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Johnny Byrd (was: 30 Gone)



 
 
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  #1  
Old September 19th 16, 08:06 PM posted to rec.aviation.soaring
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Default Johnny Byrd (was: 30 Gone)

I thoughtlessly posted my earlier message (below) a few minutes ago with a somewhat obscure subject, not realizing that "30"--a contest number that for many of us evoked only one pilot's name--had been reassigned. Apologies to anyone who was inadvertently confused.

------------------------------------

I've been waiting for an "official" note. But absent that, I'm saddened to pass long the news that we lost another one a week or so back: Johnny Byrd, "30", left us after a long illness.

I wish I could recount the contest wins, the stories, the good times so many of us shared around the country but especially in the southeast where I met him at the first Cordele regional in 1971. His partner was flying the Standard Cirrus that time but Johnny flew it for years after that, usually at or near the top of the score card. He later piloted an LS-3, a Libelle 301 that he modified, and a Discus, that I recall, all with similar success.

Johnny used to do a handstand on the grid every day before launch, often wearing the same ratty polo shirt day after day. We all have our little routines but his seemed to work better than most. I know he had some big wins, including multiple national championships, and also ended up on the U.S. Team multiple times (including Hobbs, 1983, mentioned in this month's Soaring mag). I wish I could recall the specifics but his career spanned many decades. He was a superb pilot, a craftsman, and a worthy competitor who could always be relied upon to brighten up your day.

In the absence of specifics, I'm left with the sense that my life over many years of soaring was richer for having been in the skies for so many hours with "30".

The last time I saw him and Ann was at a Hobbs Nats about 10 years ago where he was towing. I believe he'd stopped flying gliders by then. We had dinner one night, just the three of us, and laughed and reminisced about old times, the stories, the pilots and crews and officials we'd known. Johnny had been around during the days when the single-class U.S. Nationals were fought at Marfa, TX. He built a house not far away in the Davis Mountains where he and Ann moved from Delray Beach, FL. I believe they had been back in Florida for a while after his health began to deteriorate.

One notable memory that's very personal: the generous way he and Ann reached out to my mother after my dad crashed at the Springfield 15M Nats in 1980.. They invited her down to their vacation home in the mountains of North Carolina that summer and I know they talked to her frequently on the phone for a long time thereafter. I talked to my Mom a few days ago and she continues to feel grateful. Good people.

I know it's been a long trial for Ann but if you have contact info, I suspect she'd enjoy hearing from you. It's sad when we lose a man like Johnny but we're left with a lot of great memories.

JB
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  #2  
Old September 20th 16, 02:42 AM posted to rec.aviation.soaring
Burt Compton - Marfa Gliders, west Texas
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Default Johnny Byrd (was: 30 Gone)

Johnny "Mac" Byrd, as he was known in South Florida, earned his Commercial Glider Pilot certificate at Sebring, FL in the sixties during one of our camps. He asked me to be his first passenger in Lou Rehr's SGS 2-32. His first visit to Marfa, Texas, was at the Nationals in 1969 with the BG-12 he built. That was the first contest where the majority of the sailplanes were glass and he usually came up short on the speed triangles because the sun went down. On the free distance day, he outflew many pilots with his flight to Childress, TX, landing by the light of the rotating beacon. In "The Sun Ship Game" movie filmed at that 1969 contest, that's his funky VW bus with the surfboard on top and the shower head on the back. The odd red rectangular figure painted on the side of the bus he told me was "his state of mind." Always witty and more than willing to help anyone understand reading the sky, efficient thermaling and his cross country soaring techniques. Based on his accomplishments and generosity, he was voted into the Soaring Hall of Fame. I got to make the presentation speech.

Johnny Byrd almost lost a day at a national contest when, on the way to turn in his log of his contest task to the scorer, he stopped to help a young pilot disassemble a sailplane as the one hour time-limt nearly ran out. Later, after being declared the winner of a contest, he reviewed the scores with the scorer and pointed out that he actually came in second and immediately relinquished the trophy! He was a well-loved high school shop teacher, later an electrician. Johnny would custom build sailplane trailers "to pay for next summer's contest."

