The Farmington Regional Airport was base earlier this week for an aircraft once used by the Polish Armed Forces earlier.
On Monday evening, the Antonov An-2 aircraft landed with a crew of three and a videographer with DMAX – the Discovery Channel in Germany.
Pilots Michael Manousakis of Cologne, Germany and Tony Eyre of Cross Junction, Virginia, as well as mechanic Fabian Schoebel and Sina Meyer with DMAX are making the trip in the aircraft. Eyre is originally from England and both Schoebel and Meyer are from Germany.
The three men began the trip in Germany, with stops in Scotland, Iceland, Greenland and Canada before making their way to New York. Meyer joined the group when they were in the United States.
“It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a pilot to fly from Europe to the U.S. And now, I did it,” Manousakis said.
The group departed around two weeks ago. Farmington was an unscheduled overnight stop, necessary after needing to address a technical issue. They left for Oklahoma City on Tuesday morning.
Manousakis said his weight was the one question he received the most when he told of his wishes to fly an airplane across the ocean.
“I thought, ‘what’s that for?’” he said. “I learned it is because the small planes cannot carry a lot of load. When I saw this plane, I thought ‘that’s it. It can carry everything.’ A couple of months later I bought it, ferried it to Germany and fixed everything.”
The An-2, according to museumofflight.org, is the largest single-engine biplane ever produced, as well as the most produced. In addition to its home factory in the former Soviet Union the plane has seen production runs in the Ukraine, Poland and China. The aircraft was used as a light utility transport, parachute drop aircraft, agricultural work and many other tasks suited to this large slow-flying biplane.
Manousakis said he continued to hear from the nay-sayers as he talked about his dream to fly to the United States.
“I had the dream from the first day of flying this (aircraft) to the U.S.,” he said. “Everybody said ‘That is totally crazy and too much time over water. The plane is a single engine and if it fails you will end up in the icy water.
“But, I couldn’t leave (the idea). I flew with a dry diving suit and I trained a lot.”
About that time, he was introduced to Eyre – a ferry pilot who served in both the Royal Air Force in England and the United States Air Force. Eyre has made hundreds of trips across the ocean as a ferry pilot.
Eyre said he was planning a trip to Ethiopia when a mutual friend of the two who lives in Berlin contacted Eyre about the trip.
“He said, ‘can you help (Manousakis)?’ I said, ‘sure,’” Eyre said. “I was already there in Europe.”
“We had an awesome time flying all over this blue water alone in this plane,” Manousakis said. “At the beginning, the water looked so calm and nice.
The aircraft had to go below the clouds when ice began forming on the wings. It was then the white caps and waves of the water below were more visible – something Manousakis said made the water look not so inviting.
“We made it safe to Iceland and then to Greenland. We came to Goosebay, Canada and then to New York,” Manousakis said.
They spent two days in New York while repairs were made on the aircraft. A needed part was brought over from Germany by a friend of Manousakis’ who just happens to be a flight attendant.
“We had the part in less than 24 hours,” he said.
While waiting, the group had a chance to tour New York City. Before leaving, the crew circled the Statute of Liberty.
Eyre said the group made the trip to his home in Virginia after leaving New York, where a “bounce” on the first landing at the runway was recreated when the documentary crew arrived.
Manousakis said the size of the plane makes the eight hours in the air each day a little more bearable. The two pilots are able to take turns stretching during the trip.
Before the group left from Cincinatti, Ohio on Monday a “bang” was heard as the motor started. That set the schedule back as they worked on the plane. The group was to scheduled stop in Farmington for only lunch that day. But, when the group was not able leave Ohio until 3 p.m., Eyre called ahead to make other arrangements.
“I had already talked to Chuck (Sitzes) at the airport and he left a rental car for us and told us where to go for a hotel,” Eyre said. “(Farmington) is probably one of the best stops we’ve had in the states, for sure.
“It’s worked out well.”