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Fifty-Two Planes, Fifty-Two Weeks, One Story

Williams Parker is proud to support active-duty U.S. Navy pilot Ryan Rankin in his quest to fly fifty-two distinct planes throughout 2017. As a New Year’s resolution and to fulfill his passion for aviation, Rankin has set out to fly fifty-two different types of aircraft in the span of a year – one for each week. In order to accomplish his mission, Rankin will travel across the United States as well as internationally to Poland and the United Kingdom. He will fly a wide variety of aircraft, from vintage, open-canopy planes to more common aircraft like the Cessna 172 or Piper Warrior. The excerpts below are from an ongoing SRQ Daily series, "From the Cockpit," documenting Rankin's journey.

Part Fourty-Four - Lockwood Aircam

Rankin continues his year of aviation exploration with another standout aircraft—the Lockwood Aircam. Built in-state over in Sebring, FL, the Aircam may look like a banana or a flying catamaran, but gave Rankin one of his wildest flights yet. It helps when the copilot’s a little wild too. Read more. >

Part Fourty-Three - ELA 07 Cougar

He’s flown airplanes and helicopters, mastered landing tailwheels in the brush and wrestled with both propellers and jet engines, hopping with ease from pleasure craft to warbird. But this week Rankin tackles a whole other beast—the gyroplane. A separate category of aircraft from airplanes, helicopters, balloons and gliders, Rankin’s flight certification doesn’t apply here. Read more. >

Part Fourty-Two - T-34 Mentor

Rankin takes another flight down Memory Lane, taking to the air in a T-34 Mentor—the first plane he ever flew with the US Navy when he began training back in 2009. Frustrating back then (the students not-so-affectionately dubbed the craft the “turbo-weenie”), Rankin was eager to step back into the cockpit and give it another shot. Read more. >

Part Fourty-One - Beechcraft Baron

Setting aside the warbirds and aerobatics for the moment, Rankin straps in for perhaps his most relaxing flight yet, in the Beechcraft Baron. A “straight” airplane, says Rankin, the Baron lies between no-frills and fancy, giving just enough comfort for an incredibly smooth ride, but not so much to become cost-prohibitive. Read more. >

Part Fourty - T-6 Texan

For this next plane—the T-6 Texan—Rankin actually flew two variants, testing aerobatics in an SNJ-5 (variant for the US Navy) out in Yuba County, CA, and flying formation in a “Harvard” (variant for the British Commonwealth Air Forces) with Jacek Mainka over in Poland. Though technically different aircraft, both are solidly T-6 Texans and to count the two as separate flights for this year’s project would have been “cheating,” says Rankin. “It’s like Mitsubishi produces an SUV and they call it the Montero here and the Galloper in Mexico,” he says. “They’re interchangeable, and if you can fly one, you can fly them all.” Read more. >

Part Thirty-Nine - Piper L-4 Grasshopper

Settling into the cockpit of the Piper L-4 Grasshopper, there’s a comforting sense of familiarity for Rankin. Extremely similar to the Piper J-3 Cub that he’s flown before, even the manufacturers joke that the greatest change is in the paint job. But at least one important change is evident—extended windows reaching aft across the cockpit, where observers with binoculars and cameras can sit and scrutinize the goings-on below. That one change made the Grasshopper a valuable asset in World War II, where the modified Cub was produced in large numbers as an observation deck for recon, and the one Rankin’s in likely saw combat. Read more. >

Part Thirty-Eight - Piper PA-28

Memory lane makes room for an airplane as Rankin straps into a Piper PA-28. It’s the same model plane that he flew when he first began his flight training almost 10 years ago, but he hasn’t stepped back into one since 2009. “Then I moved on to faster and shinier things,” he jokes. And the PA-28 looks a bit smaller than he remembers, but it’s all relative. “When you first fly a plane,” he says, “no matter how big it is, it feels intimidating.” Read more. >

Part Thirty-Seven - OH-6 Cayuse

Heading out to Ferguson Airport in Pensacola for an interview with a local news station, Rankin finds himself with the rare opportunity to fly an OH-6 Cayuse helicopter, thanks to Ross Ansell of Ansell & Brown Aviation. Eager to get more whirlybird experience under his belt, Rankin hops in the cockpit and straps in.

