Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Inside the World War II-era airplane that Oak Cliff residents can't stand

Steven DeWolf and his awesome (but loud) antique aircraft.


At the contentious townhall meetings between city of Dallas staffers who insist Dallas Executive Airport is going to expand and neighboring Oak Cliff residents who would rather it didn't, one airplane in particular has drawn flak.  "At previous meetings, everyone has brought up the yellow airplane that was so loud," says James Nutt, one of the airport's unhappy neighbors.

Dallas Executive Airport, a small property in the Red Bird neighborhood, is owned by the city, which has been planning to renovate and expand it for the past four years. The neighbors-turned-activists who live next door say they wouldn't necessarily be against a bigger airport if the city had handled the expansion better. But they're unhappy they have largely been left out of the city's planning process, which has been secretive at times, as the Observer's Eric Nicholson reported last year.  

Among the questions neighbors have is how the city will limit further noise from the small planes already there before the airport gets bigger and hosts more planes.  People who live next to the path of the airport's longer runaway complain about the sounds from private jets, while people closer to the shorter runaway, where Nutt lives, deal with smaller aircraft. The small yellow airplane "is like a Harley Davidson going down the street," Nutt says.

The owner of the yellow airplane remained a mystery to the angry neighbors until another city-hosted meeting last month. Steven DeWolf, a Dallas attorney and successful wind energy developer, says the city invited him to speak, but he didn't realize that his airplane "was a big point of contention" and came to the meeting under the impression that he would have some sort of constructive talk with everyone about his plane, a model called the PT-17 Stearman, made by Boeing. The PT-17 was used as a primary trainer in the World War II era, and DeWolf says it was same model his father first learned to fly. He bought the plane in 1991 and practices patterns on early Friday mornings, dressed in the same style of jumpsuit pilots from that era wore. He wears a parachute with the outfit to be safe, but he's never had to use it. 

As DeWolf faced questions and complaints from angry neighbors at the August meeting, "I felt kind of bad for him," Nutt says. "I felt like the airport kind of threw him under the bus by asking him to speak."  Nonetheless, Nutt wanted to make his concerns clear with DeWolf directly. He recalls telling the pilot, "You're the reason a lot of the people here don't want the airport expanded, because we don't want more noise." The noise, Nutt says, is so powerful that it shakes his windows and scares his dogs. After the meeting, residents described the confrontation with DeWolf and their unflattering impressions of him in a public Facebook thread. When we called DeWolf shortly afterward to hear his side of the story,  he claimed that he flies only narrow patterns, inside the boundaries of the airport, and that he puts the engine to "idle" when he lands to reduce noise.

"Maybe I'm being overly sensitive," he reflected of his tense meeting with Oak Cliff neighbors. "Maybe it wasn't all directed toward me. They were nice enough to give me applause when I left," DeWolf said on the phone. Then he invited us to come to the DEA airport and see the airplane ourselves. Free ride in a biplane? Sorry, Oak Cliff. Watch our video inside his aircraft below: 

Story, photo and video:  http://www.dallasobserver.com


Steve DeWolf and his 1942 AT-6 Texan, which was used to train U.S. Navy pilots for WWII

Solo lawyer and amateur pilot Steve DeWolf is in love with WW II-era training planes—especially the distinctive yellow 1942 AT-6 Texan that he stores and flies from Dallas' Executive Airport.

But last month when DeWolf was asked to speak at a community meeting at the city-owned airport about plans for a runway expansion, he discovered the airfield's residential neighbors do not have the same appreciation for vintage planes that he does.

That's because when his AT-6's huge radial engine fires up, it's just plain loud.

"I came on and said, 'Yep, you might recognize the plane.' And one guy said 'Yep, that's the yellow plane—the one we hate,'''DeWolf said.

He had intended to educate the audience about the history of the AT-6 which trained countless U.S. Navy and Army Air Corps fighter and bomber pilots before they headed off to war (including his own father). Instead he found himself in litigation mode, defending his plane's engine noise in front of 70 angry neighbors.

"I'm a litigator. I'm not shy. But they weren't happy campers," DeWolf said. "One guy said I flew over his house continually. And I told him: 'With all due respect sir, that's not true,''' DeWolf said.

Read more here: http://www.texaslawyer.com

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately this is a pattern around the US. People buy a house next to an airport and of course it costs less because of this. Then they turn their efforts toward shutting it down or making sure it doesn't expand. How dare we fly our airplanes near an airport? I read some of their comments on their neighborhood Facebook page and they're pretty hostile toward Steve. Keep up the good fight.