September 16, 2022


In the June 2003 issue of America’s Flyways, the cover story was “Dave’s Yak.”   Since that story included several really important people in my life, as well as a couple of terrific flying machines, I wanted to include the story on my website given the CaptainBillyWalker.com website will soon be archived by the University of Wyoming, my home state.  

All good things come to an end one way or t’other!  Right?  However, thanks to the efforts of John Waggener, Archivist at the University of Wyoming and the President of the Wyoming Aviation Hall of Fame, my website will have a home in perpetuity. After the UW folks take over, no one will be able to add OR remove anything on the CaptainBillyWalker.com website.  It will be as-is-where-is from then on.  There are more than 85 stories on my website, and not all are mine!  All will be available to anyone – anytime – from anywhere!

My lover & soul-mate, Cheryl, wrote about our experience in Cambodia during the Vietnam War.  Captain Mike Daciek, the senior member of my new-hire class at good-ol’ Frontier Airlines in 1967, has a few of his stories on my website as does retired USAF fighter pilot, LTC Ron Green, LTC Mark Berent (who saved my life twice during the SE Asia War Games) and several other’s stories as well.  Regardless, all the stories come with a guarantee to thwart insomnia!  So, if you are having trouble getting to sleep, I’m your guy!

DAVE KAPLAN and I have known each other since 1964.  He has been my unofficial career advisor since. In 1966, he recommended that I pursue a career change.  At the time, Dave was a First Officer with the original Frontier Airlines flying the ubiquitous Douglas DC-3.  I was sales manager for the Mooney distributor at “JEFFCO” airport, Broomfield, Colorado and making good money.  Going with the airlines would, initially, be a huge pay cut.  

Dave was one of those rare pilots who seemed always able to buy low and sell high!  Most of the rest of the pilot cadre was exactly the opposite.  Dave turned on my ‘light bulb’ saying, “…you could do both!  Sell airplanes on your off days, but meanwhile, establish stability with a look towards the future and when you retire.” 

Retire! I was 24 years old! My thoughts were of girls and airplanes, airplanes and girls!  However, July 5th, 1967, I became the junior member of our new hire class with a salary of $400.00 per month!. Of course the salary jumped on up to $425.00 the 2nd six months!

It is September 16, 2022.  I turn 81 in a few days and I’m still selling airplanes.  Life is good!

Initially, there were 14 members in my new-hire class.  Soon, there would be just 12, and by the time we were at the end of Frontier’s storied career, there would be 10 of us.  Since the Frontier demise in 1986 we have lost a few more. Only five of the original 14 still live.  I’m thankful to be one of those…

Mike is 91, still 10 years older’n me!  He’s doing GREAT and even performs as a stand up comic! I call him the “Polish Prince!”  Mike signs his notes to me “PP!”  You will love Mike’s wordsmithing!  His stories are great reads.

Thanks to Dave Kaplan for my 40 year airline career!   That’s him on the right in a new JetBlue jet.  J. David Hyde took the photo as we crossed the Atlantic just south of the tip of Greenland.                                              I n’joyed a 40 year airline career.  Rare!  …and it took three airlines for me to achieve four decades as an airline pilot.  Yup, I have Dave to thank again.  It was Dave who talked me into accepting an offer with a start-up airline, “New Air.”  I became the senior line pilot, the first FAA Aircrew Program Designee, and Check Airman, with what soon became JetBlue Airways.  JetBlue is presently the 7th largest carrier, and will be much larger after its merger with Spirit is finalized.  Not sure if that’s a good thing…  

At Frontier, Dave and I progressed from DC-3s to Convairs to Boeing 737s and ended our career with Frontier flying the MD-80.  I also flew the DH-6 “Twin Otter” which was by far the most fun airline flying I did.  Bar none! Dave also had a stint as 2nd Officer on the 727.

Frontier was a family atmosphere.  Memories of that airline are still savored.  Frontier lasted 40 years until 1986, when the airline suffered its demise due to corporate megalomania.  Frontier ended up being merged into Continental.  

