I Love Motorcycles, She loves Dogs!

 (Hondigity Dog) Globe & Mail


Being an avid motorcyclist, it is not uncommon in social circles for the topic to gravitate towards bikes.  Consequently, group conversations often touch on the subject of motorcycle ownership.  I am always amazed when some guy spills the beans and says: “I’d love to have a motorcycle but my wife won’t let me.”  I usually bite my tongue, but my thought response is always the same, “Man, you obviously married the wrong woman.”  That may sound harsh, but there is definitely some truth in it. 

Many years ago, when my wife Irene and I were dating, I had three motorcycles in my fifth floor apartment.  A beautifully restored 1965 Honda CB160 was parked strategically in my dining room.  My tidy enclosed solarium balcony housed two additional vintage bikes. We are not talking greasy Harley engines in the bathtub here.  The point is, she really knew what she was getting into, and it was highly unlikely, at age 34, that I would change much.

Time has marched on and we have now been happily married for nearly 19 years.  I still own five motorcycles. One of the reasons we are happily married is that we respect and support each other’s interests. One Christmas, she even bought me a rare, Honda CB450 “Black Bomber” motorcycle to restore. I found it in very rough shape and negotiated a purchase price of $250 and she insisted on buying it for me as my gift. That’s when I realized, wow, I married the right girl.  Which brings to mind an old miner’s saying; “Once you strike gold, you stop digging.”

It wasn’t just the bike purchase; she also got her motorcycle license when I was a motorcycle safety instructor.  This was not an easy task for her.  She did not pass right away, nor did she give up.  She persevered and practiced until she was successful.  It was   obvious to me at that moment just how committed she was to our success as a couple.

Obviously there are two sides to this relationship business, and so I also have to be respectful and supportive of her interests.  As a licensed aircraft mechanic my passions all have engines attached to them, motorcycles, cars and aircraft.  Hers are a little more eclectic, gardening, live theatre and animals.  For the record, when I say animals here, I am referring primarily to cats and dogs. 

Here is a good example of how it works.  A few years ago, we traveled on vacation to England.  I took her to tour a few aviation museums, and she took me on a couple of garden tours.  The beauty of this exchange is that she now recognizes the difference between a Rolls Royce Merlin and an Anzani Radial aircraft engine, and I appreciate the difference between a rose and a rhododendron.  She took me to see Shakespeare at Stratford and I took her to Paris (Ontario…for the vintage bike rally!)  We both support each other’s interest and in the process expand our own horizons.

Of course we are married, so this scenario can at times push us each to the very boundary of our limits.  Irene grew up on a farm with lots of cats and dogs running around. Consequently, her need for a dog was intense, but not just any dog.  It had to be a Dachshund; you know the long legless type, the dog world’s version of a “low rider”. This particular breed captured her heart, due to Fritz, a beloved Dachshund from her past. I had always promised her that when I retired she would have another, and sure enough she called my bluff. Little Lola recently entered our lives, much to the surprise of Blue, our slightly used, low mileage cat.  Irene is over the moon with her new baby Dachshund. 

We still attend Woofstock and various Dachshund Rescue picnics in an attempt to keep her “additional” cravings at bay.  Still I know it is only a matter of time before we collect both Honda’s and Dachshunds.  Perhaps, when we are both retired we can set up a joint business venture…Sam’s Vintage Honda’s and Reenie’s Weenies.  Sales slogan:  Get ‘em while they’re hot! 

In any case, I often wonder about those guys with wives that won’t allow them to have a motorcycle.  Do the guys then get to deny their wives some unique passion like tennis or shopping, or is it just a one-way street?  “Ok, honey I won’t get a motorcycle, but no more designer stilettos for you…ok?”  I mean, let’s face it, they can both be extremely dangerous, in the wrong hands! Husbands take note; this kind of brash statement can result in lengthy amounts of couch time and/or serious injury.  So remember always wear a helmet!

I guess the bottom line is, when it comes to relationships, it really boils down to give and take to keep everyone happy.  Currently our little urban jungle consists of one cat and one dog. They seem to get along just fine and so do we. At least for now, all is well, with no additional Dachshunds in our immediate future. Thank goodness, despite my ongoing commitment to relationship compromise, I have never been a big fan of motorcycle sidecars. Especially when one sidecar could potentially carry dozens of Dachshunds!


The Enzo Escapade

The Enzo Escapade

By Sam Longo

1967 Honda CB77 Super Hawk

It all started out so innocently. I was simply looking for a few missing bits required to complete my own 305 Super Hawk restoration. That is when my good friend Enzo invited me to rummage through his enormous stash of parts. Knee deep in his basement was a treasure trove of vintage 60’s Honda parts. He allowed me to fish out a few much needed gems and then refused to take any compensation for the items. Just another swell vintage motorcycle guy looking to help out a fellow enthusiast, I thought. Seems you really do meet the nicest people “on” a Honda or apparently, even while foraging through their rusty recycled remains.

