete had a cameo role in the first movie in the first bar scene -- Pete was the "older" man sitting with Kelley McGillis.  Here is an article about Pete, his amazing career, and his cameo role:

Pete Pettigrew

Chaser gave a compelling presentation describing the making of the movie and verifying the real flying footage that we have all enjoyed in the new movie.  I couldn't believe that I got to meet these legends at lunch -- all courtesy of Don.

 April 24, 2022 - Revisiting Top Gun

 The four of us decided that we needed a repeat showing of the original Top Gun before seeing the sequel.  So Don and Shirley invited Nan and I to their house for snacks, dinner, and a movie. As you would expect, the kitchen was decorated with Top Gun memorabilia:

Don wore his official Top Gun golf shirt!

We used Top Gun wine glasses:

and Top Gun cocktail napkins:

 And then we watched the movie!  We all enjoyed seeing Pete Pettigrew in his cameo role!



May 9, 2022 - The USS Midway Museum

Next, Don took me and Nan to visit the USS Midway aircraft carrier which is now a museum here in San Diego (Fighter Town USA).  


Don had arranged for our tour to be guided by the legendary USS Midway veteran, Bud "THUNDER" Taylor.  


In 1972, Bud Taylor was a pilot in VF-161, flying missions from the USS Midway over Vietnam. In 1986, he became the commanding officer of VF-151, once again flying from the Midway.  We could not have had a more knowledgeable tour guide than Bud for this memorable day!

 Bud had us going below deck, above deck, up and down narrow hatches and ladders, crawling all over the ship and all the aircraft on display.  

No question went unanswered and each story was more interesting that the previous one.  Bud's pride in the USS Midway and the Top Gun pilots easily rubbed off on all of us. Here is a great shot of Don, me and Bud with one of the F14's on display at the Midway.

We could have probably spent a week on the Midway and not seen everything that Bud wanted to show us.  When we finally parted ways I was absolutely ready to see the new movie.

 June 10, 2022 - The Movie

 It was now finally time to go see TOP GUN - Maverick. 

Nan scored us some great seats front and center at the Cinepolis theater here in Carlsbad.  With drinks and popcorn delivered to our seats we were ready for 131 minutes of fighter-pilot heaven.

We marveled at the way that the new movie folded in themes from the first: how "GOOSE's" son, "ROOSTER", played a key role, providing a tension that was not resolved until the end of the movie; the bar scene in which "Great Balls of Fire" was played on the piano - echoing the past; reprising Val Kilmer's role as  "ICE" while converting him from competitor to counselor; the speeding motorcycle scenes; the small cottages of San Diego; that unforgettable Tom Cruise smile; and all the poignant  flash backs.  

At the same time, the new movie established its own theme -- contemporary and fact-filled.  Best of all, as everyone has said, was the truly amazing photography of real people, flying in real aircraft, performing real maneuvers with cameras capturing the reality of modern fighter aircraft.   

As the movie ended with a P51D doing barrel rolls into the setting sun, the theater slowly emptied.  The four of us remained seated, watching the credits roll.  Finally, we saw what we had waited for . . . the listing of Capt. Greg "CHASER" Keithley getting recognized as the person who made the transition from the screenplay to the film.  A perfect ending and so satisfying to see this odyssey go full circle from the Quiet Birdmen luncheon of months before.

 So, this should be the end of the story, right?  

Not quite!

Don's encore will be to take us to Oceanside to visit the original Top Gun house, which has been relocated and converted to a pie shop!  Hey, Don -- my treat!


Monday, December 28, 2020

Spending a Day with Richard Horrigan

How do you measure the success of a person? Who is the most successful person you have known? 

To me a person is successful to the degree that they recognize early their special gift, and spend their life applying that gift to the benefit of mankind. I know such a person, so let me tell you about Richard Dennis Horrigan. 

I grew up in suburban Washington D.C. (Maryland) in the 1950's. The guys that were in my first grade class were mostly still together when we graduated from High School. We spent the elementary school years playing marbles, baseball, and building soap box racers. One guy was different -- Richard Horrigan who was always playing with airplanes.  We only lived a few blocks from each other and knew each other pretty well. 

After high school I went to the University of Maryland while most of my buddies worked in the trades. A few years after graduation from Maryland I moved to California and lost contact with most of the old gang. One night in 1985 I was watching a Smithsonian special on the restoration of the Wright brothers' first airplane - the Wright Flyer. The narrator described how the three craftsmen, who were the only people allowed to touch the historic craft, were meticulously taking the canard apart and reconstructing it. Watching the show, I could SWEAR that one of the three people was Richard. 