One of the most iconic helicopters ever made, the OH-6 was introduced in 1963 and first saw military service with the US Army in 1966, the same year it set 23 world records for speed, endurance and speed of climb. Nimble, versatile, reliable and with the ability to deliver troops in and out of small areas, the OH-6 became a mainstay in the Vietnam War, and variants continue to serve. A favorite in special ops, if one sees a bunch of bad looking dudes holding serious firepower and dangling off the skids of a helicopter, it’s probably an OH-6, says Rankin. An OH-6 variant, the MH-6, also offered crucial support during the Battle of Mogadishu, the inspiration behind the book and film, Black Hawk DownRead more. >


Part Thirty-Six - Super Decathlon

Celebrating a reunion of sorts, Rankin takes to the skies in a Super Decathlon—the first plane he flew while working towards his tailwheel endorsement. An evolution of sorts from the Aeronca Champ and Citabria that he flew earlier this year, the Super Decathlon maintains a special place on Rankin’s personal list of favorite aircraft, not only due to nostalgia, but the aircraft’s amazing versatility—and at an affordable price. “Some airplanes are good at doing one or two things,” he says. “[The Super Decathlon] is just good all-around.” Read more. >


Part Thirty-Five - Van's RV-10

Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with Jacek Mainka in the cockpit of an Auster 4, Rankin prepares for takeoff. He doesn’t think about the Auster’s reputation as a tricky tailwheel to land once airborne. And he’s not thinking that this will be his last flight with his new friend Mainka. Rankin’s thinking about history.

A World War II-era aircraft, the Auster served largely as an air observation aircraft for both the UK and Canada, where it was prized for its exceptional maneuverability at low speeds. Mainka’s was built in 1944 and flew with the 659 Squadron of the Royal Air Force, including missions over Normandy (post D-Day) and taking part in Operation Market Garden, an unsuccessful Allied mission to seize bridges in Germany and the Netherlands that incorporated the largest airborne operation of its time. “It’s incredible to think that this was part of that and saw that,” says Rankin. A lot of the pilots who flew these planes into combat may no longer be here, he adds, “but these planes are still very much alive and flying.” Read more. >


Part Thirty-Four - Van's RV-10

Some aircraft come with great history—illustrious stories of wartime deeds or daring exploration. Others become known for their design quirks or oddly specific functions. But sometimes an airplane is just a well-built machine that feels good flying from here to there, and that’s what Rankin got with the Van’s RV-10. “Just Point A to Point B, doing what airplanes are designed to do,” he says. “I can see why they’re so popular.” Read more. >


Part Thirty-Three - Thorp T-18

Flying with Steve Hawley again (From the Cockpit parts 18 and 20) and for the final time this year, Rankin steps behind the controls of a plane unlike any other. Hawley built this one himself.

Introduced in the 1960s, the Thorp T-18 is what is called a kit plane, meaning it can be built at home from a kit ordered through the mail. Not to be confused with IKEA, while these kits will come with proprietary parts that the average enthusiast would not be able to craft themselves, plenty of hands-on and intense labor remains, including shaping and cutting sheet metal and much more. A popular father and son project in the aviation world, says Rankin, some will spend two to three years on a single plane. “You don’t hear about it a lot, but it’s huge in the aviation industry,” says Rankin. “And you don’t need to have any specialized training to do it, as long as your work is inspected after the fact.” Common for light sport aircraft, some that Rankin has flown this past year, such as the Bushcat or the Sting, are also offered as kits. Read more. >


Part Thirty-Two - T-28C Trojan

Back stateside, Rankin travels to LaGrange, GA, where he meets up with former Navy flight surgeon Dan Serrato, for a flight in his North American T-28C Trojan. A popular trainer in the US Navy and Air Force post-WWII, the T-28 was introduced to replace the T-6 Texan and enjoyed a heyday from the 1960s to 1984, when it was itself replaced by the T-34. And Serrato’s particular T-28, the one Rankin flew, was the very first to land on an aircraft carrier. Read more. >


