Farewell Funk

By Alex Hamilton

I recently
sold my Funk B-85-C. The trip from Hagerstown, Maryland, to Delaware Airpark
(33N), just north of Dover Air Force Base, may be my last flight in the airplane.
This will close a love affair started more than 30 years ago when I took my
first flight in the same airplane, N77724, to a grass strip fly-in for burgers
and brats in the summer.

In 1988, I
was a senior in high school and working at a garage specializing in British
cars. There were three brothers: Glenn worked on cars, John worked on
motorcycles, and Dan worked on airplanes. The buildings were located close
together and occasionally Glenn and I would end up “borrowing” a tool from Dan’s
shop and I’d get to see some of his projects in various forms of restoration.
Dan has been working on Bonanzas since he was 7 years old. He still runs his
shop and has many dedicated clients, like myself, with Bonanzas and Debonairs.

At some
point early in the summer Dan invited me to fly with him. It was a big honor at
the time as Dan was held in high regard and his airplanes always won awards at
the local shows and fly-ins. I had seen the bright yellow, maroon-trimmed airplane
being slowly restored in his hangar over the previous few years. I vividly
remember launching from the runway, the flight to the grass strip, and Dan’s
actions as a pilot maneuvering the plane. I cannot honestly remember if he
asked me to take the controls. I was too busy looking around.

came next for me, but I was able to stay connected with the brothers. Glenn and
John kept my MGB chugging along through my college years with minimal maintenance
and lots of advice. I kept an eye on what was in Dan’s hangar and the Funk we
flew to that fly-in during the summer of 1988.

A teaching
career and then a business career in construction followed in the next decade
after college. I didn’t get to see the brothers as much. Motorcycles, faster
cars, and other hobbies scratched a lot of itches as my business did well and
life moved forward. I became fast friends with a retired Air Force major, and
he encouraged me to pursue my interest in aviation. It was always fun visiting
museums, fly-ins, and talking about airplanes. Why not get my pilot certificate?

After two
lessons in a leased 172 in Warrenton, Virginia, I was hooked! Dan and I
reconnected and he was able to give me some great advice on flying, airplanes,
and aviation as I worked my way through my private pilot certificate. Dan
helped me buy my first airplane, a Cherokee 180. My continued need for speed
led me to a 1952 V-tail Bonanza with Dan’s conditional blessing, and many, many
repairs to this former ramp queen. Eventually it got tuned up and dialed in and
became a very nice ride. After about seven years, my brother helped me find a
rare C-33-A Debonair. Dan and I flew to Seattle for the prebuy and that’s the
current time machine in the hangar.

through the years I’d see the Funk in Dan’s hangar. Sometimes ready to fly,
sometimes lacking an engine as it was being used on another project. Dan and I
would reminisce about the plane, he’d let me know when it would be back together
or flying again soon. At some point, other projects took precedence and 77724
found a place in a storage hangar surrounded by project cars, motorcycles, or
airplane parts.

continued to do well for me and I decided another airplane would feed the need.
Maybe something faster like a Baron. Eventually I started looking at tail
draggers thinking my second plane would be a fun low-and-slow mission airplane.
For many years, whenever I had an annual or overhaul Dan and I would talk about
the Funk. I would say, “If you ever decide to part with her …” and we’d leave
it at that. Dan called one afternoon, he had several projects he was working on
and he wasn’t flying the Funk.

“If you’re
still interested,” he said. I sure was. We reached an agreement, Dan got it airworthy
again, and he gave me a few lessons.

took about 10 hours and I don’t know how many landings — some of them were even
good. With an endorsement and verbal warning about crosswinds, I was off and
flying my 1946 Funk. Trips to grass strips on summer evenings, following
railroad tracks back to HGR, and chasing the sun through Harper’s Ferry became
my new favorite things to do. My wife, Shirley, was my first official passenger
and we flew in the area together often.

Flying the
Funk did me some favors. I slowed down — 90 to 100 miles per hour became all
right. Low and slow taught and reminded me of the joy and privilege of flying.
I still liked to catch a tailwind in my Debonair and hit 180 knots, but I sure
liked pulling the power back to 2200 rpm and making 90 mph flying over my house
in 77724.

Flying the
Funk made me a better pilot. It’s been said and written many times; stick and
rudder skills make for a better pilot. It wasn’t the more technical skills of
pilotage, flying more avionics, or higher horsepower; it was the basics of
flying: coordination and airspeed.

Over the
years I owned the plane I’ve had wonderful experiences. Flying over iced
treetops in the winter, following the Chesapeake and Shenandoah Rivers for
miles, touch and goes on grass strips that aren’t around anymore. Quite often I’d
chase the setting sun west and then follow the highway home before I lost the
last light of the evening. The Funk treated me well with an off airport landing,
too. Through my own miscalculation I ran out of gas and landed on a drag strip.
Yeah, I became that guy. Luckily, we had a safe landing and after gassing up
with the help of the owner of the drag strip, departed and made it home.

My wife
and I are downsizing a bit and although work still continues to do well for me,
I’m finding I don’t have as much time as I would like. Between the downsizing
and an upcoming move I decided to sell 77724. A few interested parties replied
to the ad. And when asked how long I have owned the airplane I would say, “Well
I’ve owned her for three years but I have known her for 30 years.” That always
got the conversation going.

people have asked if I am sad to sell the plane. Well, sure, a little, but I
have lived a dream of mine. I owned and flew the very first airplane I ever got
a ride in. I had some wonderful flights with my wife and family, and I learned
to be a better pilot. The Funk is going to a great new home. Bob and his son
Bob, the new owners, have a grass strip and it will be well cared for. Bob the
elder is an experienced taildragger pilot and his son is getting a great plane
to learn to fly. I can’t think of a better home for 77724. If I think on it, even
though 77724 isn’t a hot rod, I will miss the thrill of controlling the airplane,
keeping the ball centered, and the soft squeak of a greased landing. I’ve got a
bunch of photos from a thousand feet on my phone, and I’ve got a thousand
memories to go with them. Thanks 77724 and farewell.

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