When FAA Operations Specialist Bob O'Haver flew to Pensacola, Fla., this past June to complete the sale of an airplane, he wasn't just closing a business deal. He was fulfilling the last promise he made to a dying friend.
| O'Haver pilots the Knight Twister to Oshkosh for the 1999 air show. (Photo by Bruce Moore) |
It was little more than a year ago that O'Haver visited Hale Wallace at his office in Marion, N.C. Wallace had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, but it had been detected too late and had metastasized.
Rattled by his friend's diagnosis, O'Haver decided to go for a prostate exam himself. "I had been having it checked right along," O'Haver said. "Rather than wait, I went early to have it checked out." As fate would have it, he learned that he, too, had developed cancer. But his cancer was caught at an early stage and surgery ended the risk.
His friend wasn't so lucky. That night in Marion, O'Haver promised to sell Wallace's Knight Twister aerobatic plane if anything happened to him. "We laughed that flying this airplane would give you cancer," O'Haver recalled. "We thought it would be a hard sell." They wound up their conversation and said goodnight to each other.
Wallace died the next morning.
With the agreement of Wallace's widow, O'Haver arranged to have the plane inspected and find a buyer. Fortunately, the plane sold itself. The Knight Twister is a famous aircraft that dominated air races during the 1950s and 1960s. It looks almost like a toy compared with many of today's aircraft. The plane has a 15-foot wingspan, is only 13 feet long and powered by a relatively small 134-horsepower engine.
Wallace entrusted the sale and delivery of the aircraft to his friend because O'Haver had test flown the aircraft at Wallace's request. He delivered it to the Oshkosh air show in 1999, the year Wallace won Reserve Grand Champion flying the plane.
"He was tickled by the fact that he got to show the plane off, but I had to do all the hard work," O'Haver remembered fondly.
Now he would get one last chance to fly it. He'd sold the aircraft on Wallace's widow's behalf to a pilot in Pensacola. He decided to take two days to fly south because of the plane's cramped conditions -- it was designed for someone about 5 feet 3 inches tall. "There's not enough room to really hold your maps," O'Haver explained. "You can't see them in any case because the wind blows them so hard."
Navigation is accomplished by using the basics of piloting: compass, heading and time, "old-timey flying," as O'Haver likes to call it.
Did he feel Wallace was a co-pilot on this last flight? "I hope not," O'Haver chuckled. He explained Wallace was a demanding pilot who probably would have been more concerned with the condition of the airplane than that of the pilot's.
O'Haver landed the airplane six times on the trip to minimize the amount of time he spent in the cockpit. "It's a treat to land the airplane. It's kind of like landing a piano stool. There's about that much directional control and that much cushion."
He delivered the plane to the buyer on June 8, satisfied that he'd accomplished his mission. His promise to a friend had been fulfilled. Wallace's widow got a good price for the plane. He is confident that the buyer will take care of the plane and show it off in the way it was intended. And he got one last chance to do some "old-timey flying."
"It's the kind of trip that Hale would have appreciated," O'Haver said. "He liked biplanes and wind-in-your-face conditions."
[Webmaster note: See the article entitled 'Knight Twister - Hale Wallace's Baby Biplane Bullet' for more about Hale Wallace and the Knight Twister.]