Part Thirty-One - Polikarpov Po-2

It’s the height of World War II and on the Eastern Front the German soldiers sleep restlessly, awaking in the night and straining their ears in the darkness for an enemy they’ll never hear coming—the Night Witches. Read more. >


Part Thirty - de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk

In a small grassy airstrip set into the farmland surrounding Konstancin, Poland, Rankin sits in the cockpit of a de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk with the plane’s owner, Jacek Mainka. Ready for takeoff, one obstacle lay in their path—a small lane bisecting the runway from the hangar, where cyclists and motorists putter past a blind corner. A couple friends walk into the road to stop traffic and the Chipmunk lumbers forward, drivers stepping out of their cars to take pictures as the old warbird crosses. In Poland, these old fighter planes are rare, says Rankin, and the three that Mainka owns always draw a crowd. Read more. >


Part Twenty-Nine - Ikarus C42

Flying doesn’t have to be about pushing the limits or getting that adrenaline rush. Sometimes flying is just about relaxing—about soaring through the air, seeing the sights and taking joy in the wonder of flight. And after a busy two weeks flying around the UK taking off from Lincoln, England with Colin Law in his Ikarus C42, Rankin found exactly that. Read more. >


Part Twenty-Eight - Dornier Do 28

Rankin’s flown near 40 planes so far this year (some to be covered in future installments) but it’s perhaps the Dornier Do 28 that has left the most lasting impression. “When people ask how this year has been,” says Rankin, “this is one of the three or four that I think of immediately.” With a storied past and an unusual design, the Do 28 proved “trickier” than most but well worth the challenge. Read more. >


Part Twenty-Seven - de Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth

In From the Cockpit Part 24, Rankin was prepping a WWII-era de Havilland Tiger Moth when a fleeting opportunity to fly the Bolkow Bo 125 helicopter took precedence. But Rankin did head back to the Tiger Moth after landing, taking off with Airbus Captain Jacek Mainka from an airfield in Konstancin, just outside of Warsaw. Read more. >


Part Twenty-Six - Robinson R44

Rankin returns to Jack Edwards National Airport in Gulf Shores, AL this week, taking another stab behind the controls of a Robinson helicopter—the R44. He flew the Robinson R22 a few weeks back with the folks from Trojan Aviation (From the Cockpit Part 22), meeting the challenge head-on and making his first attempt at a successful helicopter hover, but this week lifts off with Erick Constantino of Lost Bay Helicopters to tackle its big brother. Read more. >


Part Twenty-Five - Mooney M20J

As word continues to spread of Rankin’s yearlong endeavor, offers from pilots with their own planes come out of the woodwork. “Word is getting out and most people appreciate what I’m trying to do, promoting aviation,” he says. “You’re always going to have people who just want you to fit into the norm and not challenge yourself, but, by and large, everyone’s excited about it.” At an invitation from Terry Ogle, a Navy veteran who flew gunships in Vietnam, Rankin heads out to Peter Prince Field in Milton, FL where Ogle’s Mooney M20J awaits. Scheduling the flight proved difficult, with a number of cancellations almost scuttling the venture, but it turned into a particularly memorable flight that Rankin’s glad he took. Read more. >


Part Twenty-Four - Bolkow Bo 125

Overseas, flying planes in the UK and Poland, Rankin preps a WWII-era de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane for his next flight, rigging cameras and getting his bearings, when an unexpected opportunity arrives in the form of a Bolkow Bo 125 helicopter swooping in for a landing. His host knows the owner, a man named Maciek, and tells Rankin to go ahead and catch a flight while he can. Maciek won’t wait or even turn the engine off, but if Rankin hurries he can make it. He grabs a GoPro, lashes it to a selfie stick and runs for the aircraft. Read more. >


