When It Comes To Having Fun, Pilot Goes Full Throttle

Saloon Owner's Passions: Beer And Biplane

November 12, 1990|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

Michael E. Ashford has this idea about moderation. Whenever possible, he tries to avoid it.

"I've never been too much for moderation in the fun things," said Ashford, who owns McGarvey's Saloon in Annapolis. "I think if you really want to do something, you do it. If you want to fly, you fly in the Air Force, you fly biplanes. If you want to drink, you buy a saloon."

Then maybe you combine the two. You produce a beer that flies under the biplane label. Call it "Aviator's Premium Special Reserve Ale."

Why not? After all, Ashford, a former Air Force pilot and retired Eastern Airlines captain, has already bought the biplane. It was completed this summer in Lansing, Mich., a two-winger designed by Hugo Bruckner and first built in 1935 by Weaver Aircraft Corp. -- hence the nickname, WACO.

Ashford keeps it at Easton Airport on the Eastern Shore.

"I think I like it for the same reasons I like a Morgan sports car," Ashford said. "You see all the cars today, they all look alike."

Yes, he's ordered a Morgan, too, from a classic car builder in San Francisco. That was 18 months ago. These things take time.

Ashford, who is 52, flew B-47s in the Air Force, then propeller planes and jets for Eastern for 21 years, until 1984. He flew the WACO for the first time in Lansing in 1988 and fell in love.

"It was designed for the beauty of the lines and the joy of flying. You can't look at this plane from any angle and not see something pretty."

Ashford is anxious for people to look at it from the angle that shows the beer label on both sides of the stretched-fabric fuselage. Because this is not just any toy. "It's sort of Aviator Beer's version of the Goodyear blimp," Ashford said.

Ashford figures on using the plane in advertising campaigns, perhaps auction off plane rides at local fund-raisers. He plans to have the plane's image etched in glass on the transom above McGarvey's front door.

He hopes the aviation angle will help him create a niche in the ever-expanding world of small-scale beer-brewing.

The brewmasters at the British Brewing Co. Inc. of Glen Burnie, the people who brew Oxford Class ale, produced the formula for a new pale ale -- creamier than the average beer. It's been on tap at McGarvey's since the spring and should be out in bottles at local stores by next month under the Aviator label.

"There's a school of beer connoisseurs who says they'd rather have one good beer than two watery ones," said Ashford.

There's that moderation business, again. Fashionable, yes, but perhaps unmanly, said Ashford.

"I guess the current fashion is to be almost sissy-like," said Ashford, who leans to the right politically and to the bar often enough. He likes his wine and beer year-round, his scotch in winter and his vodka in summer.

He likes his biplane, too, partly because it's such a challenge to fly.

With one 30-foot and one 26-foot wing and a big tail, the WACO is a bit harder to handle than the run-of-the-mill single-engine plane. First of all, the giant radial engine up front all but blocks the view ahead. And because of the wing and tail arrangement, the plane is more sensitive to wind changes than modern aircraft of similar size.

"You have to think a lot more, you have to be always flying," said Ashford.

There are better ways to travel, he said, but "there's a whole lot of satisfaction in landing this kind of an airplane well."

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