Standing at the counter at the auto-parts store
today, I started chuckling. Ed Ullrich's legacy still has
a grip on me.
I met Ed about 37 years ago, when I started at Boeing. He
was my first lead engineer. We handled the instrumentation
for a major test group, and I worked with him on several major
Ed was a peppery little white-haired guy, within five years of
his own retirement. I was happy to learn he was a
pilot. And flabbergasted when he pulled out a photo that
showed a neat looking single-seat open cockpit homebuilt.
Ed was a member of the Story Special club. I remember
thinking that THAT was the kind of plane I'd like to fly for the
rest of my life.
Ed Ullrich Taking Off
He was also an A&P, and talked about getting his start
working on the big radial-engined airliners like Constellation
and DC-6s. Ed was proud of his German heritage, and told me
about his uncle who was a fighter pilot in WWII. For the
Even after he retired, we stayed in pretty constant touch.
I was writing by then, and needed to take pictures to illustrate
the articles. The little Instamatic I owned wouldn't do;
Ed sold me my first SLR camera, a Pentax K1000. The K1000
was dead-manual; nothing automatic, the user had to set the
F-stop and shutter speed, manually focus, and manually advance
the film after each shot. The K1000 did have a meter built
in. I learned a heck of a lot about photography from
shooting that camera.
Didn't cost much to shoot, either. One of Ed's hobbies was
photography, and he not only had his own darkroom, he bought
film in bulk rolls. He'd give me some rolls, develop and print
them for free, and tell me what I'd done wrong in various
shots. All the photos in the first edition of "Kitplane
Construction" were developed and printed by Ed.
In addition, Ed was an A&P mechanic. He was doing the
annuals for the Story club, and, once the Fly Baby club was
operational, did the annuals for it, too.
For free, of course. I'd buy him a nice present every
I got the impression he really didn't like N500F. He was
always a bit crabby when he worked on it, like it was "OK, we'll
get this thing legal for ONE more year....."
Eventually, of course, Pete sold N500F and I was without a Fly
Baby. About two years after that, I called Ed. "Don Bell
has his Fly Baby for sale," I said. "He says you've been
doing the annuals. What kind of condition is that plane
The phone was silent for a moment. "You BUY that airplane,
A week later, I slid a cream-and-green airplane into the same
hangar where I used to keep N500F. I'd continued to pay
the hangar rent for two years after Pete sold his
airplane...kind of like an old maid's hope chest.
He continued doing the annuals for Moonraker (for free).
By that time, he was out of the Story Club, flying a dark blue
T-18 he'd bought. The T-18 had "Blue Max" in Germanic
script across the cowl.
Eventually, though, time caught up with him. A series of
health crises stopped his flying, cut back his mobility, and
didn't leave him with much.
The next time I saw Ed was as a grey streak above the central
He'd finally passed on, and his daughter contacted me. Her
father's wish was to have his ashes spread in the air, over
Okanogan Washington, where he'd learned to fly. I ran a
few trap lines through EAA, found a guy actually based at
Okanogan who provided this sort of service.
So... several months later, my wife and I stood with Ed's
family, watching a stream of gray ashes as the Cessna did a low
pass to the runway.
Today... well, I was reminded of him at the auto-parts
store. I was there for just one thing.
There's a lot of controversy about oil additives, for both auto
as well as aircraft engines. One, in particular, has a lot
of "old wives tales" about it. "Don't use it!" all the
modern engine experts say. "It doesn't do a damn thing for
But... Ed Ullrich used to talk about it. He used it in the
radial engines of Northwest Airlines. He used it in the
A65 in the Story Special, and the Lycoming in his T-18.
And he told me to use it, as well.
So on one side, there's logic, chemistry, and a whole lot of
experts with furrowed brows, saying, "Forget it."
On the other side, there's Ed. "It'll help prevent valve
So I marched out of the car parts store today, with a big ol'
red jug of Marvel Mystery Oil. Drove across the street to
the airport and dumped 4 ounces into the fuel tank.
The airplane had a valve issue the first year, but not a speck
of problem since. Is the magic red oil? Maybe.
Take that, experts.