Then came Enzo’s question; “How would you feel about building a motor for me?” Well you can immediately see my dilemma, how could I refuse after he had been so generous?  And so the winter long journey of the Enzo Escapade began.

Building a motor in itself was not a big problem. I had done quite a few by that point for myself and others. My small 800 square foot shop, housing my own fleet of Hondas, would not be too taxed for space in pursuit of my engine building task. However not long after this gentleman’s agreement was cast a new situation transpired that would change the whole dynamic of the situation.

Around this same period Enzo was experiencing a subtle change in his living arrangements. He had to move and consequently his large stash of Honda parts and motorcycles suddenly morphed, switching instantly from an asset to a liability. As his personal status evolved so too did our discussions and the plot of the whole escapade began to thicken. I made a rather foolish suggestion and he jumped at the chance. Perhaps I could take all the Super Hawk parts off his hands, build him a complete restored bike from the best bits and as payment keep all the left overs for myself. At the time it seemed like the perfect solution. It was a win-win situation, right up until the trucks showed up. Then the gravity of the situation hit me hard, where on earth was I going to stash all this stuff?

My small workshop began filling up fast. Frames, wheels, motors and boxes of parts rapidly overwhelmed me. My tiny organized space was now hopelessly infected with floor to ceiling “Superhawkitis”. Now the real fun began. Every box and part had to be inspected and categorized for the future build. Over the next few weeks I painstakingly sorted the “A” pile and the “B” pile. Most of the “B” pile could then be stored elsewhere to give me a little more working space. In my estimation, close to 4 complete bikes were scattered in various states of condition and assembly.

The next stage was to get all the best “A” parts off to be sandblasted and painted. John Connery was chosen for the task and he did a beautiful job laying on the classic red paint with silver fenders and side covers. Enzo had also collected a fantastic array of “New Old Stock” parts in anticipation of the build including original exhaust pipes, mufflers, seat, proper grey cables and many internal engine parts. While waiting for the paint to be completed I began the engine building process. Although technically “over restored” getting the engine cases polished instead of painting really makes the power plant pop. All the polishing and additional chassis chroming was carried out by Mayfair Plating and as always Chuck Kotowick did a stellar job.

The other nice thing about having so much to choose from is I could build the project as a true “Numbers Matching” bike. With sixties Honda’s the frame and engine numbers should be within about 300 numbers of each other to be considered matching. Despite the fact that the engines changed little during the 8 years of CB77 production, having correct numbers always adds value to a finished restoration.

By the time the painted parts returned, the freshly assembled motor was gleaming on my workbench, a jewel of 60’s Honda technology. The newly assembled wheels and tires were also ready to go so it was not long before I had a rolling chassis ready to accept the motor. Enzo’s little Honda was progressing rapidly now and I was determined to deliver it by early spring.

My own Super Hawk, Café Racer was starting to look a little shabby sitting beside this pristine example rising from extinction, but fortunately the “B” pile of parts produced some really nice upgrades for my regular rider. Even this lowly little “Giro” bike seemed to shine a little brighter in the company of Enzo’s pampered prize.

The winter days passed quickly as I persevered through the wiring and final assembly stages. Finally it was time for some fuel, a battery and a push into the sunshine. Careful attention to engine set up and timing allowed the bike to fire right up. A few more carburetor tweaks and it was idling nicely with a reassuringly tight sounding top end. There was still snow on the ground, surrounding the patio outside the shop, but the roads were dry so I took it for a few shakedown runs. Thanks to all those NOS parts it was a joy to ride, with very few issues arising from a new build.

I called Enzo to come and get his new bike. He arrived with his trailer and a few knowledgeable cronies who really knew about Super Hawks. Each buddy took it for a spin in turn and each returned with a smile on their face. Satisfied that the transaction was done, they happily tied it down and off it went.

Unfortunately for me the Enzo Escapade was far from over. In the following months, yet another CB77 arose from the archaic abyss. A nice presentable “B” bike was completed and sold along with a few parts lots to help clear the shop. I had finally cured my workspace of “Superhawkitis” just in time for the next infection, a sordid, seized-solid, CB450 Bomber project. Mercifully, I was done with the Super Hawks. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest!  

Engine Change Escapades

By Sam Longo AME A&P

The tired and battered 1964 MGB filed its final protest by throwing a rod through its cast iron engine block. My good friend Peter and his much beloved car needed help. As fate would have it, at twenty years of age, this would be my virgin engine change.

Despite our woefully inadequate experience and equipment, the outcome of that first engine change escapade was a positive one. Peter’s MG continued providing enjoyable, albeit intermittent, transportation until the transmission expired along with twelve other major components, at which time it was mercifully removed from service. The joys of British sports cars aside, it was for me the beginning of a lifetime of various engine change adventures, on a diverse array of machinery, ranging from tiny Honda motorcycle engines to giant Rolls Royce RB211’s and everything in between.

