The August 1980 Sussex Old Engine Show had something different, as they had an airplane land at the event, and take off a couple times and land again.
It was the famous Waukesha pioneer of flying, Dale Crites, a Waukesha pioneer air enthusiast who combined with his brother, are honored by having the city of Waukesha Airfield on Bluemound and Pewaukee Roads named after them.
U.S. presidents have used this field to land and take off when they were featured speakers at the nearby Waukesha County Expo Center.
Thirty-six years ago, I was a newspaper photographer at the annual Sussex Olde Engine Show, and Dale Crites, on seeing my credentials as a reporter-photographer, asked me if I wanted to take a flight up and around Sussex, and back to the Village Park "airport."
Now, this airport was an about 220-yard long dished lawn straight away from the park tennis courts to the south line of park border trees. South of the border was a farm field, what is today Eagles Ridge Subdivision.
It took me 30 seconds to look over his aerial kite with a humongous 400-pound engine immediately behind where one sat with a "pusher propeller” behind it to power the near 900-pound replica 1911 Curtiss Pusher airplane.
I mentally said to myself, "Goodbye, wife June,” and volunteered to take his offer. We revved up the pusher engine near the tennis courts, and started south, and we were quickly airborne above the trees, barns, traffic and park grounds.
He made a loop near Highway K, and back we came to the park, and down we came – a soft landing, and a roll to a stop.
Wow – that was something.
Now the story.
Dale Crites, retired former Waukesha airport manager, and a famous barnstormer of Waukesha County and Wisconsin, told me a story.
In 1912, John G. Kaminski went to San Diego, put down $5,000 and took a training course and gained possession of a Curtiss Pusher airplane. He was the first person in Waukesha County to own a plane. He came back to the Midwest and barnstormed at county fairs, appearing for $350 fee plus $25 for passengers to fly around the fairgrounds. The passenger had to sit right next to the 90-horsepower water-cooled engine.
These old kites were prone to every little mishap imaginable, and Kaminski’s plane was no slacker in this respect. It ended up crashing near a fair site.
The plane’s next home was a barn near the Waukesha Airport. Crites discovered it, and was able to buy the relic after a few years of negotiating, and went to work restoring it. He did such a good job, and since the plane was an original, he didn't want to fly it. The risk of destroying history was too much.
Late in 1976, he donated it to the emerging Experimental Aircraft Association Air Education Museum at Hales Corners. But, before he donated it, he made an exact copy, right down to the bamboo longerons. Crites christened the replica plane “Silver Streak.”
He put the plane on display in Sussex at the show. Delighting the audience, Crites carefully explained all the ins and outs of the plane of yesteryear.
Crites showed how it was controlled, how one had to lean to the right and lean to the left to cause a banking turn. The rudder and the elevators were operated with a joystick steering wheel and foot pedals.
The engine, a 90-horse power model OX-5, which is a V-8 with a four-inch bore — and a 5-inch stroke, weighed about 400 pounds.
When Americans first built airplanes, they went for the pushed-type propeller planes because they felt that the pilot should have an upfront, unobstructed view of what was ahead.
Crites explained, "But, it must have been a sobering thought to know that during a crash, the engine was dead weight right behind you, cushioned only by the hot radiator.
In contrast, the French, also heavily into early aircraft design, went for the propeller in the front of the airplane. The World War I success of their airplanes changed the way of mounting the propeller.
Crites was into occasionally flying the pusher relic around the Waukesha Airport on calm summer days.
He said it was a great thrill for the passing public to see it airborne
I didn't tell my wife June what I did that day back in August 1980 – that I had flown in this 1911-type open barnstorming kite. However, she saw the photo and a story the following week in Lake Country Living, and admonished me, "What were you thinking of when you volunteered to go up for a spin around Sussex?"
I thought for a moment, and my answer was, "Well, I wanted to be like the earlier Sussex area flyers, like Joe Ries, Philip Stier, Homer Stone, Ben White, Royal Woodchick, the Adams brothers, Seth Pollard, Ralph and Milo Hardiman, Milan Hutchinson, Victor Munz, Elmer Manz and our neighbor, Ray Podolske."
Once, Sussex had two airfields, where Quad Tech and Quad Graphics stand today.
Later, I took a flight of an alfalfa field at the Margy Schultz farm, Pewaukee road, south of Main Street to do an aerial picture taking of Lisbon and Sussex.
But that is another story.