So many stories. When his Discus A was delivered by mistake to a California port, instead of to Florida, he decided which model rental car he would rent, flew airline to California with a complete trailer hitch in his baggage, installed it on the rental car and drove his new Discus back to Florida. He removed the hitch, plugged the holes that he drilled in the trunk before returning the rental car. I've been privileged to know Johnny and Ann (high-school sweethearts) in Florida and later when we all moved to Marfa, near the Davis Mountains of southwest Texas. I suppose that would be all of my adult life, over 50 years. A fine example of true gentleman, we're all going to miss him.
  #3  
Old September 20th 16, 12:56 PM posted to rec.aviation.soaring
Vaughn Simon[_2_]
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Default Johnny Byrd (was: 30 Gone)

On 9/19/2016 9:42 PM, Burt Compton - Marfa Gliders, west Texas wrote:
So many stories.

I remember that he set out to build the "Ultimate Tow Plane". As I
recall (perhaps wrongly) he started with a tri-pacer which he lengthened
and made into a tail dragger, and then powered it with an aluminum V-6
auto engine. It sounded like a race car! At the conception, he talked
about adding glider spoilers to bring it down faster for the next tow,
but I don't know if that ever happened. He made it sound like a
part-time casual project. To me, it was an awesome accomplishment!

Also, one time my daughter was thermaling (probably in a 1-26) somewhere
near Willis gliderport when she was startled by a power plane with the
engine off that cored the thermal and out-climbed her! It turned out to
be John Byrd in a borrowed light homebuilt.
  #4  
Old September 20th 16, 08:29 PM posted to rec.aviation.soaring
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Default Johnny Byrd (was: 30 Gone)

Thanks for the memories, Burt! I had forgotten about Johnny's BG-12. He was still driving a VW bus when my family met him. Later he switched to a converted Ford exterminator's van. Some might recall the problem with certain Ford transmissions of that era jumping into reverse gear. Per Ann, Johnny once accused her of trying to back over him when he was hooking up the trailer.

I recall another story he and Ann told about tying out at a contest in Marfa--perhaps it was 1969. As the wind began to increase in the wee hours of the morning, they heard doors open and close in the halls of the old Hotel Paisano (before it was restored?) as pilots and crews hurried out to the airport to secure their gliders.

The old Cordele regional was always held in August and overlapped with the first few days of school where Johnny taught shop. Still in college, I was fascinated to listen in on the ingenious reasons he phoned in for his delayed arrival, often while leading the contest.

Johnny always had a story to keep us entertained on the flight line, after flying, during dinner, and once--at the old Chester Regional--during an extended rain delay.
  #5  
Old September 21st 16, 02:43 AM posted to rec.aviation.soaring
Burt Compton - Marfa Gliders, west Texas
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Default Johnny Byrd (was: 30 Gone)

On Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at 6:56:51 AM UTC-5, Vaughn Simon wrote:
On 9/19/2016 9:42 PM, Burt Compton - Marfa Gliders, west Texas wrote:
So many stories.

I remember that he set out to build the "Ultimate Tow Plane".


It is still in his hangar (that he built, of course) at Marfa, Texas, although I have not seen it lately.
Yes, a Piper Tri-Pacer he converted to taildragger with a Ford engine with the Blanton belt reduction.
Sounded like an old Ford truck with short stacks. The long wooden prop really whooshed around. I believe that he extended the wing span a bit for climb performance.

Johnny put over 1,000 hours on his creation and I can confirm that it did tow well at our 5,000' MSL Marfa elevation. He never added the spoilers. It was water-cooled so "shock-cooling" was not really an issue.

He was the last pilot to land at the old Marfa Army Air Field (later Presidio County Airport) where we held the legendary regional and national contests (ending with the 1972 Standard Class contest.) That huge airport has almost completely gone back to nature but Johnny slipped his Pacer in between the tall bushes on the wide bomber ramp (like Hobbs.)

For decades, his favorite red polo shirt with a long tail was worn outside his jeans almost every contest day. When it got too ratty I guess Ann washed it one last time (or maybe not) and Johnny carried it in his Discus A for good luck. He didn't need much luck as underneath his calm demeanor and quick humor was a determined and calculating soaring pilot, and a true Southern Gentleman.