My first engine change recollection as a professional mechanic (meaning someone was actually paying me to fix things!) was as an apprentice in Frobisher Bay. We had to remove an engine from a Twin Otter and ship it via Boeing 737 to Nordair’s Montreal home base. Apparently John Luty (Nordairs owner) had a fishing trip planned using the companies Turbo Mallard. Unfortunately the Mallard had an ailing PT6 that needed replacing, so the order came down to pull one off a Twin Otter stationed in Frobisher. That, no longer revenue generating, Twin Otter sat in the hangar for ten days, minus one engine, while the boss enjoyed his fishing trip!

As an Airframe Mechanic at DeHavilland  I rarely touched an engine, but those few fallow years were quickly compensated for when I landed at Air Canada. Working in line maintenance, a week rarely went by without an engine change on a Boeing 727 or DC9. If we hustled, a small crew of 4 or 5 seasoned mechanics could change a JT8D in an 8-hour shift and have the aircraft back in service. As with many jobs, the more you did it the easier and faster it became. Air Canada was also very good at putting together excellent equipment (Engine Change Kits) that helped facilitate rapid turnarounds on or off the main maintenance base. I can’t imagine how many engine changes I worked on during my first seven years with line maintenance but there is no doubt that my rate of engine change encounters soared when I voluntarily transferred to Check Crew.

Check Crew at Air Canada was responsible for most of the “Wide Body” aircraft, heavy scheduled maintenance. Consequently we were tasked with most of the Boeing 747 and Lockheed L1011 engine changes. As I recall the 747 engines seemed to stay put and happily pull their attached airplanes for thousands of hours undisturbed. The “Tin Lemon” however was the undisputed engine change queen. We averaged 2 to 3 engine changes a week on the infamous “Tri-Star” and consequently got very good at it. We often joked about how much easier life would have been if the Lockheed designers had simply had the foresight to attach the engines using giant Dzus fasteners! As it was, wing engines could be pulled by one shift and installed by the next, with the tail engine always taking just a little longer due to its height and lack of easy access. In fact we did them so often, that it actually started to get boring. Fortunately there were so many different tasks to do as part of the whole process that we changed up jobs to keep it interesting. Some things were a real pain, aligning and connecting the giant “S-Duct” translating ring as well as hooking up the 3 bleed air ducts were always a challenge on the number 2, tail mounted engine, not to mention climbing a lot of stairs on the specially built engine change workstands!      

When I finally left Air Canada in 1988 to pursue my aviation-teaching career, I thought my days of never ending engine changes were finally done. However fate decided to deal me just a few more engine change challenges. As the Professor responsible for second year engine theory, part of my curriculum was teaching the proper process of engine change. In addition to the classroom theory involved, every student participated in an actual engine change, as part of his or her mandatory hangar projects. With two Cessna150’s, a Piper Apache, and an additional Piper Seminole undergoing continuous non-stop engine changes, I must have supervised hundreds of engine changes over my 22 years of teaching. 

Now that I have officially retired from teaching, my only engine changes now are happily self-imposed, though incredibly just last week a buddy called me up and requested my assistance with his 1972 Honda 750. “I just need your help to get the motor back in the frame” he pleaded. Of course, as with Peter’s MG all those years ago, I couldn’t refuse a friend in need. Besides, like the old Check Crew mechanics used to say; “You’re only as good as your last engine change” and God willing, I haven’t changed my last one yet!    

Just like Peter’s white 1964 MGB
Lockheed L-1011 – The Engine Change Queen
Keith’s CB750 with the engine installed.

Kindred Karma

Motorcycle Mojo Magazine – May 2021


1976 Honda CB750 Café

For many of us motorcycles often transcend being mere mechanical devices. We often build relationships with them, name them and even speak to them as if they too were human. Occasionally   these “combustion fired companions” can reward us, becoming the catalyst to create or spark future friendships. The story of this 1976 Honda CB750 Café Racer clearly follows that unique phenomenon.

It was a lovely Sunday morning and the vintage motorcycles arrived in droves for some friendly bike banter and a good greasy breakfast. I was riding my own trusty 1973 CB750 Honda Café when a stranger approached and struck up a conversation. His name was Ed and he offered to buy my bike. At that point in time, I had owned it for over 20 years and was not interested in selling. He already had a very nice fleet of classic motorcycles and I was quite flattered that he was interested in mine.

