May 10, 2014, 1:34 PM
Post #1 of 11
~ Eddie Andreini
I was saddened to hear of Eddie Andreini's fatal crash during last weeks Travis AFB air show.
Eddie was performing an inverted ribbon cut in his Stearman Biplane when he hit the runway upside down sliding into a grass area...the aircraft was fairly intact until it caught fire and burned completely.
I saw one news report that faulted Eddie's flying in that since he 'missed the ribbon' on two attempts it must have been too windy and should never have tried a 3rd time...I actually bust out laughing hearing the 'expert' Johnny-on-the-spot and his armchair quarterbacking of Eddie The Master and his skills.
Airshows are show business...we perform an act, an act that's designed to interest & thrill. Eddie's ribbon cut ALWAYS had him 'missing the ribbon' on two tries - building drama, then low & behold ~ he FINALLY gets it!
There is also some critical attention & discussion currently going on within the industry, in regard to the amount of time it took emergency response to arrive at the scene. Some say the impact was actually fairly gentle and likely survivable but in the 6 plus minutes it took for a fire crew to approach the site...fire took Eddie.
Maybe so - Maybe not
Lost in the media mistakes and industry discussions are the facts about who Eddie Andreini was...I want to take a minute here and remember my friend of 30 years.
If you wanted to write a fictional story about adventure, you would create an interesting yet unlikely hero. Someone that was cool before it was cool to be cool...and didn't even know it. You would have your character humbly go from one adventure to another, finding himself in fanciful circumstances that the 'average reader' would never dream about...
THAT was Eddie Andreini
He started flying over 60 years ago, it was in his blood - he was related to a surprising number of people deeply rooted within the world of aviation...I got into the habit of whenever hearing Eddie tell a story about someone - asking "Now who is he TO you?"
The answer was usually 'family' somehow or another...that barnstormer tree was amazing.
Eddie Andreini put the STORM in barnstorming.
As a fan of aviation I've read the books and seen the movies about how it was in the old days...60 minutes after I first met Eddie 30 years ago - I thought to myself, THAT'S the guy they were all talking about!
I was fairly new in the Airshow industry, a wide eyed young pup eager to set the game on fire with whole new modern approach to skydiving demonstrations.
We weren't 'just' jumping out of airplanes...we had an ACT, we had props and choreographed moves.
We were 'professional skydivers'. I liked the ring to that, and heck obviously all these 'other guys' were just pilots flying around in expensive toys...
...then 3 decades back at a hangar somewhere in the midwest, Eddie Andreini walked over - put out his hand and asked my name.
Kind of a short hunched over old man is what I first saw...funny to think I'm older now than he was then.
I knew he was 'in the show' because I'd seen him running around all morning back there in the private area all US performers were...figured him to be a worker bee support crew guy for one of the hero pilots strutting around the hangar in a fire suit & flyin' boots, a full 5 hours before the crowd would even start to arrive.
I shook his hand, proudly introducing myself and the team - thought he must have heard of us and how cool of him to want to meet the show openers!
He said he was a bit short on time and needed a little help with some menial labor, so he thought of the skydivers...it needed to be someone tall so he came to ME...
He stuck out his hand again asking..."What was your name?" - and off we went to another hangar.
Once inside the other building I was directed over to a series of large recently constructed wooden frames...maybe 6 feet high by 8 feet wide. Next to them was a huge stack of what looked like thin plaster lathe boards.
We set up the frames to make a sort of tunnel...guy WAS short and these things were a bit awkward to handle so okay, I get it.
Then he handed me a tack hammer and showed me how to fasten the 'little boards' to the frame pieces...a rather intricate procedure because prior to tacking them up, they had to be wrapped up in some torn bed sheets...W T F ?!?!
The d00d saw the confused look on my face, gave a chuckle and pointed over to a ratty old Honda SL350 motorcycle in the corner.
"The third act canceled an few hours ago because of a mechanical so I'm gonna fill that time slot with my motorcycle - wall of fire act...them rags will be soaked in gas a couple minutes before I go through..." - - - and he walked away.
I use to be a rock hanger putting up drywall in new homes as a summer job in college, made pretty quick work of tacking the tunnel together...all the time watching Eddie running back and fourth doing 100 things at once.
He was preping the Stearman he would be flying in the show & joking around with the wingwalker that had just gotten there.
He was also removing the door on a Cub in the hangar - saying something about needing to go on a diet because the dress he brought and would be wearing - was getting pretty tight!
HUH?! ...well okay, if you say so.
~ It was amazing watching Eddie go about his morning...trust me, he INVENTED the word multi-tasking - - probably did so while doing 9 OTHER things!
Dozens of different people were coming in and talking to him about dozens of different things.
