Posted: October 15, 1999
This is my post-event report of my trip to Bronco Fest 99. You can also see my Bronco Fest pictures here.
Merlin's Impressions of Bronco Fest 99
©1999 Mike Whaley, All Rights Reserved.
BZZZZTTT BZZZZTTT BZZZZTTT BZZZZTTT... thwack! Ugh, it's 4:02 AM... one hour of sleep... must awaken... must not stay in bed... uuuuggghhhh... must get to airport... dammit. *yawn*
Even this kind of rude wake-up on a Friday morning couldn't completely dampen my excitement... Bronco Fest 99 was FINALLY here!! I had waited for about six months for this event. When I finally got to the Orlando airport ticket counter to check in for the pre-dawn flight to Houston, there was a problem with the paperwork for my airline tickets (despite what the reservation folks told me on the phone) but a few early-morning phone calls later all was sorted out. Ah, the joys of flying non-rev... the MD-80 took off on time, I wanted to sleep but the magic of flight overpowers all else so I watched the clouds go by in awe. Wow, there's the mouth of the Mississippi. After an IFR landing in the rain in Houston (got to see the Antonov C-5 clone on the ramp though) I was the last person to get on the 737 bound for Dallas-Forth Worth. I found it interesting that Texas is so much more brown from the air than Florida is. I really need to get out more often. After landing at DFW, I made my way to the pick-up area. The airport phone only called the Irving Super-8, but they said they'd arrange for a pickup to the Grapevine Super-8. After a few minutes, the van shows up and I get on along with a couple other guys. We soon discovered that we were all going to Bronco Fest! Mike Stirling and Bill Sleigh and myself were all excited to get together with other Bronco people. We got to the motel after just a few minutes, greeted by a big "OV-10 Bronco Association" banner strung between a couple of trees in front and the Bronco Express parked nearby. This was it! I was so rushed to get in and get started that in my haste I accidentally gave the driver a $20 bill instead of the $5 I thought I handed him. I figured what the hell, so I told him to keep it. He sure seemed surprised though, but he sure did make sure that we were doing okay from then on!
Walking in the door, I saw Sandy the official OBA welcome mannequin and met Jim "Dawg" Graham. I was almost surprised that people recognized me!! One recurring theme throughout the event was meeting people that you had talked to extensively by email and on the phone. Some of them were pretty much like I thought they'd be, some were quite different!! I got checked into my room on the third floor, and came back downstairs and went to the meeting room which was the center of activities. Walking in, I saw more Bronco merchandise and memorabilia on the tables than I've ever seen before, and a bunch of folks with familiar names on their name tags walking around meeting everyone else. I signed in and started making the rounds. I think I met Sandollar first, who took me over to Grump to ask him about this riff-raff that was starting to drift in! I had talked to Grump several times before, and we send several emails a day on average, it was almost like we had met already. I met many other guys I knew from email and through the website. I bought a book and an OBA hat, the PX being ably handled by Robert "Moonman" Hodgson (aka Grumplet.) We were all pleased to have a delegation from the Venezuelan Air Force there, known as the "Bronqueros". This was their first trip to the US, they wanted to bring one of their planes but couldn't get final approval to do so.
Hanging around the meeting room, we all mingled and met a steady stream of people, most of whom I knew at least by name if not from having chatted with directly before. It was about two hours before I was able to sneak out to the Schlotzski's Deli in the parking lot for dinner. Later we went out with Grump, Gordy "Bear" Evans and Tammi Bush to run some errands around town and get some supplies for the hospitality suite. Grapevine seems to be a pleasant town, somewhat like any other suburban town, just a bit more western than I've been in before. I noticed that folks there seemed to be a little more polite than most other places, insofar as people were more likely to say "thank you" and "excuse me" than in Florida. At some point, some of our guys went to Alliance to meet the State Dept. pilot, whom I had met at the Patrick Open House earlier in the year. Turns out that he knew the Venezuelans. Small world isn't it?
As we got towards evening, we got ready to join up at a local bar/restaurant called Willhoite's for that evening's dinner. Willhoite's is less than a mile down the road from the Super-8 and is next door to Grapevine's original jail, a single 6-foot-high outdoor cell. There was a line of very expensive motorcycles in front... I'm sure they were owned mostly by doctors, lawyers and accountants... this was definitely looking like a Texas-style night. More folks showed up as we mingled, ate, and generally had a good old time. The band showed up after a couple of hours, our area was right in front of the stage/dance floor so it was too loud to converse. They must be party animals in Venezuela, judging by the good time the Bronqueros were having. Eventually people started to want to go home to recover from the long day of travelling, so I got the keys (since I wasn't drinking) and started playing taxi driver with the Bronco Express. One of the Bronqueros grabbed me on the way out and said I ought to bring them some women. I told him that if I had four women, I would be there and not here! After everyone got back to the motel, most folks went to bed, a few of us stayed up and chatted for a while in Igor's hospitality suite telling war stories and such.