As fate would have it, we became friends and over the course of the next few years I helped him build his own. The bike you see here is his creation. Originally commissioned and built by Carpy of California to Ed’s specifications, it arrived in Canada ready to go but still required some fine tuning and fettling. I pulled the motor and installed a Wiseco 836 kit, Barnett clutch, Dyna Ignition/coils and rejetted the carbs. I also did some minor suspension work and Ed worked his magic on the cosmetics. A little later Ed also opted to install 29mm CR Race carburetors. In the end it was a stunning example of the 70’s era Single Cam Honda. Parked beside my own 1973 Honda, at various rallies over the years, his always shone just a little brighter and always generated many admiring comments. Competition aside, the brotherhood created over these two bikes was complete.

As the years progressed Ed’s bike collection grew but he always had a soft spot for his hot rod Honda Four. Vintage Ducati’s, Norton’s, BMW’s came and went along with a plethora of modern motorcycles, but the Honda always remained as one of his favorites. He was an excellent rider and I soon learned to forget trying to keep up with him. Whether we were riding 60’s era 305 Super Hawks in the US Moto Giro’s or blasting up to breakfast on our CB750’s his riding ability always put me to shame. I am sure he put up with me mainly because I could fix whatever mechanical gremlins occurred if his bikes ever failed him.

Unfortunately, in the end I could only stand by and watch as his own body failed him. He lost his battle with cancer at the far too young age of 61. Before he left us, he called on my son Spencer and I to help him prepare for his imminent departure. It was a rainy, blustery, late summer day when we met at his garage. All the other bikes had been sold. Only his beloved Café Honda remained. He was getting rather frail so under his tutelage I gassed it up and installed the battery and it fired to life.

We had built it together and now he was passing its care and feeding to me. He had told me in advance that this day would come, though secretly I dreaded it. His reasoning was sound. He knew I would take good care of it. He also mentioned that because he had no children (and I had a son that rides) Spencer could continue to keep it rolling long after I was gone. He wanted to ensure that his creation would continue to dazzle others into future generations.

As I rode out of the underground parking lot the rain had stopped and the sun was out. The twenty- minute ride home was the only break in the foul weather all day. The pounding rain returned a few seconds after it was safely stashed in my garage. It was like a divine sign that the handover was meant to be. Ed Liu’s legacy was now my responsibility. We are after all only custodians of these mechanical companions while we walk and ride this planet. Our kindred karma had played its final hand. Twenty-five years ago, Ed wanted to buy my CB750 and through a sad twist of fate I ended up inheriting his. As it sits under the lights of my workshop it represents so much more than a motorcycle. It embodies the human aspect of our passion to ride and in its purest form represents the bond of a lasting friendship. Gods speed Ed, rest assured that your Honda is in good hands.

Technical sidebar.

I have since ridden Ed’s Honda several times and made some minor modifications and repairs to make it more “streetable.”

 The day I picked it up Ed pointed out a few glitches that required repair. Damaged brake light wiring and partially seized front caliper were easy fixes. Originally when I first worked on the bike, I had set it up identically to my own CB750. Stock cam, 836 Kit and rejetted carbs with Dyna ignition. However, in my opinion, when Ed installed the 29mm Race Carbs, its “street ability” was compromised. Yes, it made slightly better top end power but idled poorly and lacked the ability for carb synchronization. Since these photos were taken, I have returned to stock carbs, rejetted with velocity stacks.

 Ed also loved electronic gadgets, cell phone and Garmin holders were all removed from the top triple clamps for a clean ‘70’s look. I polished the bar clamps and installed period grips. Also, while riding, it bothered me to not have turn signal indication. The signals are tucked in so tightly they cannot be seen flashing. I ran a harness up through the steering stem with a modified Fender Guitar Amp jewel light for indication. (Ed would approve, he also loved vintage guitars!)  

Other things that offend my sensibilities like the 16-inch Harley rear rim will likely be left. Ultimately, I do not want to change too much of Ed’s original vision as it will always remain his bike. His tongue and cheek license plate “CAFEH” is uniquely Canadian and 100% Ed. Finally, as an homage to Ed I installed the rear seat cowl decals “Ed Liu’s Legacy.” The boys at breakfast will appreciate that.

1060 words

Written by Sam Longo

Check out my new book!

A Wrench in the Wings

Sam Longo AME A&P

A compilation of essays revealing the personal and career adventures of an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer.

Most of the flying public is acutely aware of the qualified pilots that sit up front, expertly controlling and guiding their passengers safely from point A to B.

Surprisingly, very few of these same folks have any knowledge of the 17,000 Canadian Aircraft Maintenance Engineers (AME’s) who are equally responsible for their flying safety. No aircraft can legally leave the ground without their license and signature prior to departure. It is a rather obscure profession that is rarely highlighted yet remains necessary to all commercial flight.

This book brings that career into sharp focus outlining the job with insight, lessons and real-life consequences. A compilation of 75 columns from Air Maintenance Update magazine, the author brings humanity and humor into the mix to make it an interesting and insightful read.

