Sun N Fun with Dracula
Sun N Fun is an air show where entrances are noticeable events. Thousands of light planes come in and land for the show. So many that most are not even seen. Quicksilver, Scott Yoak’s magnificent P-51D, makes an overhead approach and the crowd looks up in awe. An F-15 touches down and people take notice. A few others land that people pay attention to.
Then there is Kyle Franklin. He flies Dracula, his arrival is even more incredible. He arrives at the field in total stealth, nobody knows he’s there. Dracula is like the fog in the morning. Nobody ever sees it coming; yet it’s there. Unlike the Dracula of the novel, this one is not limited by cover of darkness. Dracula arrives in broad daylight, but few have seen it. Most air show spectators have no idea they share the field with Dracula.
Dracula was never meant to fly from show to show. Kyle built Dracula based on his father’s experience and realized that ferry flights were not efficient. They put needless expensive hours on the engine and could be hampered by weather. Besides ferrying Dracula is not nearly as much fun as wringing her out in the aerobatic box. Even if he wanted to, Dracula was not built for cross country, since to make her even lighter Kyle only installed one fuel tank that holds a mere 26 Gallons. Just enough for an hour of flight.
Kyle Franklin is the king of “themed air show acts”, starting back with his wife Amanda (who left us after an unfortunate and tragic accident) and the “Pirated Skies”. Kyle and Amanda would dress up as Pirates and fly a show set to a narrated pirate theme. Amanda would walk the wing looking better than any historical pirate and Kyle would fly. Fly they did; into a legendary act remembered by all who attended. I mean come on, another biplane doing loops and rolls doesn’t stick in your mind like a flying pirate ship.
It’s not well known that the Dracula theme was supported and heavily influenced by Amanda. Vampires are everywhere today (especially in New Orleans) and they are probably a close second to dinosaurs in capturing children’s imaginations. But to fly like Dracula you need an evil flying machine. The Dracula you see on the flight line is a totally custom built airplane. It wasn’t thought up overnight either. Kyle and his legendary father, Jimmy Franklin, started think about an ultimate classic looking aerobatic machine back in 2004. It was going to be a combination of a classic appearing airframe (say it looks like a Waco), with performance that matches the latest high powered monoplanes and biplanes. This is something that is not easy to do with an airframe so much larger than a high powered Pitts like the one flown by Skip Stewart.
The heart of the plane is the world’s first direct port fuel injected R985 producing 515+ horsepower, from Tulsa Aircraft Engines and Airflow Performance. There is a speed ring cowling wrapped around the engine. The airframe takes its inspiration from a Waco UPF-7 and stops at “inspiration”. It has ailerons that are full span, the wings are clipped two feet top and bottom allowing Dracula to roll at 300 degrees-per-second. The capstone is a MT propeller, which is 100 pounds lighter than stock allowing for a very responsive throttle. The entire airplane is designed to be taken apart and moved in a custom built trailer pulled by a custom built truck. Dracula can be assembled by 2 people in less than 3 hours and disassembled even faster. No special cranes or tools are need. Kyle brings everything and we mean everything; the truck is a camper and office, the trailer is loaded with spare parts and tools. There is even a fuel tank on board for Dracula.
Kyle is the second generation in an air show family. For those who don’t know, there are a lot of air show acts flying where you have a pilot who is retired from the airlines and has a pension check. Or they own a business that supports their air show habit. Maybe there is a MAJOR sponsor who can keep the air show on the road and in the skies. Kyle has product sponsors and lives the life. His income comes from 17 to 22 air shows a season and that’s it. Kyle is a modern version of a 1920s barnstormer and the last of the breed.
Kyle Frankilin is living the only life he has ever really known. Like a lot of us, he started flying when he was young and learned to fly in a Super Cub at age eight. That happens to be the SAME Super Cub he uses in his comedy act now. By age 12 he was working on the crew for his father Jimmy and living on the road. As soon as school was out for the summer, he would hop on an airliner and go to wherever dad was at and go to work for the rest of the summer. At age 17 he started wing walking professionally and became the world’s youngest professional wingwalker. His father taught him at age 14, first on the ground, then on the ground with the engine running and lots of propwash. After that was a long, long father-son talk about the risks involved. Then the first flight were he got up on the wing. After 8 years of wingwalking; he took over flying after his father was lost in a tragic airshow accident. His father’s career of 38 years came to an end. Since that time, Kyle has gone from the wing to the cockpit to making a living as an air show performer.
Dracula is a stunning machine to look at. It’s tall and the main gear puts it at a steep angle to allow clearance for that huge MT propeller. As you would expect, the paint is perfect and flawless. The combination of black, silver, and blood red is a real eye catcher with the stripes dripping blood. Things most don’t see until you look at it close are the two chrome exhaust pipes coming out of the bottom of the engine. They are far from simple exhausts, look closer; they are fangs. Facing with the power of Dracula, you need something to defend yourself with, and those are the “javelins”. The wooden dowels on the wings that stabilize the flying wires are called “javelins”. The javelins on Dracula are wooden stakes. pointed on one end and blunt on the other, for killing vampires. Really well done Kyle.
How does Dracula fly? Fast, aggressive; it’s a match for anything on the air show circuit and light years ahead of most. There are no slow climbs to the top of the box for another maneuver. Dracula assaults the air and roars to altitude. This is isn’t a 450 Stearman, this is something that makes you remember you’ve seen something unique and different. This is a show you are not going to forget, when you get home and all the rest of the acts have melted into a blob in your memory, you will remember Dracula and Kyle Franklin.
After the show, Dracula is towed in to a closed hangar, the transporter is backed in and an a few hours; Dracula is safely packed and ready to go to the next show. As you drive down the interstate, you will never know which truck and trailer may have Dracula on board.
You can reach the author Mark Hrutkay at TNMark1@GMail.Com.
Many thanks to Kyle Franklin for spending a morning of his valuable time with me, and also thanks to Heather Hodge and Hans Li for their assistance.
Fly safe Kyle.