Nestled in a corner of homebuilt parking across from the EAA AirVenture forums campus is the small Replica Fighters Association compound. It’s where I annually visit with friends Dick and Sharon Starks of the Kansas City Dawn Patrol. As usual, they were surrounded by people attracted to their unusual airplanes, like iron filings to a magnet.
Both pilots, the Starks fly homebuilt World War I replicas, and Sharon’s Moraine, the movie star (see Fun Flyer Lands Roll in new Amelia Earhart Film) was tied down to a tidy DH-2. A biplane pusher, it was Geoffrey de Havilland’s second design and a RAF fighter that fought in 1915. The encircling crowd listened intently to the story of its creation.
One member of the crowd, a man of medium height, trim, soft spoken, and self-assured, asked about its construction. Later we learned from a friend with him that before Joe Lanni was promoted to brigadier general, he led the F-22 test program and has 800 hours in it.
That didn’t matter to the Starks. Joe was a guy interested in airplanes, and that’s always been enough for them. As they do with all interested in the airplanes (like the USAF the Thunderbirds crew who were drawn to the airplanes earlier that day, Dick says), they invited him aboard both the DH-2 and Moraine, where the conversation of their construction continued.
Robert Baslee of Airdrome Aeroplanes built the prototype DH-2 for a guy who wanted to hang it in his bar, Dick says. But “Robert says, ‘I don’t build airplanes that don’t fly,” so he built the airplane and his test pilot, Harvey Cleveland, took it on a short hop, recorded on YouTube for posterity. When Harvey landed, Dick says, “he said this is the airplane for Sharon.”
The Moraine is “a little hot rod,” Dick says, and Sharon has been flying a lot. “But there’s no prop wash in my face” with the DH-2, she chimes in, and the nose looks like Rocketman’s helmet, and like he says in the movie after the mud puddle landing, “I like it!” It’s powered by a 40-hp, four-cycle Big Twin from Valley Engineering.
With the decision made, construction started in March. Pulled rivets join the CNC-cut aluminum tube and gussets. Working at Baslee’s shop, the DH-2 was on the gear in about two days. Construction finished up in three months, with most of that time dedicated to covering and painting the airplane. Because of family commitments, its FAA inspection and first flight won’t happen until after AirVenture.
Most Aerodrome Airplanes are designed to travel cross-country by trailer. Often cruising 20 mph faster than the the airplanes fly, Dick says it was a 10-hour drive from KC. Even with all the guy wires, two people can remove the wings in 15-minutes per side. “It takes longer to get it on the trailer than it does to take it apart,” Dick says.
Even behind his sun glasses one could see that Joe was recording all this data. He mentioned the World War I fly-in held every year at the Air Force Museum, saying that it was on his calendar but didn’t know if he could arrange his schedule to be there. Someone asked if he wanted to build one, and his face went almost wistful, and with a contained sigh he said that college for his kids came first, but…. — Scott Spangler