  • “Of all the aircraft types flown by the company the most intimidating was the Boeing 747. You could work on it for a lifetime and still leave many maintenance tasks unexplored.”
  • “Frobisher Bay on Baffin Island is a long way from home, especially for a 22-year-old kid who had rarely left the suburbs of Toronto.”
  • “Perhaps the ultimate beauty of fixing things is that its sublime satisfaction transcends all types of mechanical devises.”
  • “There is nothing quite like working on a DC9 on a beautiful summer night, hangar doors wide open, being serenaded by Pink Floyd, live!”
  • “As aircraft maintainers the most valuable tool that we possess is not located in our toolbox. It is a resource that we continue to covet and collect. That intangible commodity is commonly known as experience.”     

SAM LONGO has over 40 years’ experience as an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer and Professor-Coordinator at Centennial Colleges Aerospace Department. He holds a Canadian Aircraft Maintenance Engineers licence (AME M1, M2) as well as an FAA A&P rating. In addition, he has a Certificate in Adult Education from St. Francis Xavier University and is a qualified trainer in Aviation Human Factors. Sam is the past president of the AME Association of Ontario and was also the national president of the Aircraft Maintenance Engineers of Canada (AMEC/TEAC). His extensive writing has been published in both aviation and motorcycle publications across Canada.

A Wrench in the Wings by Sam Longo

Transportation – Aviation – Technical – Career – Mentoring

Paperback / 235 pages / 9780228850946 /$15 US / Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, Book Depository. https://amazon.com/dp/0228850940 https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-wrench-in-the-wings-a-p-sam-longo-ame/1138868377

eBook / 9780228855439 / $8 US  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1081065 

Tellwell Talent – http://www.tellwell.ca

Release date; May 14th, 2021

Contact Sam Longo




1975 HONDA CB400F

By Sam Longo

Old Honda’s just seem to find me.  Apparently my advancing age and (somewhat sketchy) reputation as a Honda guy, precludes any need to seek them out. I just sit at home in my little garage, minding my own business and before I realize what is happening another two wheeled treasure arrives, yearning for my attention. This little 400 Four is a classic example of that scenario. As usual I pleaded innocence with my long suffering wife Irene: “Sorry Honey, but it’s just not my fault!” (Note; this line of defense may not work for everyone and severe consequences may be experienced.  Always wear a helmet!)      

Safety warnings aside, a little history on this iconic machine is in order. Most seasoned riders know that 1969 was a watershed year for Honda with the release of their revolutionary CB750 Four. Always looking for innovation and new market share, Honda decided to cash in on the Café Racer craze leading into 1975, introducing an “F” range of motorcycles capitalizing on that fabulous phenomenon. There was a CB750F, CB550F and the CB400F, all evolving from previously released siblings. The CB400F was a fresh makeover of the CB350 Four, with slightly enhanced performance and a six speed transmission. The entire F range sported chrome “waterfall” 4 into 1 exhaust systems, revised bodywork with rear-set foot controls and lower handlebars. All the bikes sold well but the CB400F was destined to become the cult classic. Produced for three model years, the first year 1975 bikes are the most coveted of the breed.

Although being slightly modified, this Varnish Blue 1975 CB400F rolled off the Japanese assembly line in October of 1974. Some of the modifications were completed by previous owners while others were done by me due to a combination of esthetic preferences, cost constraints, necessary repairs or performance enhancements. Although some of these changes may decrease its potential resale value, in my opinion they greatly improve ride quality and visual appeal.

My interaction with this particular motorcycle began while helping a neighbour purchase a seventies era classic Honda. She was quite petite so the 400 Four was a perfect fit and a trusted friend had this one for sale. It wore its original blue paint, showing low mileage and although a little rough around the edges was a great runner. She rode it for 3 years while it shared shed space with her modern Suzuki TU250. During that time it was often over at my place for routine maintenance as well as ongoing discussions of future restoration plans. As fate would have it, despite loving the bike, she decided to sell and offered it to me. Needless to say, it was a fore gone conclusion that the bike would end up in my fleet. I had worked on the bike, knew its history and also enjoyed numerous test rides.

Over the next winter I went to work. The top end was stripped and new gaskets replaced the weeping originals. I had purchased a bin full of 400F parts through a chance encounter at the Paris swap meet and it was full of useful goodies including a new Dyna ignition. I cleaned and detailed the engine and frame, replacing and repairing bits as necessary. A previous owner had installed the beautiful billet engine hangers and the superbike era oil cooler. The cooler was completely unnecessary for a stock motor but was just too nicely executed to remove. It had the wrong headlight installed so I sourced a used one and fit it in place. For esthetics, I retro fitted the earlier, smaller, Honda turn signals, front and rear (essentially replicating the euro-version).  The giant stock taillight also had to go, replaced by an early Triumph replica unit further streamlining the rear end. To improve suspension, I added preload shims to the front forks and installed Assault dual rate rear shocks to replace the originals. The final touch was new Varnish Blue paint applied by a friend in exchange for a surplus CB450 front end.

