WARBIRDS in the USA
Sierra Hotel, Inc.
Happyness Is A Hot Jet
Excerpts from "Under One Roof" by Capt. Terry Hanson
If the man who collects the most toys really does win,
then David Strait of Dallas is ahead bf the rest of us.
Way ahead! Some of his toys are top-of-the-line jet
fighters and trainers from the 1950s through the
1980s. He owns the only civilian licensed A-4B
Skyhawk still flying. He also has a British Folland Gnat
supersonic jet trainer. A T-33 Shooting Star. F-9F F6 Cougar
and an A-1A Skyraider have recently shared his hangar
space. Besides die A-4B and the Gnats. He currently has
several Siai Marchetti S.211 jet fighter/trainers and a
couple of Soko Galep (Gull) jet fighter/trainers. We are
talking fighting machines here, restored to military perfection. In fact you have probably seen the Galebs on die news
recently. They were dropping iron bombs in Yugoslavia
during their civil war.
Strait bought his A-4B Skyhawk from the Flying Tiger
Museum in Paris, TX in 1981. It arrived at his hangar at
Addison, TX by truck. The aircraft was in seven major
pieces and took 2,000 manhours to put into flying condition. It had collected dust since being stricken from service
in 1971. The Skyhawk served three tours on the Shangri-la in Va-106. Some of you probably flew it during Vietnam.
It had 4,705 hours on its meter when it was delivered into
Strait's very capable hands.
David Strait operates a one-stop store for high-
performance aircraft. You can buy not only a jet fighter
from him. You can also get all the other things that you need
before you strap that "E" ticket to your rear end. Strait
provides his clients with everythinp from Nomex gloves
and flight suits to advanced flight training. He says. "We
buy and sell airplanes, just like anybody else ... but what
Why do you do it, I asked him directly. Why put all the
time and effort into restoring these old jets? "It's a business.
a romantic business, but one that has to earn a profit" he
replied. "All my airplanes are for sale. Some are a little more for sale than others." His eyes played over the sleek beauty
old beauty of the A-4B. I could tell this was a man in love with his work.
I told him I could see he really liked the Skyhawk. He
nodded and said. "There are only two kinds of airplanes,
fighters and targets. I like fighters."
Straight taught himself to fly the A-4B. "It's no big deal."
he said. "That's the way they did it back in World War II.
They'd toss you a manual and tell you to read it. When you
finished, you got up your nerve and climbed into whatever
it was they wanted you to fly and then did what you had to
I pointed out that there is a huge difference between
a World War II prop plane and a world class jet fighter.
"That's true." he said. "The polyester pilots talk in miles per
hour: we talk in knots. The difference between the medium
performance pistons like the P-51 or the F-4U and my T-33
is incredible. That's why the military went to jets in the first
place. And my Skyhawk will leave the T-33 in its tracks. So,
yeah, there is a significant difference between the machinery, of course. I didn't just read the book and then go fly.
I believe in being methodical. I believe in precision. I did
extensive research on the aircraft, talked with men who
had high time in it and did a lot of high-speed taxi work.
One day I felt ready, so I punched the throttle and let her
rip. She is a sweet airplane, very sensitive on roll rate."
Since he started flying the Skyhawk, Strait has
averaged 50 hours a year in it I asked him if he ever let
anyone else fly his baby. His answer was quick: "No! And
I don't let anyone else sleep with my wife, either." I think
the aircraft deserves to be owned by someone who cares
for it that much.
I asked Strait what kind of man buys a high-performance jet. He said his target ma rket is an aircraft enthusiast
who is probably in his 40's "Nine out of 10 of these guys
never flew their dream machine in the service," he said.
"These men are into performance things. They drive
Porsche-level or better cars, and they like the image of
owning the fastest airplane at their airport They don't buy
a fighter to rekindle and old memory. They buy it to make
new ones. And the money they spent isn't gone forever.
These aircraft are appreciating in value. The Folland Gnat
has increased in worth substantially since we first restored
it. Our T-33s are price competitive with the ghosts from
World War II but don't have their horrendous mainte-
nance costs. That is not to say that the market requires a
justification for purchasing these aircraft. The aircraft
simply are what they are."
What are the annual operating costs for a typicaljet
fighter! "It's cheaper than the upkeep of a North Dallas
blonde - and probably a whole lot safer. Truthfully, you are
talking about a lifestyle here and about life choices. I
believe you can have anything you want. You set your goal
and make a choice. You can drive what you want; you can
fly what you want It is a choice. You will do whatever it
takes. I want jet fighters. I've got them. You could, too."
For the first time in my life. I actually thought about
owning a personal jet. I felt as if scales had dropped from
my eyes and I could finally see the horizon. "My own jet,"
I thought. "I want a T-38. I wonder what I would have to
do to get one!"
We walked over to the Gnat "Want to try it on!" he
asked me. He didn't have to ask twice. It has been almost
20 years since I sat in the front seat of a supersonic aircraft.
l settled into the seat, my hands remembered the feel of
a fighter, and my fickle hears whispered to me, "Forget the
38. BUY THIS!" Oh, do I wish that I could. The Gnat was
the trainer of choice for the British Royal Air Force. The
RAF flight demonstration team used the Gnat throughout
the '60s and '70s for their airshows. It shimmers in sex
appeal. As I caressed its controls, I thought about all the
poor guys who will never know the feel of a hot responsive
aircraft beneath them. They are the lesser for it.
I peeled myself from the embrace of the Gnat and
remarked to Strait that the aircraft had the look of all
original equipment. " We don't make these aircraft into
corporate airplanes," he said. We don't add flight direc-
tors, tape decks or any other non-military stuff. We make
it right, the way it came from the factory.
As we walked away from the hangar. I paused to take
a last look at Strait's toys. He watched me closely and then
casually said. "Maybe next time you're out here, you an fly
the Gnat, if you want"
'There's no 'maybe' to it," I said.
Happyness Is A Hot Jet