Big Toot — The Little Toot Grows Up

By Jack Fleetwood, EAA 694416

This story first ran in the June 2019 issue of EAA Sport Aviation.

When I went to look at the little red
and white biplane that was for sale, I had no idea what I was in for. I didn’t
need a single-place biplane, but, then again, nobody really “needs” one. I
couldn’t really justify buying it, but somehow I found myself asking, “How
much?” Buying this airplane made me a member of a pretty exclusive club.
Tooters, as we’re affectionately called (sometimes with a snicker), are a group
of pilots who love their Little Toot biplanes. The group is headed up by the
“Son of Toot,” Tommy Meyer, EAA 64.

Tommy is the son of George W. Meyer,
the designer and builder of the original Little Toot. Tommy made sure I knew
that he was my friend and that he would be there to help me with anything I
needed or to answer any questions about my new plane. He is a man who is proud
of his dad’s design and has spent a lot of time keeping the legacy alive. When
you’re in his hangar, his house, or his workshop, you’ll see Little Toot
memorabilia everywhere. He has shirts, jackets, hats, photos, drawings, model
airplanes, magazines, newspaper articles, and much more. He even has several
Little Toot projects in various stages of completion. If you get him talking
about his dad for long, you may see a tear roll down his cheek.

George Meyer built and flew model
airplanes in St. Louis. He also built display models for museums, some of which
were even displayed in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. He
always thought that if he could build scale models, he could design a
full-sized airplane. In the early 1950s, George decided it was time to start
building his dream plane. Before beginning the full-sized version, he built an
amazing scale model that isn’t much bigger than your hand. When Tommy showed me
this model, he moved the elevators and ailerons, and inside the cockpit, the
control stick was moving!

In 1957, after many years of dedication
and hard work, the airplane was ready to fly. Test pilot Pauline Glasson was
the first person to fly it, and she would report back that it was a “sweet
flying bird and easy to fly.” Pauline and her husband, Claude, would work together
to complete the test-flying duties. Claude would wring it out, flying every
aerobatic maneuver it was capable of. When he landed, George asked Claude what
he should change to make it better. Claude replied, “Don’t change a thing!”

When George asked his wife, Gay, what
he should name the airplane, she suggested it be called Little Toot because
Tommy and his brother, Georgie, loved the Disney record (from the film) about
Little Toot the tugboat. George thought that was the perfect name, so he reached
out to the Walt Disney Company to get permission to use this name. The company
not only agreed, but also designed and drew up the Little Toot logo whistle
that graces the nose of most Little Toots flying today.

George flew his Little Toot to
Milwaukee for the fifth EAA fly-in convention in 1957 where he won EAA’s top
award, the Mechanix Illustrated
Trophy for Outstanding Achievement. EAA founder Paul Poberezny presented the
trophy to George. Tommy has it proudly displayed in his office. The Little Toot
was so popular that the EAA used photos of it on its membership recruiting

George was active in promoting EAA and
became close friends with the Poberezny family. The first plane Tom Poberezny
owned and flew aerobatics in was a Little Toot named Tinker Bell. When George died, Paul and Tom gave Tommy his dad’s
EAA membership number, 64.

When Tommy was in school, George
encouraged him to take as many drafting courses as he could. Tommy would later
use these skills to draw up the official plans for the Little Toot so that
others could build their own biplanes. Because of his detailed plans, an
estimated 50 Little Toots are flying today.

In 1959, the Meyer family moved to
Pensacola, Florida. Tommy begged his dad to let him take flying lessons, so
George contacted the first Little Toot pilot, Pauline Glasson. Tommy spent the
summer of his sophomore year in Corpus Christi, Texas, with Pauline learning
how to fly in a Cessna 140. He soloed in eight hours and continued flying when
he returned home to Pensacola, building time in an Aeronca.

In 1966, Tommy enlisted in the U.S. Air
Force during the Vietnam War. He became an award-winning crew chief on the C-54
and C-130 at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and finally on the C-124
Globemaster II in San Antonio, Texas, at Kelly Air Force Base.