Part Twenty-Three - The Flight Design CT

This week, Rankin returns to St. Elmo, AL, where he last flew the Quicksilver GT500 with Herb Tipton in May (From the Cockpit Part 19), this time to take a flight in one of Tipton’s personal favorites—the Flight Design CT. A German-built aircraft, the CT debuted in the late ‘90s as a remarkably capable cross-country flyer with a composite frame built for speed. As Rankin would discover, the folks at Flight Design succeeded, but maybe a little too well. Read more. >


Part Twenty-Two - Robinson R22

Teaming up with the folks at Trojan Aviation again, Rankin sits behind the controls of the first helicopter he’ll ever fly, a Robinson R22. He sees the stick, the pedals, the throttle—it’s a language he speaks. So he thinks. A fundamentally different animal from the fixed-wing aircraft he’s flown the rest of his life, the R22 has a few tricks up its sleeve. “It’s misleading,” Rankin says after the fact. “Your skills as a pilot almost hurt you.” Read more. >

Part Twenty-One - Bucker BT-13 Valiant

Before going to South Carolina, Rankin had never heard of the BT-13 Valiant. A World War II-era basic trainer for the American military (the BT stands for Basic Trainer), this tail-wheel, single-propeller craft was a mainstay of the training program, as the second plane students mastered after the Boeing Stearman (From the Cockpit Part 2). From there, trainees would specialize according to their projected service—but all flew the Valiant. In its heyday, more than 9,500 were built, but fewer than 50 fly today. Read more. >

Part Twenty - Bucker Bu 131

Rankin takes to the skies again with Steve Hawley (From the Cockpit Part 17), for a flight in Hawley’s favorite of the four aircraft he owns—the Bücker Bü 131. Buying and owning the Bü 131 (or any biplane) was never part of Hawley’s plan—not even when he was restoring it for the previous owner. “But after flying it once,” says Rankin, “he fell in love with it.” It’s a common experience, Rankin discovered, and one he would share. Read more. >

Part Nineteen - Quicksilver GT 500

Ryan Rankin_Part 19

When Rankin first saw the Quicksilver GT-500, he thought he might have a handle on it. Similar-looking to the Quik GT450 and the Breese 2 XD he flew earlier in the year, the assumption was that the GT-500 would fly similarly as well. “Not even close,” says Rankin. “It’s not even in the same ballpark. This is way more ‘airplane.’” Read more. >

Part Eighteen - Aeronca Model 7 Champion

Ryan Rankin_Part 18
Rankin’s latest flight takes him a bit farther afield, heading to St. Matthews, SC, to fly one of the famous Aeronca Model 7 Champions. A simple tailwheel trainer, the Champ, as it’s affectionately known, was introduced to the aviation market in 1945 as a primary competitor to the Piper Cub, which Rankin flew in week seven of this year. With no frills and minimal gadgetry, these trainers emphasize the basics of stick and rudder work, he says, to the benefit of even experienced pilots. “They highlight proper flying,” he says. “The Champ is no different.” Read more. >

Part Seventeen - Aero L-39 Albatros

Ryan Rankin_Part Seventeen

Feeding the need for speed, Rankin steps behind the stick of an Aero L-39 Albatros, taking off from Palm Beach with former Navy F-18 pilot Bill Mills. A jet-engine aircraft developed in Czechoslovakia, the L-39 remains the most produced high-performance military jet training aircraft around and one of the few accessible craft of its kind. Propeller-driven craft have dominated Rankin’s From The Cockpit flights thus far, and, though he flies aerobatic jets for the Navy nearly every day, this ubiquitous trainer held a spot on his most anticipated flights for the year. Read more. >

Part Sixteen - Diamond DA40

Stepping away from last week’s rugged and utilitarian classic—The Beaver—Rankin gets behind the stick of something a little more futuristic—the Diamond DA40. A composite aircraft, the sleek and compact DA40 harkens back to week four of Rankin’s journey and the Sting S4. Composed primarily of carbon fiber, which can create shapes and curves impossible for metal frames, these planes represent the height of aerodynamism. And in the DA40’s case, the height of safety. Read more. >

