A rare Staggerwing visited Malmi – en route around the world

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The American William Charney, aka “Captain Biff Windsock”, arrived in the end of July to visit Helsinki-Malmi Airport in his Beechcraft Staggerwing aircraft. “I have always wanted to visit this historic airport”, he explained the reason for his visit to Finland.

The aircraft was built in the USA in 1944 and sent directly to war duty in England in the ending phase of WWII.

Bill began his journey some years ago from New Zealand, from where he has made his way via Australia and Asia to Europe. The aircraft was thoroughly refurbished in New Zealand, and was completed in 2009.

Fuelling in progress. The aircraft can take 600 liters of aviation gasoline, and it uses about 80 liters per hour.

The Staggerwing arrived in Helsinki-Malmi from Kuressaare, Estonia, where it participated in a get-together of old aircraft. Its cruise speed is a whopping 300 km/h (160 knots), so the voyage gets shorter at good pace. The endurance with normal tanks is 6,5 hours, making even long journeys possible without intermediate landings.

Aircraft type details on the rudder.

Bill Charney describes himself as an aviator. He isn’t just a pilot, but an aviator to the bone. He was bitten by the aviation bug as a little boy, when he saw a Staggerwing for the first time. In 1994, 54 years after that first encounter, he was able to buy one for himself.

Two contemporaries.

Charney was very surprised about the plans to close down Helsinki-Malmi Airport. “There’s plenty of space to build houses in Finland, why here?” he asked. Having seen lots of similar airports around the world, he commended Malmi: “I’m not an architect, but this is one of the finest examples of Art Deco style and a 1930’s airport. Lido in Venice is in operation, and there are plans to develop it. Brighton’s Shoreham is under threat, but still very active.”

These airports are the three remaining ones in Europe from the pre-WWII era.

Posing in front of the plane.

Bill wished us strength and good luck in our work to save the airport. “I appreciate your work to keep this airport going very much, and I hope you manage to keep it in operation for years to come.” A lot of work to that end is ongoing towards the ELY Center, the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Parliament, and preparation for future regional and municipal elections has already begun.

How does the Staggerwing behave in a stall? “Like a rocking chair, the lower wing stalls and the upper wing goes like this, and the plane rocks like this, and…”

Bill Charney is an experienced aviator. He grew up on a farm and managed to save money for his first flying lessons during high school. In college he was lucky to end up in the Air National Guard, where he was trained as a pilot and flew the Martin B-57, and later on the F-86 Sabre fighter.

One photo for the album.

As he was about to continue on his way to Sweden (Skå-Edeby), he donned a very practical-looking lifejacket. “I used one like this in Vietnam, it just had a bit more rescue gear.” Bill flew 200 combat missions in Vietnam in an F-100 Super Sabre fighter in the end of the sixties.

Taxi from Apron to holding runway 18.

Mr. Charney made his civilian career on United Airlines, flying for 35 years starting from a DC-7 and ending up at the helm of a Boeing 747.  The radio traffic revealed a professional’s touch. Aviation keeps one young, and in early August Bill’s 82nd birthday will be celebrated in Sweden, Norway, Denmark or Holland. His present goal is to fly to England to the Goodwood wooden airplanes event, where his Staggerwing was awarded the 1st price in 2012.

Farewell Captain Biff!

Information about Helsinki-Malmi Airport and its threatening situation went with the Staggerwing first to Europe and later on back home to America. Let’s keep this aviation bug’s nest for future aviators too – help and support seems to be forthcoming from all over the world.

Find the whole story and the flight around the world at http://www.captainbiff.com/