Chapter 976

Carrollton, GA West Georgia Regional Airport (CTJ)

Recipe for Disaster

2 – BIG PIETS + 1 - PIETENPOL (Stir with a Twister) You Get A PIETnPILE

By Barry Davis

We knew that the weather was forecasting some bad weather for Thursday morning at Sun n Fun, but as always we hoped it would miss us. After all, it just could not hit the airport. We snuggled down the tie downs and went about our way enjoying the Fly In. Just as Bruce Laird and myself were leaving a forum, an announcement came across the intercom system and it was to get away from the windows and hunker down. I remember looking out a window and wondering why the new Air Academy had dark green tinted windows just as the tornado hit.  It looked like the rain was being dumped out of a truck as it came by the window. Water was about 6” thick and traveling horizontal. Bruce and I stood there in the dim light of the emergency lighting and tried to pull up weather on our cell phones, but everything was overloaded and could not get a signal. After just a few minutes, the rain and wind almost stopped and the green window tint had disappeared. The sky had returned to a normal color.

As we left the building and started toward the airplanes, we saw what looked like a war zone with a lot of people walking around with a dazed look on their faces. Large tents shredded, planes flipped and large 100-year old oak trees twisted off at the ground. Bruce said that the Big Piets were probably gone, but I dismissed it. Many people sought refuge inside Porta Potties to escape the rain and hail, but many were blown across the airport with very “blue” people inside. Those between the exhibit buildings were blown down on their faces with people trapped inside lying on the door so they would not open. As we made our way to the Piets, we saw the Zenith display with most of their planes upside down. 

A couple of seconds later we could see a tail of a Big Piet sticking up above the carnage and it didn’t look good. The twister had grabbed all 3 Piets and swirled them around in the air and then slammed them back down in a twisted mess. As we walked up, I could see Frank and Harold walking around in amazement. No one really said anything for a while. I instantly took a picture with my Droid and posted it on Facebook for the guys in Carrollton. An hour later we had a Sun n Fun SHOW SPECIAL sign next to the pile.

Frank Metcalfe’s, Bruce Laird’s and Gardiner Mason’s Big Piets and Pietenpols were trashed. Gardiner arranged for a friend already at Sun n Fun to take his plane home and a quick call back to Carrollton, Ga mobilized the EAA Chapter. Two crews consisting of Jerry Latimer, Davis Morgan and Robbie and Carson Ogle left for Florida at 9pm and drove all night to meet us Friday morning to load the planes.

As our crew was loading the airplanes around lunch, Stan Paschal, Michael McCorsley and Terry Cusack showed up with a cooler full of sandwiches and cold drinks. We had not taken anything to eat or drink to the area of the aircraft recovery and that food was a blessing.

With the airplanes dismantled, the trucks were ready to leave Lakeland by 5pm only to arrive home at 2am the next morning.  So far it looks like the Big Piets will fly again with new wings, landing gear and many small repairs.

Gardiner’s wooden fuselage did not fair as well. He needs wings, fuselage, landing gear, tail feathers, motor mount and just about everything else. By the time this is published, we will have a firm grasp of all the damages and a plan will be in place to do the repairs.

We had 18 members of EAA Chapter 976 camping together at Sun n Fun and were scattered all across the airport when the twister hit. We rode the storm out in buildings, tents, trucks and Phil Smith in a Porta Potty. None of us were injured in any way. We did have a wild time and now have a lot of really good stories to tell. My Dad always told me that anything built by man could be repaired or fixed. Certainly an airplane is no exception.


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