Baby Steps to Greatness

The first annual Kokomo Bi-Plane Fly-In was held June 26–27, 2020 at Glendale Airport in Indiana. Kokomo airport ID is 8i3, with a lower case “i” for two good reasons. First, so as to not confuse it with the numeral one, but also to highlight the diminutive aspect of the aircrafts featured at this gathering.

Kokomo Bi-Plane Fly-In 2020 featuring the Baby Great Lakes.

Hosted and organized by Michelle and Ron Beachy, the Kokomo fly-in was held at their home-base airport. Both members of the Baby Great Lakes Biplane Group, the couple flies their very own Baby Great Lakes, a scaled version of its Great Lakes namesake. The 2T-1A Sport Trainer was a biplane produced in the early years of the Great Depression era. Its greatness endures in a big way, here on a smaller scale.

This familiar looking aircraft was manufactured by Great Lakes Aircraft Company from 1929–1933. The American company by which it was conceived produced civilian biplanes, float planes, plus biplane torpedo bombers and dive bombers under contract to the U.S. Navy. Roughly 240 of the Great Lakes Sport Trainer were built.

Chris Hiatt of San Antonio, Texas was one of the fly-in’s enthusiastic participants. He traded in a passion for Aeroncas, at least temporarily, for a chance to hone his skills at biplane aeronautics. Chris was flying an Aeronca Chief at the time the Baby Lakes came along. The new arrival fit neatly into the hanger beneath the Chief. As more of his time and focus centered on the more diminutive aircraft, the Chief got sold. The Baby Lakes served to amp up his quest for adrenaline.

Chris Hiatt (and Baylor Randle, left) with his Super Baby Great Lakes.

The aircraft has many known names, including Baby Lakes, Oldfield Baby Lakes, Baby Great Lakes, Super Baby Lakes, Super Baby Great Lakes, and Buddy Baby Lakes. There exist a small collection of these babies in the U.S. and a tight group of enthusiasts who share their knowledge of them.

Once Chris learned about the fly-in, he was set on tweaking and updating his copy, N822CH. Every last minute was spent readying the aircraft to be trailered 1,200 miles northeast to Kokomo, a feat presumed far less tiring than traveling in a bumpy open-air cockpit solo and luggageless.

Prior to attending, N822CH received new cowlings and had its wings recovered. Chris has also managed to install a starter and new bungies while giving the Baby a thorough pampering. 

Origins of the Baby Lakes are attributed to Barney Oldfield Aircraft Company, named for designer Barney Oldfield. Best summarized as “a scaled-down Sport Trainer,” the airplane uses steel frame tubing and spruce wing spars. It was intended as a one-off construction. Due to popularity of the model, however, plans were produced on-demand and this led to marketing the homebuilt aircraft. Copies began to multiply.

Formation flying with Chris Hiatt and Corben Meyers in their Baby Great Lakes biplanes.

While designed for the Continental A-65 and Volkswagen air-cooled aero boxer engines, Hiatt’s build performs like a rocket with its upgraded Lycoming O-290G 145-hp launcher. It easily proved to be the fastest of the current crop of Baby Great Lakes, thus a world speed record was claimed last month, “130 mph in cruise in a Super Baby Great Lakes.” Chris admits that it wasn’t a real competition and therefore “top speed” was not determined. He was just so far out in front of the others, he surmised, that it must be a record.

Chris Hiatt setting a speed record in a Super Baby Great Lakes.

Chris commented, “Another record was set on Friday the 26th of June 2020… the largest gathering of our beloved tiny Baby Great Lakes biplane.” Months of planning drew Ron and Michelle Beachy and their Baby Great Lakes example, plus Chris with his Super Baby Great Lakes. Shad Bell of Centerburg, Ohio dodged storms to attend in his Baby Great Lakes. Final attendee of the record-setting foursome was Corben Meyer who flew in from Timber House Airport near Lafayette, Indiana, a brief 40 miles west with his 65 hp Baby Lakes.

“Each of the planes are unique in several different ways, with none of them sharing the same landing gear setup. Although the wind blew a constant 20-plus mph,” stated Chris, “Shad Bell demonstrated the aerobatic ability these tiny biplanes in the hands of a skilled pilot.”

3-Aloft, the Baby Great Lakes Reunion participants perform a fly-by.

As was intimated, the Baby Great Lakes are a take-off of the Great Depression era Great Lakes 2T-1A-2 Sport Trainer. These military aircraft, the full scale versions, were originally powered by 85 and 90 hp American Cirrus engines, and later powered by 140 hp Lycoming O-320 and 180 hp IO-360 engines. Other full size copies were plans-built. Production of the concept has stopped and started for nearly a century. But the design would feign oblivion and gain notoriety as a WACO Classic which are built new today, hence reinforcing the greatness and familiarity of the Great Lakes airplane lineage.

Specifications(~2/3 Scale)

Great Lakes Sport TrainerOldfield Baby Great Lakes
Model no.2T-1A-2n/a
Length20 ft 4 in13 ft 6 in
Wingspan26 ft 8 in16 ft 8 in
Height7 ft 4 in4 ft 6 in
Wing area187.6 sq ft88 sq ft
Empty wieght1,230 lb480 lb
Max. takeoff weight1,800 lb850 lb
Maximum speed @ sea level115 knots (132 mph)117 knots (135 mph)
Cruise speed102 knots (118 mph)96 knots (110 mph)
Stall speed50 knots43 knots
Rate of climb1,400 ft/min2,000 ft/min
Chris Hiatt and Corben Meyers with their Baby Great Lakes biplanes.

Kokomo-Glendale Airport (8i3) is home to EAA Chapter 235,

This article was published in General Aviation News, August 20, 2020.

This article also appeared in In Flight USA magazine, August 2020.

This article also appeared in Sport Aviation magazine, September 2020.

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