Visually the bike looks great as a slightly modified Café Racer. The Yoshimura style exhaust is significantly lighter and sounds superb compared to the horrendously expensive, whisper quiet, Honda original, the downside being the loss of center stand.

Riding the bike is an absolute joy. Its 37 HP requires maximum revs to make any serious headway but fortunately the whooping exhaust and furious shifting reward with a smile-per-mile quotient that is hard to beat.  The bikes nimble handling makes it a preferred choice for spirited urban excursions. It truly is a remarkable phenomenon. A random Honda weasels its way into your life, through no apparent fault of your own and suddenly becomes your favourite.  The CB400F is just that kind of motorcycle magic.               

Air Stair Millionaires

ac 727Air Stair Millionaires
By Sam Longo AME A&P
Boeings B727 “Whisperjet” was a watershed aircraft, introduced after its tried and true B707. With strong sales, over 1800 were manufactured between 1963 and 1984.The Company incorporated many innovative concepts into its winning design. With three Pratt and Whitney JT8D’s adorning its tail and its APU nestled neatly between the main gear wheel wells, the trailing end of the fuselage allowed room for the first retractable aft “air stair”. The airline operators loved the design allowing passenger to board without the aid of additional airport equipment, especially handy at smaller airports. In fact, during the early 1970’s a number of very entrepreneurial, gutsy passengers made the 727 their unequivocal aircraft of choice!
On November 24, 1971, in Portland Oregon, one such passenger, Dan Cooper was the last person to purchase a ticket on Flight 305 bound for Seattle Washington. Before he paid his $20 for the one way ticket he asked the agent to confirm that the Northwest Orient flight was flying a Boeing 727. With no other luggage he grabbed his briefcase and climbed aboard. It was a light load with 36 passengers and 6 crew members, so he settled himself into one of the aft seats closest to the rear door.
Once airborne he passed the flight attendant a note indicating that he had a bomb in his briefcase and was high jacking the aircraft. He demanded $200,000.00, two parachutes and a refueling truck ready to meet them in Seattle. In exchange he would release all passengers. The aircraft circled for a few hours while the FBI and Northwest Orient scrambled to meet his requests. The plane landed, the money and parachutes were supplied and the passengers released. After refueling, he kept one Flight Attendant and three Flight Crew members on board. The plane then departed south, destination Mexico.
Using the inflight interphone, he gave the pilots specific flight instructions, 15 degrees of flap, with gear down, maintaining 10,000 feet, without pressurizing the cabin. This made for a very slow airspeed (approx. 120 MPH) and high rate of fuel burn. After a quick lesson from the flight attendant on how to operate the aft air stair, he sent her forward to the cockpit. At around 8pm, somewhere over the wilds of Washington State, the flight crew saw the aft air stair “open light” illuminate. With the money tied around his waist (1.16 million in 2014 dollars) he jumped into the cold (-57 degree C) stormy night sky and vanished forever. The legend of D.B. Cooper had begun, and with it the floodgates of 727 “skyjacking” was opened wide.
The following April, Richard McCoy Jr. a former Army Green Beret, successfully sky-jacked a United 727 and bailed out over Utah with $500,000 in ransom money. He was arrested two days later after landing safely. With the new “Air Piracy” laws freshly minted he just missed the death penalty and got 45 years in prison. After escaping from prison three years later he was killed in a gun battle with authorities.
In all, a total of 15 “copycat” hijackings similar to Cooper’s were attempted with varying degrees of success in 1972 alone. All were killed or captured except for D.B. Cooper. The other 16 hijackings in that year were almost all diversions to Cuba.
The Cooper incident and others like it that year marked the beginning of baggage and carry on checks, thus ending the carefree aircraft boarding some of us may still remember. In 1973 the FAA made searching bags and passengers mandatory. In addition, the FAA required all Boeing 727’s to be retro-fitted with a “weather vane” type device that would not allow the door to open in flight, subsequently named the “Cooper vane”.
As for the legend of D.B. Cooper, despite an exhaustive investigation the case remains the only unsolved sky piracy case in aviation history. Only two pieces of concrete evidence were ever found in the large potential drop zone. In 1978 a hunter found a placard containing instructions for lowering the aft air stairs of a 727 near Castle Rock, Washington. Then in February of 1980 an eight-year-old boy, Brian Ingram, uncovered three packets of partially decomposed money in the sand banks of the Columbia River, 14 km downstream of Vancouver, Washington. These packets of $20 bills had the serial numbers verifying them as Cooper’s ransom money, totalling $5,800.00.
Even young Brian never quite became a millionaire. In 1986 after lengthy negotiations the recovered bills were divided between Ingram and Northwest Orient’s insurer. In 2008 Brian Ingram sold fifteen of his bills at auction for $37,000. The Northwest Orient 727 “N467US” changed hands a few times and was unceremoniously scrapped in 1996 for parts in a Memphis boneyard.
As for Mr. Cooper, his fate remains a mystery. Did he perish that dark, stormy night in 1971 or is there a very old man in a rocking chair somewhere reading this column, quietly praising the qualities of Boeings 727 with a wry, wrinkled smile on his wind weathered face?
For more published writing by Sam Longo go to http://www.samlongo.com