Captain Kaplan went to work for Continental, while I went with America West Airlines Flight Training Department.  Dave had been a check airman with Frontier and assumed those duties at Continental.  I ended up managing the A-320 training program at AWA, until he made another recommendation, that ended up with me as part of the JetBlue start-up team.  As you can tell, Dave is much more than a long-time friend.  

Dave became one of the original founders of the “New Frontier Airlines.”  The New Frontier is not related to the original Frontier except in the name.  The “new” Frontier bought the rights to the name from Continental, who had acquired the original Frontier via merger.   

Dave is now retired and based his flying out of the Carefree, Arizona airport.  In 2000, he began looking for a Warbird or similar type aircraft. From Kaplan’s viewpoint, most of the Warbird types he looked at were either too expensive to purchase or would require too much money to repair and keep flying…  He then started looking at the Nanchang CJ-6 and the Russian Yak 52, and finally decided to purchase a Yak that was scheduled to go through I.R.A.N. (Inspect and Repair As Necessary), figuring that was the cheapest way to get one that wouldn’t turn out to be a “Hangar Queen.”  Dave didn’t want to buy an airplane that required the sale of his first born to keep in the air!

Kaplan waited a long time for his reconditioned Yak 52 to arrive and after 11 months of “being in the holding pattern,” he decided to go to his alternate.  It was during that year, he discovered that George Coy, located near Burlington, VT, and the Yak factory in Romania, were working on a fully retractable model with a 400 HP MT-14 engine turning a three-blade prop…and were taking orders.

Kaplan decided that the new “bird” was the way to have the best of both worlds (price & reliability).  He ordered the brand spankin’ new Yak 52TW from George Coy, and again waited for some 10 months for delivery.  During this time, he made a few trips to Gesoco’s HQ in Vermont.  He and I flew to Sun n’ Fun to see the Yak 52TW that we knew would be on display.

After the aircraft was reassembled, Coy checked Kaplan out in the aircraft.  Kaplan strapped himself into the tight space of the Yak 52 cockpit and flew the airplane from Burlington, VT to Phoenix (Carefree), AZ in two days.  The first day was six and a half hours long;  day two took nine and a half hours. 

Kaplan invited Coy to ride on that flight, “because Coy knows every nut and bolt on the YAKs.”  Furthermore, this trip was his cross-country “maiden voyage BELOW FL 290 and VFR” in anything these past 20 years.  Kaplan said, “Trust me. It is much easier to fly an airliner at altitude and IFR, but it is not nearly the fun that flying the Yak low cross country is!”

When Kaplan acquired his beautiful new Yak 52TW, I recommended another friend begin flying with him to help Dave acclimate to this unusual airplane.  Captain Larry Perkins is well known throughout the southwest as a premier instructor in war birds.  I have to say that Larry is THE BEST instructor I have ever flown with.  Period!  

Apologies to my Dad & Ralph Johnson, but Larry wins hands-down!

Perkins agreed to fly with Kaplan in the Yak.  Another friendship blossomed.

Above:  Larry & Billy in Red Dog an immaculate Mustang

During this time, Perkins and I flew together in Puff the Magic Dragon, the AC-47 Gunship based at KFFZ (Falcon Field, Mesa, AZ).  Along with other crew members (including our wives, Cheryl and Peggy), we took “Puff” to airshows throughout the southwest.  Perkins and I flew together in the T-6/SNJ as well.  So with such a positive experience flying with Captain Larry, it was my turn to make a recommendation to my pal, Dave.  He and Perkins flew many flights together in the new Yak.

“Puff” & friends – Falcon Field 2006 – photo by Cheryl Walker

What a machine!  I flew Yak N-269DK and am still salivatin’ for my next flight.  The aircraft looks great and flies even better.  Takeoff acceleration reminds me of a P-51!  With 400 HP and a three-bladed prop, the aircraft scoots.  It is built for aerobatics too.  The aircraft is equipped with double seatbelts, rudder pedal sraps, and has a very well balanced flight control system.  The roll-rate is excellent with the aircraft able to remain inverted for up to three minutes.

Some things are different and take some getting used to.  For example, you start the Yak with compressed air.  Normally when an engine starts we let go of the start button.  Not so with the Yak.   Keep the start button depressed until the engine is running smoothly on its own.