Above:  the three National Air and Space Museum restoration technicians, Karl Heinzel, Richard Horrigan (center), and Reed Ferguson, working on the restoration of the Wright Flyer from 1984 to 1985.

Story of the Restoration of the Wright Flyer

With the help of my high school reunion organizers I secured a current address for Richard. I wrote a Christmas card to him that year and asked "Was that you I saw restoring the Wright Flyer?" He answered back in the affirmative! 

We reestablished contact in 1986 and have kept in touch ever since. I visited his home in the late 1980's to learn that he had survived Vietnam, had gotten a pilot's license (with a soaring rating), and restored tail-draggers. After 'Nam he had gotten hired on at the Smithsonian's Garber Facility, the back-office restoration shop that preserves the aircraft, photos, and memorabilia that have made the Air and Space Museum the most visited museum in all the world. Richard had wanted to spend all his time on airplanes and by golly he had become one of the greatest restoration experts in the world! I learned that he had been in many movies about the historic airplanes, and had provided material to countless authors. He was the team leader on the restoration of the Enola Gay. 

Above:  Richard with the Enola Gay restoration project at the Smithsonian Garber facility, September, 1999.

Richard told me that once he and his crew finish a restoration, the planes are "ready to fly". 

Even though I made frequent business trips to the DC area, I had never taken the time to visit with Richard in his element -- in the massive restoration shop. Things changed on Tuesday, September 14, 1999. It was a great day. After a lapse of probably 10 years, I got to visit with Richard at the Garber facility. 

We were glad to see each other. I enjoyed having him show me his world, the one-of-a-kind airplanes, the famous and unknown ones, the memorabilia of heroes and regular pilots too. His knowledge is impressive -- for 30 years he has quietly classified, stored or restored the tangible artifacts of the intangible joy of flight. Did you know that the Japanese had an airplane that could be stored INSIDE a submarine and could take off shortly after surfacing? I had no idea! Well, he knows every nut and bolt of the unique craft, how the parts fit together, and is making the only surviving example ready to fly again. When a part is broken, and no replacement can be found, he painstakingly manufactures a new part as true to the original as he can. 

Part machinist, part archeologist, and part historian, he strives to preserve as much of the original airplane as he can and carefully labels the replacement or reproduction parts for future historians. For two hours we roamed from one building to another, two over-fifty childhood friends transformed once again into little boys enjoying the magic of nearly 100 years of aviation. 

I was happy to learn that he had seen the article about me in KITPLANES magazine in July. He subscribes to just about every airplane magazine in English. He is well aware of the canard design and understands why we love them so much. 

After two joyous hours we reluctantly departed, leaving me with two thoughts. First, how wonderful it is that an organization like the Smithsonian can provide to those people driven by inquisitiveness and desire a life-long pursuit of discovering and preserving the things that make us what we have become. Second, how I never would have guessed back in Mrs. Brock's first grade class that the quiet, shy little boy in the back row would apply his love for airplanes so completely, sharing his skill and knowledge with the World, and that he would become one of the greatest people I have ever known. 

Cary Thomas, September 1999

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Commuting the EZE Way

In July 1999 I was honored to have an article published about my Varieze in KITPLANES magazine.

The cover lists a story inside on "Commuting the Eze way", and the index has a small picture and pointer to page 26. On pages 26 to 29 are some nice pictures and a story of my commuting regimen. 

Special thanks to Dr. Bob Gray, Professor at San Diego State University and EZ builder/driver, for authoring the article and to Dave Martin for great editorial work. The photos are the work of good friend Stephanie Sanguinetti, and Bob Gray.

What began as a somewhat preposterous notion -- that you could use an airplane designed for casual day VFR flight, and consistently and reliably fly IFR and at night in the LA airspace -- has become normal and accepted. However, as the article points out, it would not be possible without the help of some very special people. The article gives credit to: the legendary Bruce Evans for constructing this wonderful, solid little airplane; the San Diego EZ Squadron members for their initial and constant advice and support; to Dave Ronneberg and Renaissance Composites for being the Sky Slug's Santa Monica home-away-from-home; to hall-of-fame pilot Dave Kilbourne for being my hangar mate in Carlsbad and my source of inspiration; to face-less ATC folks at both towers and on SO-CAL approach whose friendly voices comfort me when the air gets lumpy; and, perhaps most importantly to Nancy Paul Thomas for suggesting the idea, endless encouragement, the nightly vigil monitoring my progress on 127.30 and loving support for my crazy lifestyle.

Thanks to all of you who have been interested in the Varieze and have encouraged me in so many ways!


Cary Thomas EASY-5-Niner-2.

"Once you have flown
You will walk the earth
With your eyes turned skyward.
For there you have been
And there you long to return!"

Leonardo da Vinci 1452-1519