In the summer of 1967, while on leave
from the Air Force, Tommy finally got his chance to fly Little Toot. He flew it
over his girlfriend’s house showing off for her. Unfortunately, one of his
dad’s friends saw him flying low over Corpus Christi that day. When Tommy
landed, George asked him if he thought that was a good idea and reminded him
that the Little Toot was a one-of-a-kind airplane and easily recognizable. I’m
guessing Tommy thinks it was worth it because, a year later, he married the
young lady he was trying to impress that day — his longtime sweetheart, JoAn

In 1970, George decided to put a larger
engine on the Little Toot. He removed the wings and put them in a hangar. They
were badly damaged when Hurricane Celia blew the hangar door in on them. George
was disheartened and just wasn’t up for repairing them. He asked Tommy if he
wanted to undertake the project of rebuilding Little Toot. Tommy said yes, and
the plane was moved to his house. However, there was a lot of work to be done
and Tommy didn’t have a clue of where to begin. After several years, George
told Tommy if he was not going to finish the project, he wanted it back, so
Tommy moved it back to George’s house. George would never get around to restoring
Little Toot. When he developed lung cancer, he decided to sell it to air show
pilot John Epperson. George didn’t tell Tommy of his decision to sell until
after the plane was gone.

Like his dad, Tommy learned a lot about
airplanes by building model airplanes. Tommy is a National Model Airplane
Champion winning the 1960 Nationals, 1964 Nationals, and the 1968 Nationals.
Following the years after George’s death in 1982, Tommy honored his father’s
memory by holding George Meyer Memorial Giant Scale RC Model Airplane events in
Denver, at the Air Force Academy, and in Dallas several times.

One day, Tommy got an offer from Leo
Janssens, who had two Little Toots that needed restoring. If Tommy would
rebuild Leo’s 180-hp Brute Toot, Leo
would give him the Blue Toot built by
Jack Routh. Tommy had never restored a plane before, but he didn’t tell Leo
that. He said his dad taught him, “Don’t ever tell anybody that you can’t do
something. You tell them you can do it, then figure out how.”

Tommy and his friend Phil Witt, EAA
427390, worked on the restoration of the Brute
for six months. When it was completed, they watched proudly as Leo
took off to fly it back to Florida. Now that the first plane was completed, it
was time to start on Tommy’s plane. Tommy renamed it Tommy’s Toot. When it was completed, he flew it to Oshkosh and won
the Bronze Lindy at EAA Oshkosh 1997. Two years later, he won the Paul
Poberezny Founder’s Award for Classic Homebuilt at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 1999.

After 10 years of trying to buy back
the original Little Toot from John Epperson, Tommy finally got the chance. He
changed the engine to the 150 hp that George wanted and repaired the
hurricane-damaged wings. Finishing it in 2000, Tommy flew it to AirVenture and
won the Paul Poberenzy Founder’s Award for Classic Homebuilt again. The award
was presented to Tommy by Paul himself. It was an honor for Tommy to receive
this award from Paul since he was the one who presented the Mechanix Illustrated trophy to his dad
43 years earlier for the same airplane.

After the successes he’d achieved
restoring Little Toots, Tommy knew it was time to start the Big Toot. He
started by working on the blueprints. He knew Little Toot was such a solid
design that he could take his original drawings and convert them to design the
Big Toot.

Tommy’s strategy when building an
airplane is to build the wings first. They’re the hardest part, so if you can
get through that, he thinks you’re more likely to finish the rest of the
airplane. He’s a big stickler for quality. He told me the philosophy he learned
from his dad is, “If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, when
will you have time to do it over?”

Tommy was able to acquire the original
rib jigs that George had used for the Little Toot. His mother still had them
stored in Corpus Christi. As Tommy started the tedious process of cutting out
all of the small parts needed to build the ribs, he met a new friend, Kelly
Swafford. Kelly offered a quick numeric-control cutting solution for the
pieces. This not only sped up the process, but also ensured each rib was
exactly the same. As the pieces were received from Kelly, Tommy started
assembling the 50 ribs for Big Toot.

Part of Tommy’s wing design was to have
removable wing tanks in the upper wing panels. The tanks can be removed from
the top, and he even beaded the panel covers to look like ribs so they would
blend in with the wings. Tommy learned rib stitching from a dear friend, Minot
Piper, from his Air Force days in Guam. Minot visited Tommy in Roanoke, Texas,
on several occasions to help him further develop his skills.

Tommy built Big Toot’s fuselage like he
was building a scaled-up model airplane. He purchased a large printer so he
could print one-to-one drawings of the fuselage sides and bottoms. With
full-scale plans printed, he bolted worktables together and started laying the
4130 steel tubing right over the plans.