As you can see from the photographs, the lines of the Yak 52TW are reminiscent of the Folke-Wulf 190 sitting on the ground.  I have thought the standard Yak 52 looked a little ungainly in flight with the gear partially hanging down.  The Yak 52TW cleans up very nice.  As with the T-6, the tail wheel does not retract.  The shutters (cowl flaps) on the earlier Yaks were located on the front of the engine. The Yak 52TW has them on the aft cowl.  I believe this too aids the aircraft’s appearance.

Photo by the late-great Bob Shane, RIP

While the aircraft is smaller than the T-6, the cockpit’s front and aft have ample room for folks like me who have flunked the Atkins diet program. Everything is well situated for pilot access except, again as with the T-6/SNJ, some functions are not duplicated in the rear cockpit.

I like the wide stance.  Ground handling is easy and takeoffs and landings area relative smooth transition.  Perhaps it seemed a bit easier for me, since I had been flying the WWI Nieuport 17 with left propeller rotation.  So, left rudder is necessary on takeoff as opposed to the T-6/SNJ which needs a bit of right rudder.

For inverted flight, the Yak 52TW requires quite a bit of right rudder for inverted flight due to the high deck angle and “P (propeller) factor.”  I found the control forces fairly light and, again well balanced.  The aircraft, while it is very clean, and does not decelerate quickly, it does come down due to the high wing loading.  As with most high performance aircraft, there is some adjusting to the differences.  As we closed the hangar door, following a very pleasurable flight, I felt I could quickly make friends with this terrific airplane.

The following, while taken from the Yak 52TW Flight Manual has some inaccuracies, which may be attributed to the language translation (Russian — Romanian — English).  We are in the process of converting the numbers from Metric to US standards.

World renowned photographer, the late Bob Shane, learned of Dave’s new Yak and offered to photograph it.  So, we agreed to meet near Thompson Peak at sunrise Angles 6.  The photos you see here are a result of the two flights.

The first flight was with the late Tom Rayburn flying his immaculate Cessna 185, arguably equipped better than some airliners!   Not surprising given Tom was a retired senior US Airways captain.  Additionally, Rayburn was a volunteer pilot/mechanic on “Puff.”  Larry’s wife, Peggy (also a pilot) was onboard the 185.

Norm Tisdale photo.

I flew the Churchill’s South African Air Force T-6A.  My brother-in-law, Norm Tisdale went along in the back seat. The Churchill T-6 is based at KFFZ (Falcon Field, Mesa, AZ).  Kaplan and Perkins flew the Yak from the Carefree Airport where Dave’s hanger was as well as where Rayburn hangared his bird.   On the second flight, where we acquired the sunrise photographs, Kaplan was again in the front seat, with Perkins in the back flying the Yak. Bob Shane occupied the back seat of the T-6.

I am always amazed looking at the photographs Shane took.  I met him years ago, when I was performing flight testing for Dynair Tech at KPHX Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.  I was tasked with flying a Boeing 737-200 recently overhauled as the first “Aging Aircraft” modifications, which resulted in larger and unsightly riveting to reduce the chance of an explosive decompression such as the Aloha Airlines 737 experienced.

Brad Hurd & Billy Walker 737 Aging Aircraft test flight

Bob Shane was usually the professional photographer contracted for aerial photos.  No one better!  The Photo above is a copy of a copy and not what you would see in a Bob Shane photo.  

Captain Larry Perkins and I have flown a number of photo missions with Shane.  His photos have been published world-wide in numerous aviation publications.  Bob was the chief photographer for several regular publications such as America’s Flyways, Arv Schultz publisher.   Additionally, Bob Shane often flew as Flight Engineer on “Puff” flights.  In 2002 he received the museum’s highest award.

Well there you have it, a beautiful new bird to grace the skies of The Valley of the Sun.  I doubt Dave’s Yak will be the last really cool airplane to pass  between Four Peaks and The McDowells…

Kneeling L-R:  Norm Tisdale, Captain Larry Perkins & Peggy Perkins.  Standing L-R: Billy Walker & Dave Kaplan proud former Frontier Captains…