Never once breaking stride or losing concentration, Eddie answered questions, gave directions, offered suggestions...all the while turning wrenches, answering phones or filling smoke tanks with corvus oil.
I was tired just WATCHIN' the guy!
"Hey big guy - Twardo right?" "See if you can get hat Honda started and take it down the taxiway a couple times will ya, lemme know if it steers & shifts okay...oh and be careful, I hear the brakes are bad!"
- This is getting funny in a crazy sort of way, and Hell...I was really starting to like this guy!
Bike checks out, got 'some' brakes in the front but there's nuthin' in the back, I told him...
"It'll be fine, I only paid 50 bucks for it this morning..."
~ A couple guys from the team came over to see if I wanted to make a food run with them...I wasn't going ANYPLACE - this was fascinating.
I helped wipe down his planes, handed him wrenches while he installed, double checked & then removed the wingwalker platform...did whatever I could to 'be there' and keep our conversation going.
This show was an annual event at this small town midwest community...they put it together on a shoestring so to speak and Eddie had been there several times before. I could SEE WHY - he half the damn program!
Back with the jumpers...I'm telling of my morning as were preping the gear.
That 'guy' is the one who recommended us for here I told them, I guess we worked with him at OK City last year and he liked our act...
He was telling me how much the gear had changed since he was doing demos at airshows, and he loves all the pyro and big flags...
Said he just jumped a 3x5 and an M-18 or two... Yeah he was a demo jumper too!
I told them how after we jumped and then Eddie did his aerobatic routine in the Stearman, the wingwalker and I would re-set the platform and re-fill the smoke tanks because mid-show 'they' would be going back up.
Eddie would be busy because he was ALSO announcing the show along side the guy he was training to be an airshow announcer...or at least he would be until he rode a motorcycle through that wall of fire thing I built...
That guy in the Pitts flies after the bike stunt, then the helicopter...Eddie will then perform again, flying the wingwalker act -
The local fire department has some glory coming, they are gonna do some demonstrating by relighting whatever is left of the fire tunnel - then putting it out.
...giving Eddie time to throw on his dress & high heels and start the 'Crazy Lady from the crowd runs out & steals a Cub' act...which closes the show.
The show went off without a hitch. I was both honored and inspired to be a part of it.
I had no problem waiting in line with the hundreds of spectators to get an autograph from 'The Master'...ya tend lose the 'ego' pretty quick when you're around real greatness - I still treasure to this day the jump I got signed off by 'some worker bee guy' whom I'd never heard of before that day!
I'd worked with Eddie Andreini many times over the years, I always looked forward to seeing him perform, hearing his stories, maybe even prideful that by having my name on the same program at some airshow, I was sharing in some small way in the adventure of his life...who wouldn't jump at the chance to be even an 'extra' in a movie starring John Wayne?!
~Eddie Andreini was 77 years old when he died in a fiery plane crash while flying a Stearman upside down mere feet above the ground.
I don't know exactly how or why Eddie didn't make it that day and in all honesty I really don't care.
He was a talented pilot, and caring and giving man - he made those around him better just by being himself...Yes I'm saddened by his death, but I'm not surprised.
IF you were writing a fictional adventure story about some unassuming hero...how else COULD it end?
Go easy sir, and I thank you.
(This post was edited by airtwardo on May 10, 2014, 2:27 PM)
Twardo, great write up! When I read about guys like Eddie buying it, I have to smile a little because they are the ones who go their own way, loving it, and have no trouble having a good time while they are alive and then flipping the bird at the Reaper knowing they didn't waste a minute worrying about the small shit.
The bit about the fifty dollar bike reminds me of another airshow great, Charlie Kulp aka The Flying Farmer of Bealton, Virginia. If you don't know of him, that would be surprising. Goggle him. Charlie and Eddie had much in common.
One really cold winter night I invited Charlie and his girlfriend over to the house for dinner. When they got there, I shoved a beer in their hands and they made a bee line for the wood stove to stand there rubbing their frozen butts. I asked Charlie if he had had heat in his car? His girlfriend replied, somewhat pissed off, that "Hell, the little gnome doesn't have a floorboard in his car.
Turns out he had done an airshow down south somewhere when the weather took a shit and he couldn't fly the Cub back to Virginia. So he went off and bought a junker for $100 and drove it back leaving his Cub to pick up another day. Shit, Charlie could take the wings off of a Cub and load it on a special trailer all by himself when he thought he wasn't going to be able to fly back. Be he misjudged the weather that time.
We haven't lost people like Eddie. They live in our hearts and they stand cracking jokes and drinking beer at a special mystical bar up there somewhere. Oh! By the by, fuck the know-it-all SME's. They don't know dick.