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Tales of two Tri-Pacers
Story and photos by JACK HODGSON
Dave Roberts
Dave Roberts and his Tri-Pacer from Schuyler, Nebraska.
Rick Michalek
Rick Michalek with his Tri-Pacer, one of many airplanes he keeps at his private strip in Keosakwa, Iowa.

Dave Roberts is packing his gear trying to head home but keeps looking at the overcast sky and shaking his head.
Home is Schuyler, Nebraska, west of Omaha, and he flies out of the Columbus, Nebraska, airport. We ask if there are a lot of airplanes based there.

“Not a lot. But we have an interesting mixture. We have a Vultee BT-13, a couple of Stearmans, we have a homebuilt Pitts, and we have an ultralight dealer.

“It’s a great airport, nice guys; we have a lot of fun together.”

It’s about a four and a half hour flight to AirVenture.

“We stopped at Independence, Iowa, and fueled, and then came on in.”

Dave had planned to stop at Oelwein, and he actually landed there—but no gas.

“There was a lot of sprayer action going on there, and the FBO was nowhere. So I couldn’t get gas.”

He took off and headed to Independence and his 26th year at the Oshkosh fly-in.

“I’ve met some interesting people over the years. The one thing I like about Oshkosh is if you’re standing in line, you’re not a stranger. You can talk to the guy right next to you.

“Cause you’re all talking airplanes.”

The plane that he flew in with is a 1954 Piper PA-22 Tri-Pacer. He’s had it since 1985. He also has a 1943 L-2M. A Grasshopper.

Is one of the planes his favorite? “No, they’re both my favorites.”

Each of his planes is suited to particular missions.

“I keep the Tri-Pacer ordinarily down in Seward, Nebraska, so that my son can fly it. But when it comes to coming up here, I do like to live in a modest degree of luxury, and I can haul all the stuff I want to haul.

“In the L-2 you can’t do that.”

This year at AirVenture he’s enjoyed seeing “FIFI”, the CAF B-29, and in general checking out the vintage planes.

“I like old airplanes.”

Rick Michalek is sitting in the vintage campground reading a copy of AirVenture Today, so we already knew he was a man of great taste.

Then we saw his 1953 Tri-Pacer and our estimation was confirmed.

Rick is from Keosauqua, Iowa, where he lives the dream of having his own private strip: 1,800 feet, grass.

And the Tri-Pacer isn’t his only plane.

“I’m a mechanic and IA, so I’ve got a few projects of my own. I’ve got a Cub that I restored about eight years ago. That was the first plane that I purchased.

“And then we got the Tri-Pacer, as more of a family plane and for doing some serious traveling. And I’m also working on a Stearman project that I hope to have here next year.”

The flight into AirVenture should have only taken around three hours, but like so many others he was waylaid by weather.

“It was beautiful when we took off. We got going, and you could just see the weather coming in from the west, and we decided to go as far as we could.

“After a half hour we saw a wall of rain. We landed at Maquoketa just off the Mississippi River there.”

As is so often the case, the airports that you land at unplanned prove to be the nicest.

“It was a very nice airport. In fact as soon as we landed we could see that it was just starting to sprinkle, so I asked them if they had hangar space available, and he said yeah.

“They put it right in, and we just sat there for about four hours till it cleared up.”

Rick has been coming to the Oshkosh fly-in since 1998.

“It’s a different experience every time you come here. People you meet. This year for some reason it seems a little slower, but the people you meet are just incredible.

“They’re very interested in what you have and what you’re doing. You always seem to run across people who have their own projects similar to your own. It’s great to be able to pass on the information that you’ve learned to help them out.”

Rick’s Tri-Pacer is 135 hp. “It’s a four-seater, but it’s really just two adults, and maybe two kids or two dogs.”

The Cub used to be his main airplane, but these days the utility of the Tri-Pacer has changed that.

“I fly this one more than the Cub now. Cause it’s a great airplane, for all year-round, and you get a little more range out of it. You can get a little more stuff in it.”

He does a fair bit of flying throughout the year, in both of his planes.

“I try to get the Cub out to Lock Haven every year. We also took the Tri-Pacer to Knoxville, Tennessee. That was a big year because the Short Wing Piper Club had their convention that year, and it was in an area of the country that we had never explored. We took some time, went out there early, and explored.”

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