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Modern-Day barnstormers

A friendship forged by sharing the sky

They make an interesting pair.
Photography by David Tulis. Dewey Davenport is a hands-on pilot and owner of his company, here fueling Ace, his Travel Air 4000. Photography by David Tulis. If you fly in one of the biplanes, you receive a souvenir photograph taken by the team. Photography by David Tulis. Andrew King is probably head down consulting a chart, not his cellphone!

One is a self-professed “big guy” whose typical attire appears to be something he found on his hangar floor—a work jumpsuit or a T-shirt and jeans smattered with paint and grease stains. His face is ruddy and his smile big and infectious. His counterpart—his best friend, his co-pilot in much of life—is smaller, dapper, quieter. A wearer of period costume like spats and a cap, vest and a tie. What they have in common is an unabashed love for flying, but not just any flying, the flying of the 1920s: Andrew King and Dewey Davenport are modern-day barnstormers.

At home in Ohio

We are sitting in a hangar at the “Deweydrome,” Davenport’s home airfield in Jamestown, Ohio, waiting for King to fly over and then into the grass strip in a 1929 Travel Air 4000. His voice cultured and calm, Davenport looks up as King turns to final: “That’s my friend flying in right now.”

King swoops onto the green field like a hero returning home and bounds from the cockpit with all the energy of a Newfoundland puppy. “There’s just something fun about being in a biplane,” King says to those of us sitting around the hangar and Davenport smiles hugely at his friend.

The affection between the two men is palpable. They’ve been flying together since 2014 and both love what they do. “He’s cute but he must be adopted,” jokes King. “He really doesn’t look like me, but he’s family.”

Davenport says they are “ebony and ivory.” He says, “Our friendship is more than what is on the outside. He is my idol; we are the very best of friends. And while aviation is a big part of it, he’s just a great person. We jive. And we both just want to have fun. That’s what barnstorming is all about for us. It’s family.”

They met flying airshows and instantly bonded. King appreciated Davenport’s vision to fly like the barnstormers of the 1920s and especially his desire to own a New Standard. It had been Davenport’s dream since he was a child. “I told my parents when I was in junior high that I wanted three things: to have a grass strip, to have a biplane, and to give rides,” Davenport says. The New Standard D25 is a five-place open cockpit biplane that began production in 1928. It was a variation on an original design by Ivan Gates and Charles Day that, Davenport says, “was made to give rides.”

King sent his friend “a terrible cellphone photo” of a New Standard for sale. Davenport wasn’t sure he could afford it, but a couple of years later, he bought it. He calls it Full House because it can take an entire family for a ride. Before he owned the 45-foot-wing-span aircraft he’d built his hangar at Deweydrome (another friend coined the name) large enough to accommodate the big biplane, which he says is the “king of the barnstormers.”

He often flies Ace, the Travel Air 4000. Photography by David Tulis. Dewey Davenport says he's played his cards right in life, and loves to "share the world" with passengers. Photography by David Tulis. Friendship is "someone who has your back, through thick and thin" says Davenport. He says 90-percent of all his passengers come back from a ride with him with smiles on their faces. Photography by David Tulis.

Happiness is a room without a roof

So, what’s it like to live like it’s 1920 and you and your best friend fly across the country giving rides in airplanes to farmers and their children? Barnstorming was a product of the end of World War I, the “Great War” that people believed could never be repeated because of its horror and carnage. More than 14 million soldiers and civilians died in that four-year global conflict that introduced aerial warfare to the world. Coming back from the horrors of war, many men could not find work or were so scarred they wanted nothing with a regimented lifestyle, and the surplus of the Standard J–1 and Curtiss JN–4 trainers were available at a small cost. Aviators took to the skies in their Jennys and other biplanes, crossing the country, landing in farmer’s fields, charging $1 for a ride, and introducing aviation to America. Barnstorming usually started in April and continued through the harvest.

While King is a full-time A&P and restorer of antique airplanes, Davenport has a bread-and-butter job flying corporate aircraft for NetJets. He saves up his time off for the barnstorming season and the pair work weekends at festivals and airshows with their “scooters,” friends who either follow along on the ground or ride along with them. They usually stop at one airport that has organized a festival and fly-in and spend the day selling rides in the New Standard and the Travel Air. Then they fly another 20 or so miles to the next for another fly-in.

Because he so enjoys the simplicity of flying without technology, King is the more basic pilot; he still uses a paper sectional chart. He also rarely flies over cities. “I like to listen to the engine, to use a chart and a compass. It keeps me engaged,” he says. Davenport, however, employs the technology his NetJets job affords him. “It’s why I say I am a ‘modern-day barnstormer.’ I like technology,” he says.

The pair—who often finish each other’s sentences—recall a four-day ferry flight from Houston to Sacramento. Flying low and slow, they each introduced one another to the aspects of flight they love. “Andrew knows the passes and the histories of the places we fly over,” Davenports says.

“I go around big cities, but Dewey took us right over El Paso and Tucson, stuff I would never do on my own,” King said. “I like knowing the name of every town I fly over.”

At the end of each day, they shared what they’d seen from the air, looked up friends each of them knew in towns they stopped in, or walked into town if there was no courtesy car at the airport or no one to call. “It’s more than twice as much fun when there’s two of you,” King says.

Good barnstorming field

Flying across the Midwest together, the pair shares the joy of their modern-day barnstorming. They look down at fields and say later “let’s land there next time” or “that would make a good barnstorming field.” Davenport thinks that barnstorming—then and now—could not be lonely even though the pilot is alone as they cross the country. “Every place you go they want to see you,” he says. “When you’re flying for the airlines, you’re alone in a hotel all the time. Everywhere we go, there’s a welcoming airport community or a gathering of happy festival goers.”

On this beautiful summer day in Ohio, both pilots are flat out giving rides to waiting passengers during the annual Barnstorming Carnival and Fly-In at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport (SGH). It’s not for the money that they fly, repeat, and fly again. “I want to make enough money to live on, but we want to share the experience more. We will change prices based on where we are,” says Davenport.

The carnival is the highlight of Davenport’s summer in which he showcases his Goodfolk & O'Tymes biplane rides. He starts barnstorming in early May and flies through October. The carnival is organized by his friends and supporters; many wear “I Know Dewey” T-shirts.

“I betcha Andrew has flown 2,000 people or more…” says Davenport. “I’ve flown 8,000 people I bet; 5,000 in Full House alone.”

“And there are always interesting passengers,” says King. “Remember the Vietnam vet who was blind and his brother was his caretaker?”

“Or the young man with cerebral palsy?”

“Or the 100-year-old guy? Have you flown a 100-year-old guy?”

“No, I think the oldest was 95.”

“And you met Katie giving rides,” says King of Davenport’s partner. The couple now has a newborn baby girl. “That’s the high point, giving the rides. That’s why this is so special.”

[email protected]

Goodfolk & O'Tymes biplanes rides
gobiplanerides.com

Julie Walker
Julie Summers Walker
AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.

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