Part Fifteen - de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver

Ryan Rankin_Part 15

Coming up in the world of aviation, Rankin heard stories about The Beaver—a massive and rugged amphibious aircraft known around the world as the plane to get in and out of the harshest terrain known to man. Some pilots would have an “almost religious” reaction to the name being spoken. Others would doff their hats as it flew overhead. Rankin found one at Ryan Aviation Seaplanes in Palm Coast, Florida. Read more. >

Part Fourteen - Yakovlev Yak-52

Part 14_Ryan Rankin

As Rankin continues his journey, word spreads through the aviation community and new opportunities present themselves. Through Paul Mather of M-Squared Aircraft (From The Cockpit Part 9), Rankin gets in touch with Matt Taylor, a mechanic and pilot flying out of St. Elmo, AL with a Soviet-era Yakovlev Yak-52. Read more. >

Part Thirteen - BushCat LSA

Ryan Rankin_Part 13

When Rankin first started planning this yearlong project, the BushCat Light Sport Aircraft was at the top of the list. Like the Duke, it has that ineffable ramp presence—something aggressive but fun in the way it sits on the runway like 700 pounds of aluminum tubing and trilam skin waiting to pounce. “It just looks like a plane you’ll have fun in,” says Rankin. “Like you could just take off, land in a field and go camping.” After numerous flights cancelled by everything from scheduling conflicts to freak fog banks in North Florida, Rankin finally managed to take off with Brody Hughes of Salt Air Aviation on a chilly 45-degree morning. Read more. >

Part Twelve - Beechcraft 60 Duke

Ryan Rankin_Part Twelve

Rankin had never flown a Beechcraft 60 Duke before, but after one look he knew he wanted to. It’s called “ramp presence,” he says. Some planes have it and some don't—and the Duke has it in spades. Sleek and gleaming in the sun with twin-engine propellers and a swept-back style, the Duke hit the market in 1965 and hasn’t slowed down since. “It looks like a plane that wants to fly,” says Rankin, “like it’s moving on the ground.” He recalls the old pilot’s adage: “If it looks right, it flies right.” Read more. >

Part Eleven - Taylorcraft BC-12D

Ryan Rankin_Part Eleven

Flying out of Lakeland Linder Regional Airport again with Travis Brown of Tailwheels Etc, Rankin takes the wheel of a Taylorcraft BC-12D. Built in the 1930s and 40s, the BC-12D is a simple craft that gets the job done, says Rankin, moving the pilot, a passenger and a smattering of supplies from Point A to Point B. But while not designed for flash, the plane sports its own vintage charm. Or as Rankin puts it: “It’s always neat to get into an airplane older than your father.” Read more. >>

Part Ten - Nanchang CJ-6

Flying out of Flager Beach, FL, Rankin finds himself behind the controls of a Nanchang CJ-6, an aircraft of Chinese design and manufacture first introduced in 1958. Alongside is the aircraft’s owner, Hank Gibson, a former Navy pilot. They’ll only be up there for about 40 minutes or so, but the Nanchang can be tricky. Read more. >>

Part Nine - M-Squared Breese 2 X/D

Ryan Rankin_Part Nine
Crossing state lines to St. Elmo, Alabama, Rankin meets with M-Squared Aircraft Founder Paul Mather at the M-Squared hangar where his team has just finished constructing one of its signature aircraft, the Breese 2 X/D. With its fabric wing, exposed tubing and tricycle-style setup, Rankin expects something similar to the GT450 he flew weeks prior—if looks are to be trusted. “But that’s about the only similarity,” he says. “It doesn’t fly like anything I’ve flown before.” Read more. >>

Part Eight - Grumman G-44 Widgeon

Flying another piece of aviation history, Rankin took to the skies this past week in a Grumman G-44 Widgeon. A multi-propeller amphibious aircraft, the G-44 first saw action in World War II as a coastal surveillance platform, before being modified for civilian use after hostilities concluded. Read more. >>