Whirling Wonders

IMG_0107Whirling Wonders
By Sam Longo AME A&P
I vividly recall my first class in Propeller Theory. Mr. Urch, our stalwart Aircraft Maintenance Professor posed a seemingly simple technical question to our group. “What is the purpose of the propeller?” All the keeners raised their hands and one responded with the appropriate response “to provide thrust, Sir.” Wrong, bellowed our wise instructor; “Its function is to keep the pilot cool… just watch him sweat if it ever stops!”
Perspiring pilots aside, the aircraft propeller is a complex whirling wonder that has evolved over the history of aviation to match and enhance the improvements in engines and airframes. Early attempts at propeller construction were crudely twisted metal akin to lawn mower blades bent to angles based more on whim and luck than science.
The Wright brothers figured out early on after testing wings in their makeshift wind tunnel, that propellers must follow the same concepts as airfoils. They were greatly disappointed to find very little concrete scientific data even when they researched marine propellers and so the seemingly black art of propeller design began.
With a wing or airfoil, efficient lift requires a somewhat narrow angle of attack (the angle in which the leading edge meets the airflow). This optimum angle can be controlled by the pitch inputs the pilot chooses with his control column. Too much angle and the wing stalls destroying the lift and potentially the aircraft! Propellers however live in a much more complex combination and variation of airflows. Simply put, the speed of the rotating propeller blade creates one angle of attack and the forward speed of the aircraft creates another variable angle. The resultant vector angle is constantly changing with engine speed and aircraft speed.
Add to all this that blade tip speeds must be kept to subsonic speeds requiring a constraining check of blade length and max rpm. This in turn requires relatively low prop rpm (max 2500, give or take) and/or multiple shorter blades and the whole scenario becomes an engineering whirling dervish!
The bottom line is that even a modern well engineered wooden or metal, fixed-pitch-propeller is a compromise by its very design. Ideally an aircraft would like a finer pitch for take-off and climb and a coarser pitch for cruise flight. Once the pioneers figured this out many weird and wonderful moveable pitch propellers began to appear, some more successful than others.
Hamilton Standards solution was simple and elegant. Their two position counterweight propellers were a revolution. Engine oil pressure drove the blades to fine pitch and counterweights drove the blades to coarse pitch. By controlling the oil flow to the propeller via a selector valve the pilot now had the best of both worlds. Add to this the ability to fine tune the high and low pitch stops within the counterweights and it was propeller bliss.
The Second World War was a watershed for aviation design. The large radials and high horsepower V-12 engines required a more sophisticated solution to greater thrust and faster aircraft speeds. The Constant Speed propeller was the next logical step. By using a governor to sense engine rpm the prop could now maintain a large variation of blade angles constantly changing to optimise aircraft performance. In essence it was akin to moving from a car with a two speed manual transmission to one with a modern CVT.
Again Hamilton Standard produced the state of the art Hydromatic Propeller. Using a governor with boosted oil pressure working against the constant of engine oil pressure within its instantly recognized metal dome, it was reliable and efficient with the added benefit of feathering the propeller in flight. A feature that saved many air crews lives while returning from bombing runs with damaged aircraft and engines out of service.
The Hydromatic became the propeller of choice when hostilities ended and the golden age of piston powered airliners began and flourished. Its roots and concepts soldier on today with state of the art composite blade propellers mated to modern turbo prop aircraft. While high bypass turbine engines reign supreme at high altitudes for long transcontinental flights, turbine driven propeller aircraft still rule the low to medium altitude skies. They are also more efficient at slowing an aircraft on landing roll with the use of reverse pitch, another modern propeller enhancement that greatly improves STOL performance.
Propeller technology continues to improve. Just as in the latest airframes, modern composite materials are making them lighter, quieter and more efficient. Evolution is a wonderful thing, which brings to mind another propeller memory from my early days at Nordair.
As a young apprentice mechanic, I was getting an FH227 ready for departure at a gate at Dorval Airport. Its Rolls Royce Dart engines and large Dowty Rotol propellers were notoriously noisy as many regular passengers knew. The ear-bleeding, high pitched whine of the props at takeoff rpm could be quite uncomfortable. As the passengers filed past me on the open tarmac one of them begged to purchase my ear defenders. Unfortunately for him, I declined.
Fast forward to today, as a modern Bombardier Q-400 climbs skyward from Toronto’s Island Airport, its passengers are barely aware of the rubber band-quiet composite propellers churning away just outside their window. A testament to how good they have become and yet another technology that modern travellers quietly take for granted.
For more published writing by Sam Longo go to http://www.samlongo.com

Latest column from AMU Magazine

Record Radial Reflections

By Sam Longo — January 24, 2014

Record Radial Reflections

Radial aircraft engines have been droning through the skies since the dawn of powered flight. Despite new technologies that eclipse their early designs, they continue to serve. Two of these engines in particular stand out as milestone motors, forever ensconced in the history of aviation.

