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