Part Seven - Piper J-3S

Ryan Rankin_Part Seven
The flight almost didn’t happen. With a few hours to kill before an appointment in Lakeland, Rankin starts calling flight schools in the Orlando area to “hustle” a flight. Jake Brown’s Seaplane Base, a renowned school over in Winter Haven, responds and Rankin hits the road. But upon his arrival, a heavy fog has descended and visibility is poor and takeoff seems unlikely. Wait and see is the only approach and Rankin has little time to spare, but with the sun clearing the haze just in time, he takes to the skies in a Piper J-3S seaplane. Read more. >>

Part Six - Bellanca Citabria

 Ryan Rankin_Part 6
Flying out of Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland, FL, Rankin feels at home in the cockpit of a Bellanca Citabria. Having flown the plane’s older brother, the American Champion Super Decathlon, on many an occasion, the Citabria is a comfortable fit. Everything from the airframe to the instrument layout is “very similar,” he says. “I felt like I was getting into a car I’d driven before.” Read more. >>

Part Five - UC-1 Twin Bee

Ryan Rankin_Part 5
Roaming the runways at a flight school in Lakeland, FL, a strange aircraft catches the eye of US Navy Pilot Ryan Rankin, with its stunted cockpit sticking out “like a VW bus” from an almost comically slender frame. “But I have this penchant for odd mechanical things,” says Rankin, “and I loved it.” Asking around, he found the plane belonged to a flight instructor and captain with Southwest Airlines named Ricky Rowe. With one more call, Rankin had a flight booked the next day one of the last remaining UC-1 Twin Bees. Read more. >>

Part Four - Sting S4

Ryan Rankin_Part Four
In the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s, more specifically, US Navy Pilot Ryan Rankin in a TL-2000 Sting S4, taking his third flight for the year in his journey through the world of aviation. Read more. >>

Part Three - P&M Aviation Quik GT450

Ryan Rankin_Part Three
U.S. Navy Pilot Ryan Rankin continues his exploratory journey through the world of aviation, shifting gears from last week’s Stearman with a flight in a P&M Aviation Quik GT450. A flexwing ultralight aircraft (not technically an airplane), Rankin compares it to a tricycle attached to a hang-glider—with a bit more sophistication but still leaving the pilot almost entirely exposed to the elements and steering the wings manually. “For week 2, I wanted a departure from anything I’ve done before and something where I was very much a student,” he says. “And this fit the bill.” Read more. >>

Part Two - Boeing-Stearman N2S

Ryan Rankin_Part Two
Back in the cockpit, U.S. Navy pilot Ryan Rankin began his year-long quest to fly 52 distinct planes this past week by taking off from Pensacola International Airport in a Boeing-Stearman N2S. An open-canopy biplane from the World War II era, the United States Army Air Corps (there was no Air Force yet) utilized the NS and the Navy the N2S as trainer aircraft for young aviators. With fewer than 11,000 manufactured and its role replaced by the Texan model Rankin now flies for the Navy, a quality N2S was found in the hands of pilot Roy Kinsey, the founder of Veterans Flight, which once a year flies veteran WWII pilots into Pensacola and takes them up in the vintage craft for a flight over Memory Lane. Read more. >>

Part One - Ready for Takeoff

Ryan Rankin_Part One
New year’s resolutions come in all shapes and sizes. For some, it’s a vow to eat better and hit the gym more often. For others, it’s to face their fears and go skydiving or eat a hot dog. But for Ryan Rankin, an active-duty United States Navy pilot stationed in Pensacola, 2017 means taking off on a yearlong, globetrotting adventure to fulfill his passion for aviation and fly 52 different aircraft in the span of a year—one for each week. As Rankin embarks on this quest, SRQ will be manning the radar safely on the ground with weekly updates in the ongoing series From the Cockpit. Read more. >>

For additional photos, videos, and coverage of Ryan's journey, check out the SRQ Daily series entitled “From the Cockpit,” or his blog, Ryan Flies.

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