In the pre-dawn of July 25, 1909 Louis Blériot readied his fragile monoplane for flight, and after adjusting his helmet and goggles, he tied his crutches to the fuselage, necessary after recent flying misadventures. His mechanic pulled the prop through and the fragile three-cylinder Anzani engine sputtered to life. A small dog barking angrily ran into the whirling six-foot propeller and was killed instantly. Many witnesses felt this to be a bad omen for the precarious flight.

Before his final takeoff roll, the engine was liberally doused with castor oil and his mechanic reminded him to manually pump every three minutes to maintain the pressure. With 17 litres of fuel on board and no navigational instruments he was airborne at 4:41 a.m., just as the sun was breaking the horizon.

Alessandro Anzani was a former Italian bicycle racer who manufactured twin cylinder motorcycles before venturing into aircraft engines. His three-cylinder experimental model in the Blériot monoplane was prone to overheating. Its 206 cubic inches produced 24.5 horsepower at 1600 rpm. Part of the overheating problem was due to the fact that only the top part of the cylinders had cooling fins, and this very nearly ended Mr. Bleriot’s record-breaking flight. Fortunately, a cooling rain shower saved him from a wet uncertain fate. The 22-mile trip from Calais to Dover was successfully completed in 38 minutes. Many joke that this was the longest any Anzani three-cylinder engine has ever run without catastrophic failure. However in reality, it was considered a state-of-the art engine at the time, and with continuous improvements, remained popular with light aircraft for another 20 years. To put this flight in perspective, it must be remembered that it took place a mere five years after the Wright brothers first coaxed a heavier than air machine skyward for that infamous short hop at Kitty Hawk. Fast forward another 18 years to May 1927 when still another young man decided to tempt fate by crossing a slightly larger body of water. Charles Lindbergh chose his aircraft and engine combination carefully. The Ryan NYP (New York – Paris) was purposely designed for the trans-Atlantic crossing and the engine was a Wright Whirlwind J5 radial.

The Whirlwind was an evolutionary engine. Charles L. Lawrance built his first decent aircraft engine as a three-cylinder radial producing approximately 60 hp. His next development took nine of these same cylinder assemblies and arranged them on a common crankcase to produce the J1 in 1921, a 180-hp radial that would eventually evolve into the Wright Whirlwind.

A merger between Wright and Lawrance produced needed capital to hire more engineers. Samuel D. Heron was at the absolute forefront of air-cooled cylinder design when he was brought on board to improve the efficiency of the J1. His new cylinder head improved breathing and cooling, subsequently boosting overall power, and the J5 Whirlwind was born. At the time it was considered to be the most powerful and reliable radial engine that money could buy.

Mr. Lindbergh had seen the 220-hp engine perform in the Bellanca Columbia, an aircraft specifically designed to showcase the new engine, and that combination was his initial choice for the Atlantic crossing. The owner of the Bellanca, Charles Levine, refused to sell the aircraft, causing Lindbergh to seek out the fledgling Ryan Company to build a plane to his specifications. However, there was never any doubt about which engine would pull “The Spirit of St. Louis” aloft, and it was subsequently designed around the venerable Whirlwind J5. The early J5s of that era were designed with rocker arms that required greasing at regular flight intervals. A close inspection of photographs taken of the engine installed in the Ryan NYP reveals one of Lindbergh’s necessary modifications. The rocker arm covers have white cylindrical objects attached to their exterior. These were specially designed spring-loaded grease reservoirs for feeding lubrication throughout the long flight. Subsequent models of the J5 eventually incorporated pressure-lubricated rocker arms.

After 33.5 cold, lonely hours Lindbergh’s wheels touched down in France on May 21, 1927. That successful flight proved to be of huge significance in the popularity and further development of all radial engines. During the golden age of the piston aircraft, nearly every major manufacturer produced varied models of this tried and true engine design. Its excellent power-to-weight ratio and small crankshaft still lend itself to certain areas of aviation that require quick throttle response and compact simplicity. It often remains the piston engine of choice with crop dusters and floatplane operators worldwide for those same inherent qualities.

They may be greasy, leaky, and bordering on environmental incorrectness with their billowing blue smoke on start-up and raucous racket on takeoff, but like the pioneers that chose them, radial engines have earned our respect for their ability to perform. It is a wonderful thing to realize that in our microchip, touchscreen, throwaway world, old round engines can still occasionally rule the sky!