Saturday, June 28, 2014

Vintage planes gather in Idaho Falls

Plane: $500,000.

Fuel: $5.50 a gallon. 

Maintenance: Endless.

The camaraderie tied to owning one of fewer than 100 Beechcraft Staggerwing planes: Priceless.

“The airplane originally brought us together, and we are all still passionate about the airplane, but over 40-plus years, the airplane has played a second role to the friendships you make all over the country,” John Parish said. “Really, the glue now is the friendships.”

Parish flew his Beechcraft King Air C90 from Tullahoma, Tenn., to visit his friend, Bob Hoff, and Hoff’s sons, Thomas and James,, at the Aero Mark Inc. hanger for the fourth annual Round-Engine Round-Up. The event pulls in enthusiasts of 1920s and 1930s planes from around the country.

The most popular plane among the group is the Beechcraft Staggerwing, a vintage round-engine biplane where the top wing is farther back on the plane than the bottom wing — a rarity for aircraft. Thomas Hoff, vice president of Aero Mark, said the planes range in value from $250,000 to more than $500,000. There are fewer than 100 in existence.

The Round-Up is one of two events per year where the group of 30 to 40 pilots get together. Parish hosts the other one in October at the Beechcraft Heritage Museum in Tennessee. He is the museum’s co-founder and chairman of the board.

“The people that own them get together talk about flying them and maintaining them; there’s just a lot of friendship. Kind of like car clubs,” Thomas Hoff said. “It’s a very interesting group of people. It’s everyone from CEOs to Joe Blow, so it’s pretty interesting.”

The group left Idaho Falls this morning to fly to Smiley Creek for brunch and were to return to Idaho Falls later today for a gathering at the Hoff ranch, south of town.

Bob Siegfried flew his Beechcraft V35B from Chicago. He and Bob Hoff are on the Tennessee museum’s board of directors.

“It’s just people that like airplanes,” Siegfried said. “Good personalities. I’ve been flying for 68 years and loved every minute of it. It’s a ball.”

Pat Napolitano is western regional service representative for Mid-Continent Instruments and Avionics in Wichita, Kan. He was at the round up for the second time — flying his boss’ Staggerwing. He’s also the plane’s mechanic.

Napolitano, a pilot for 27 years, flies the Staggerwing as a business plane.

“This is the only corporate-flying Staggerwing in the country,” Napolitano said. “This is my company car, I use it to go visit customers.”

While a select few have the honor of owning such rare planes, everyone can admire them.

Kirk Lindholm is a photographer for the Legacy Flight Museum in Rexburg. He is a self-proclaimed “airport rat” and has a love for vintage planes. For Lindholm, nothing compares to the Staggerwing.

“It’s kind of like some women you see on the street. They take your breath away,” he said.

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