The next morning we gathered in the lobby for breakfast and then returned to the meeting room to hear Don Overfield's briefing on current Bronco operators worldwide. We were chased out promptly at 9 by another group, so we got on the chartered bus for the trip to the Vintage Flight Museum and the OBA HQ. On the way, we watched the Black Pony video. This was a good video with lots of history, although if you didn't know the people involved then the list of names got a little bit long at points, as did some of the historical background info. However the stream-of-consciousness rant about the blur of combat and the footage of Broncos and life on base was great! After about 40 minutes we arrived at Meacham field and the Vintage Flying Museum. The first thing I noticed was the Hawker Hunter on the ramp. I hadn't seen one before, and it was every bit as beautiful as I imagined. I was very proud to see the sign outside the VFM hangar indicating it was the world HQ for the OV-10 Bronco Association.
Outside the hangar and around the corner, 155799 was parked, now assembled. Of course, we immediately gravitated to it and the crowd gathered. Many of the guys hadn't been close to an OV-10 in decades and you could see that they were happy to have the chance to be near the aircraft again. Many pictures were taken of people and groups of people with the Bronco... all the NAA guys, the Bronqueros, random groups of folks, not to mention details of the plane itself.
Dominating the VFM hangar, the flagship B-17 formation ship named Chuckie sat with the cowls off and the number one engine removed due to a corroded motor mount. Other notable hangar residents included an F-86D, Piaggio seaplane, a Questair Venture, and several other random aircraft. I met Doc Hospers, the founder of the museum. I didn't meet his wife Chuckie, it's not a coincidence that the B-17 bears that name as well! These are the folks who founded the B-17 Co-op. Adjoining the hangar is the office/museum area. There was lots of memorabilia and many static models, including a formation of B-17s in box formation complete with attacking German fighters hanging from the ceiling (this was a great way to show people how they formated!) We saw the room that serves as our head office. As dozens of people circulated in and out, they looked at our display case with patches, manuals, models, pictures and such. All around the walls of the room are stencils of the names used for Bronco Drivers... Raven, Nail, Hostage, Rustic, etc. We do of course have to add the Bronqueros to that now! No, it's not huge at this point, but we're already needing more space!! Location is the key, as they say.
The VFM set up a bunch of chairs for us in front of the B-17, we all gathered there and Ed Gillespie and Emerson Smith gave an interesting talk about the development and testing of the aircraft. All too soon, we had to leave for Alliance Airport to make it to the airshow. Before we did, I used the last few minutes to do a walkaround of the Hunter. What a beautiful aircraft. Little did I know it wouldn't be the only one I'd see this day.
More driving, more of the VAL-4 video, and we arrived at Alliance airport for the airshow. We got our tickets and all rendezvoused at the State Dept. OV-10D. Dozens of cameras were circulated and many group pictures were taken of the entire group. This, I felt, was a true highlight of the trip, it felt was as if we were etching on film the proof that this whole thing was for real and that we are serious. I don't think there is any more doubt about that! Sure enough, there was a flying Hunter parked next to it, and a two-seater a few spots down the flightline from that. My Hawker cup runneth over!
After the picture and talking to a few spectators about what the OV-10 is, I wandered through the flightline. From the display perspective, I saw a larger variety of planes than I've seen in many years, all of which were open for inspection. A list of notable ones includes the two Hawker Hunters, a squadron of black T-38s flown by a Stealth Fighter wing, a B-1B, a B-52H, KC-10, DC-10, 757, KC-135, AWACS, T-45 Goshawks, SB2C-5 Helldiver, several WWI replicas including a Fokker Triplane, F-16s, an F-14, F-18, C-130, C-17, C-5 and some kind of helicopter convention including a Huey Cobra, Apache, Blackhawk, a mini Hiller, and about a dozen other choppers.
There was a great ejection seat display and I talked to Chris Woodul of the Jet Age museum, seated in the front seat of an actual (and used) F-111 ejection pod. I also met Rick Harris of the Collings foundation, who is likely getting one of the NASA OV-10s soon. There was a sight I loved to see... an F-4 in like-new condition!! Beautiful ship. I talked to Rick for a while before wandering back, stopping first to get an autograph from Vietnam ace Brig. Gen. Steve Richey, who flies the Collings F-4.
The Golden Knights opened the show, and one of their streamers landed square in the front seat of one of the Tora Tora Tora Zeroes! Talk about a lucky shot. There were two F-16 demos, one F/A-18, and a B-2 flyby. They also had the Shockwave jet-powered truck perform twice and the Toyota aerobatic Extra, as well as some Warbird flybys with a Wildcat, S-2 Tracker and a P-51. Overall, the flying part of the airshow left much to be desired. They had about two and a half hours of acts but tried to stretch it out over five hours, and Tora Tora Tora started after we had to leave at 4PM. I'm glad that I was more interested in the static stuff, and from that perspective it was a good show, but many folks were disappointed in the airshow due to the long stretches between flying acts. We may re-think this one for next time around.
I decided not to join the few folks who were going to stay behind to watch the F-4 leave at 5PM. I wanted to, but was just too tired and had a few things I needed to do before dinner. Back at the motel, I got a shower and eventually made it across the street to Joe's Crab Shack for the big reception/awards dinner.