Learning the welding techniques was a
bit of a challenge for Tommy. For easy access, he built a rotisserie to rotate
the entire fuselage. Once the fuselage was completed, it was hauled to Able
Sandblasting to have it blasted. When it was down to the bare metal, it was
moved to National Crosslink Powder Coating in Denton, Texas, for the final step.
It was powder-coated in a beautiful rich red and the brightest white color

Tommy then drew up the canopy shape,
showing the entire side view, and sent it to Texas Aeroplastics. He took the
same drawings to a local shop to have two square tubing hoops bent. It took
several trimming cycles to get the canopy to slide down the fuselage and into
the correct position, but the result was a very nice fit. Tommy then designed
all of the hinges and the safety-locking mechanism to lock the canopy in place.
For a nostalgic look, he used handles he borrowed from his Gold Medal popcorn

One of the final steps was building the
cowling. Tommy started by using the original bug-eye mold his father built in
the late ’60s. The bug-eyes fit Big Toot perfectly, but the bottom and top
molds would not fit because of the much larger engine he selected. He had to
design and build the top and bottom cowlings from scratch. It took months of
work. After Tommy sculpted these two plugs, he started making molds out of them.
By using a compound cure product, he made a very strong cowling.

After 14 long years, Big Toot was
finally ready to fly. When you first spot Big Toot, you may think you are
seeing a Little Toot. This is because Tommy designed and built a plane that
both honored his dad’s original design and fulfilled his dreams of a
two-seater. Big Toot pays tribute to Little Toot on its cowling with a modified
Little Toot logo that Tommy revised to have two whistles to indicate a
two-place biplane. You can’t miss the fact that Big Toot is a descendant of
Little Toot, but this plane is a new design that will stand on its own.

Grady O’Neal of GLO Aircraft Painting
painted this beautiful aircraft. Grady has painted hundreds of airplanes and
wanted to paint Big Toot as his last aviation paint job before retirement.
There was never a doubt that it would have the traditional Toot paint scheme of
a red starburst on the top wing, red and white checkers on the bottom wing, the
lightning bolt on the side, and a circle of stars on the tail. Tommy chose the
tail number N64LT honoring his dad’s EAA number 64 and LT for Little Toot.

Big Toot was ready for its test
flights, but as with any plane designed from scratch, there were a few
challenges to work out. Tommy’s design was no exception. The combination of a
Lycoming IO-540 built by A&E Aircraft Engines of Dallas with a 75-pound
constant-speed propeller would prove to be too heavy. To resolve this issue,
Tommy worked closely with Catto Propellers, and it built him a custom three-bladed
propeller that weighs only 24 pounds.

During the initial test flights, the
test pilot reported he was encountering aileron flutter. Tommy had to rebalance
the ailerons by using some custom lead weights in the leading edges. This was
no easy task, but it resulted in a smooth-flying plane.

Tommy chose Joe Flood III to do the
test flights on the Big Toot. Joe has been like a son that Tommy never had, and
Tommy said it’s a blessing to have a test pilot of such high caliber for Big

For better visibility, Tommy bucked
tradition on two-seat biplanes and put the pilot in the front seat. When he
asked Joe about this, he said, “I wouldn’t change a thing. You can taxi without
S-turning. You don’t have to slip it to see when landing. You just fly it and
have fun!”

I heard that Joe would be in Roanoke,
for more test flying. Tommy and I decided I should come out and do a photoshoot
of the original Little Toot and Big Toot together. This would be a historic
event. We would have George Meyer’s original Little Toot and Tommy Meyer’s
one-of-a-kind Big Toot in the air together. It was an exciting experience for
all involved. We believe Tommy is the only son of the original 100 EAA members
to follow in his father’s footsteps and design a one-of-a-kind airplane to be
shown at Oshkosh.

As with any airplane build, it takes a
lot of help and patience from family and friends. Tommy is grateful to those
who helped him along the way. His sister, Joy, insisted on fairings for the
I-struts, and she even designed them. His friend Bob Borger, who is also
building his own Little Toot, worked on all of the electrical components. His
friend Bob Corder did the radio installation. He thanks his friend Gary Platner
for the initial test flights. He’s very thankful to Joe for many hours test
flying Big Toot. However, maybe the most important person in Tommy’s journey is
his wife, JoAn, who has always loved and supported Tommy through his
sometimes-chaotic life. Without her support, Tommy knows that none of this
would have happened.

Tommy spent 14 years working on this
airplane to honor his father. I know George would be so proud of Tommy and what
he has accomplished. Tommy said he knows his dad is up there looking down with
a smile the size of Texas on his face.

I am grateful that I got the opportunity to get to know Tommy. I spent a lot of time with him listening to stories about his dad and about his own adventures. George and Tommy both dreamed of designing their own airplanes, and they both turned those dreams into reality. Tommy spent many years honoring his dad, but now it’s time for Tommy to get some time in the spotlight. It’s time for Tommy and the Big Toot to shine.

Jack Fleetwood, EAA 694416, is a lifelong pilot and photographer. He currently owns and flies a Meyer Little Toot. You can follow Jack on Instagram at jack_fleetwood or on his website at

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