Oh my . . .
  #6  
Old September 21st 16, 03:42 AM posted to rec.aviation.soaring
Papa3[_2_]
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Default Johnny Byrd (was: 30 Gone)

I towed behind that plane sometime in (I think 1994). I had flown down to West Palm to look at an LS4 for sale at Willis Gliderport. The seller had agreed to a test flight, but he hadn't made arrangements for a tow. Some hurried phone calling ensued, and pretty soon I heard what I thought was a semi-truck coming up the road. No, it was 30 in his towplane.

I can vouch for its performance - quick tow despite 90 degrees and 99% humidity. Afterward, we drove over to his house and got a tour of the hangar in his back yard. All sorts of toys including the Discus in trailer, a C180 (I think), and lots of other implements of destruction. He was incredibly nice to this relatively new competition pilot and shared a lot of interesting stories about his flying in the hour or so we spent.

On Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at 9:43:24 PM UTC-4, Burt Compton - Marfa Gliders, west Texas wrote:
On Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at 6:56:51 AM UTC-5, Vaughn Simon wrote:
On 9/19/2016 9:42 PM, Burt Compton - Marfa Gliders, west Texas wrote:
So many stories.

I remember that he set out to build the "Ultimate Tow Plane".


It is still in his hangar (that he built, of course) at Marfa, Texas, although I have not seen it lately.
Yes, a Piper Tri-Pacer he converted to taildragger with a Ford engine with the Blanton belt reduction.
Sounded like an old Ford truck with short stacks. The long wooden prop really whooshed around. I believe that he extended the wing span a bit for climb performance.

Johnny put over 1,000 hours on his creation and I can confirm that it did tow well at our 5,000' MSL Marfa elevation. He never added the spoilers. It was water-cooled so "shock-cooling" was not really an issue.

He was the last pilot to land at the old Marfa Army Air Field (later Presidio County Airport) where we held the legendary regional and national contests (ending with the 1972 Standard Class contest.) That huge airport has almost completely gone back to nature but Johnny slipped his Pacer in between the tall bushes on the wide bomber ramp (like Hobbs.)

For decades, his favorite red polo shirt with a long tail was worn outside his jeans almost every contest day. When it got too ratty I guess Ann washed it one last time (or maybe not) and Johnny carried it in his Discus A for good luck. He didn't need much luck as underneath his calm demeanor and quick humor was a determined and calculating soaring pilot, and a true Southern Gentleman.

Oh my . . .


  #7  
Old September 21st 16, 07:16 PM posted to rec.aviation.soaring
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Default Johnny Byrd (was: 30 Gone)

On Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at 10:42:49 PM UTC-4, Papa3 wrote:
I towed behind that plane sometime in (I think 1994). I had flown down to West Palm to look at an LS4 for sale at Willis Gliderport. The seller had agreed to a test flight, but he hadn't made arrangements for a tow. Some hurried phone calling ensued, and pretty soon I heard what I thought was a semi-truck coming up the road. No, it was 30 in his towplane.

I can vouch for its performance - quick tow despite 90 degrees and 99% humidity. Afterward, we drove over to his house and got a tour of the hangar in his back yard. All sorts of toys including the Discus in trailer, a C180 (I think), and lots of other implements of destruction. He was incredibly nice to this relatively new competition pilot and shared a lot of interesting stories about his flying in the hour or so we spent.

On Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at 9:43:24 PM UTC-4, Burt Compton - Marfa Gliders, west Texas wrote:
On Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at 6:56:51 AM UTC-5, Vaughn Simon wrote:
On 9/19/2016 9:42 PM, Burt Compton - Marfa Gliders, west Texas wrote:
So many stories.

I got to know John as we waited in a field in Vermont after, a rare for him, land out. His quiet manner and obvious deep skills impressed me as a guy to get to know better. He kicked our butts but didn't make us feel bad about it. He got more out of his Discus than anybody I ever saw.
The quiet friendly class that he and Ann showed was wonderful to all of us.
Good Finish 30
UH
 




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