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Arts & Culture

A San Antonio Neighborhood Takes Flight

There's a neighborhood on San Antonio's far west side that's known for its long views and extra large garages. On a  recent Saturday morning, Ron McInnis was showing off his over-sized garage. He had taken all the paint off down to the metal. 

The garage housed a 1946 Ercoupe. "It's got about 1,700 hours on it. The engine was fairly recently re-built and it's got about 117 hours on it.  There was about 5,000 of these made. About 4,000 of them were made in 1946."

If you've never heard of an Ercoupe and don't understand talk about the amount of hours on the engine, that's because he's not talking about a car. He's talking about a small, two-seat private airplane.

"This one will cruise maybe 105 miles an hour, on 85 horsepower. It burns about 5 gallons an hour, very cost effective."

This garage is actually a small hangar. And McInnis isn't the only pilot in his subdivision. The homes on the far west side community of San Geronimo Air Park all have them, each with a gravel path leading to the private runway. 

On this particular Saturday the Experimental Aircraft Association held one of their several-times-yearly fly-ins.  After lunch time and the hundred-or so people then take a tour of several specific hangars. A pair of golf carts pull trailers filled with people who will see a dozen or so airplanes including many that are for sale. We listened to one of the owners and the interested parties talk it out.

"Any other questions about the Cozy Mark IV or that particular construction?"

"Was that just one layer of fiberglass on it?"

"The sample piece that I cut out for the window--two layers of fiberglass on each side of that piece of foam..."

Many of these pilots have built airplanes from designs. Some have re-built more mainstream airplanes like that Ercoupe. And some, like Casey Fox, just buy them and fly them. Fox spent a lot of time with a cat-who-ate-the-canary smile on his face. 

"This is an escape. My business work and medicine is extremely demanding, always on my mind. And this is the one time when it's not."

Fox stands proudly next to his cream and bright red bi-plane that looks like something from a World War II newsreel. 

"This is a Hatz Classic. It's reminiscent of the bi-planes of the 30s and 40s. And Hatz is the man's name who designed these aircraft in the mid 60s for people to build and fly around," Fox says.

There are two seats, one in front just below the top wing, and one behind the first. The heads and shoulders of those flying are out in the elements, so this kind of flying is exciting, at the very least. Fox agrees.

"You're not looking at instruments. You're looking at the wind on the ground, the smoke, the clouds. Your movement relative to them." He chuckled. "Yeah, open cockpit flying in an acrobatic airplane does put a smile on your face, no doubt about it."   

So does Fox do aerobatics?

"Yes, you'll notice a parachute in the back seat. It's always good to have an option."

It's a reminder that this wonderful sport can turn deadly if something goes wrong. Each hangar revealed another fascinating airplane, and more tales from those who built them.  

Back at Ron McInnis's hangar, his Ercoupe is sitting waiting to be airworthy again.

"Well, if I worked on it full time I'd say about 6 months," McInnis said about how long it might take to be air worthy. "I'm hoping this summer, but no guarantees."

While he really wants to finish and take it flying, he says he and others here have an almost higher purpose.

"You're restoring history. You're maintaining history."

Find more on the Experimental Aircraft Association here