During the dinner, Sandollar read the official Bronco prayer to kick things off and then started presenting the awards and recognitions. First came a special one that I didn't know anything about beforehand. The story of Covey 87 is legendary in the Bronco community. After USAF Capt. Steve Bennett's OV-10 got hit by a missile over Vietnam in 1972, his Marine AO (Mike Brown, Wolfman 45) couldn't eject due to damage to his ejection seat. Rather than save himself by ejecting, Capt. Bennett performed a highly-discouraged ditching at sea in order to save his backseater. He was unable to escape himself, and drowned before he could be rescued. Capt. Bennett was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroism. Mike went on to become a good friend of Steve's daughter Angela, and at our dinner he presented her with a nice desktop display model in the colors of the aircraft that they were in. It was a very touching moment. Sandollar also announced that Mike was OBA's 100th member, a goal that we thought we'd meet much later on towards the end of the year.
Ron also recognized Robert Hodgson for all his work helping out to prepare for Bronco Fest, to the loud cheers of all. We also presented diplomas conferring the degree of Doctor of Broncology to Chuck "Igor" Burin and Jack Ballard (who wasn't able to make it to Bronco Fest.)
When Ron started talking about the Bronco Buster award, he told me to get up. Who, me?? What?? I was honestly pretty shocked. I knew that I had been nominated but I didn't really think I would win the thing! To be honest, I felt that it was a great honor just to be considered, and I feel amazed that I was chosen for it. I was presented with a plaque and a certificate. I rarely am caught with nothing to say but that's just what happened. I must say that of any of the recognitions I've ever gotten, this one means the most to me by far. I look up to many folks in the OV-10 community and feel like I'm very blessed to be able to get to know them. Their experiences are far beyond anything I'm likely to experience, yet they have adopted me into their community. To be chosen for the Bronco Buster award is really something else. I can only say thank you and I am very proud to have been given the opportunity to serve as your webmaster, and look forward to more good things to come. It's a great group and I see many good times ahead for us all.
After all this, we watched Charlie Yates' OV-10 video including footage of USMC and Navy units, which was very well-done and set to "Eye of the Tiger" ala Rocky. The second half covered the USAF and included the "Dear mom your son is dead" song that all Air Force Bronco drivers will know. I caught a lot of people singing along while the video ran!
After dinner, we returned back and again, we spent a bit of time shooting the bull in the hospitality suite before turning in for the night. I also called the airline and rescheduled my flight from Sunday to Monday. Ahh, the flexibility of non-rev flying. There was just too much to do and too many people to talk to to be in a rush to leave the next morning, and I had scheduled Monday off work anyway.
Sunday, I unconsciously hit the snooze button and got up right at 10:30. The driver that I gave the $20 bill to on Friday drove me to Willhoite's, where I joined brunch already in progress. The food was good but the service was very confused. Afterwards, quite a few people departed for the airport since checkout time was 11AM. The rest of the day was spent talking to various people and at dinner with a few of us stragglers. After chatting for hours in the lobby with Warren McGowan, a really neat guy that did much of the drawings on the Bronco when he was with NAA, we finally turned in for the night. Monday morning involved a candy-machine breakfast, visiting with a few folks, getting YOV-10A pictures from "Chief" Rice to scan, calling my Aunt Beth (who turned out to live about three miles down the road and who has brunch at Willhoite's nearly every Sunday except this one!), checkout from the motel, lunch at Luby's with Warren and Grump, and finally the trip back to the airport. I got to watch a 757 get repaired for an hour and a half on the Houston ramp with passengers aboard. Then on my flight out just after sundown, we were treated to a sliver moon setting off the 757's wingtip, on a crystal-clear night over the myriad of lights comprising Houston. Quite a sight, I took a couple pictures. The guy next to me was an Aerospace Engineering student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona. He was from Kenya and as it turned out, he knew the one person I know at ERAU. Yet another example of how small the world really is.
A few hours later, I was finally safe at home. As I was climbing into bed so I could get to work Tuesday morning, still amazed at the blur of people and places I had seen and was wishing that it didn't have to end so soon. I made many new friends and enjoyed putting a face to the names I've seen online so often. I believe now more than ever that there really is something special going on in the OBA, and I heard the same from many others as well. The OV-10 may be an Ugly Duckling, but I think that being a bit separated from both the helicopter and fighter worlds might ultimately have produced one of our greatest strengths. As a group, our relatively small community is quite cohesive and a lot friendlier than many other groups I've seen.
I am still physically tired from all the Bronco Fest activity, but mentally I'm as excited as I've ever been about the possibilities for this endeavor. It's only been about 18 months since the OBA didn't even exist, and here we are with 100 members, a wildly successful convention under our belts that has answered many questions about just how serious we are, and we're looking forward to a whole bunch of new things that will be fed by the energy of this activity. Excitement about it all is sweeping through the ranks, and there's a lot of exciting things going on behind the scenes that is going to make it get even better over the course of the next few weeks and months. Wow... who'da thunkit?
See you all at Bronco Fest 2K!!
Return to the Bronco Stories index
Return to the Bronco Fest 99 Page
Merlin's Bronco Fest 99 Pictures
Site Start Page
Hits to this page since October 15, 1999: