Brian Aukes had to make a decision, and fast.
The caller from Minnesota asked if Aukes wanted to buy the last of the disbanded Red Baron Pizza Squadron’s Stearman aircraft that was still in flying condition. If he didn’t, two other buyers were waiting in line.
Aukes made a quick call to his brother, Travis, who flew 15 years as a member of the Red Baron aerobatic team, and knew the plane well. He’d logged about 500 hours in N806RB.
“Travis said Number 6 was one of the best flying planes in the Red Baron fleet,” Aukes said. “And it was the last chance to own something of historical value.”
So the answer to the caller’s question was “yes,” and Aukes became the owner early this summer.
Aukes and his wife Rachel base the plane at Ames Municipal Airport, just a short drive on I-35 from their home in Ankeny, IA.
The Aukes brothers will be featured speakers 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 11, during the 38th National Stearman Fly-In at Galesburg Municipal Airport. The program, in Jet Air Inc.’s main hangar, is free and open to the public.
Brian Aukes, a financial adviser, will discuss his latest acquisition – he also owns a Boeing Stearman PT-17 and a North American SNJ-5 Texan. The PT-17 trained American and British pilots in Florida during World War II, and then was used as a crop duster until the engine stalled and it was landed in a field in 1993. Aukes and his father, the late Robert Aukes, restored the plane to its original Army Air Corps colors in 1995.
Travis Aukes, who lives in Aledo, IL, will relate some of his adventures with the Red Baron Pizza Squadron. He flew slot – the number 4 position – with the team. His brother says he’s transitioned into a successful crop dusting career in Illinois for a slower change of pace since the Red Baron team was disbanded in 2007 by its owner, Schwan Food Co., Marshall, MN.
Travis and Brian are the youngest of five brothers – the others are Greg, Jeff and Jim — all of whom were taught to fly by their father and soloed on their 16th birthdays. The brothers have three sisters – Sue, Kay and Shelia.
Robert Aukes, who was born in Buffalo Center, IA, served in the Marine Corps in Korea. He operated the Aledo, IL, airport and ran a flying service there for many years. After retiring, he moved to Arkansas where his wife, Beth, still makes her home.
The squadron’s seven airplanes flew more than 2,000 performances during a 28-year run. Forty-two pilots flew for the team over the years, traveling more than six million miles and giving rides to more than 80,000 passengers.
When Schwan Foods decided to ground the squadron, it announced that it would sell the airplanes, tooling and ground support vehicles. Planes and vehicles were sold with the proviso that the Red Baron logos be removed. “If you bought a truck, for example, they would send you the title after you sent them a photo showing the logo had been removed,” Brian Aukes explained.
Two planes, including the one Aukes bought, were held back with the intent of putting them in a company museum. But that plan changed and they were offered for sale – with the Red Baron logos. One went to a buyer in Massachusetts, and Aukes got the other. The company agreed to let the last two new owners keep the logos if they signed hold-harmless letters.
The plane’s N number, 806RB, stands for the number of kills – 80 – scored by Germany’s Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richtofen in a 3-year period during World War I. The 6 is for Number 6 in the Schwan fleet. The Red Baron – a nickname gained after he painted his plane bright red – was killed when his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire on April 21, 1918. Allied forces buried him with full military honors; after the war his remains were reburied in Germany.
Aukes says his plane was last refurbished in 2004, and logged about 1,600 hours after that. It was flown about two hours after the Red Baron team disbanded.
The wheel pants were not on the plane when Aukes got it, and he had them painted by the Minnesota company who did all of the squadron’s painting before installing them in early August. The team had its own special colors; paint cans are labeled “Red Baron Red” and “Red Baron White.”
During World War II, Stearmans were powered by 220-horsepower Continental and 225-horsepower Lycoming engines. The aerobatic planes have Pratt & Whitney R985 radial engines which develop 450 horsepower, according to Aukes.