Among the dozens of unique homebuilt aircraft that showed up in Mitchell this year, there was one airplane that really stuck out from the crowd: a green-on-cream Piel CP-328 Super Emeraude inscribed with the cursive name “Elso.” Though Emeraudes are common in Europe, they are fairly rare on this side of the Atlantic, particularly this model. Surrounded by high-powered speed machines, the classic lines of Claude Piel’s whimsical design were even more apparent, and the airplane drew its share of curious admirers. It was the first time an Emeraude has raced in the AirVenture Cup. Elso’s pilot, on the other hand, is a familiar face to AVC regulars. Carri Hoagland has volunteered at the AVC since 2009, and raced her 1946 Taylorcraft BC12D, “Dream Catcher,” in 2012 and 2013. She was planning on racing the T-Craft again this year until fate and a six-foot snowbank intervened. The tale of how Carri and Elso came together is a remarkable one. It begins with Carri hanging in the shoulder harness of her beloved Dream Catcher, shocked and scared, as it lay flipped upside-down on a snowy Wisconsin runway.
On February 8th, Carri and her friend Theresa were on their way to the annual EAA skiplane fly-in at Oshkosh. Nearly all of Carri’s 1100 flight hours were in Dream Catcher, and she regularly flew it out of unimproved hay fields on both wheels and skis. This morning, though, she was using Runway 18/36, the designated ski-plane strip at Hartford (WI) Municipal Airport. The previous night she had landed on the southern edge of the airfield, and so hadn’t noticed that while the crosswind runway hadn’t been plowed since the most recent snowstorm, it still had large snowbanks on each side. She discovered them halfway down Runway 36 during her takeoff run – “at about 55 mph,” she recounts. “I hit the first bank, shot across the unplowed runway, hit the north bank, and flipped over on the roof. Then it got real quiet. I told Theresa to get the hell out; I was worried about fuel from the tanks leaking and a possible fire. I unlatched both of our shoulder straps and we crashed to the ceiling.” While Carri and Theresa escaped with just a few scratches, Carri was “crying, in shock, and scared to death” from the close scrape and the damage done to her prized, highly-modified Taylorcraft. Fortunately, she had good friends nearby.
“I called [AVC Chairman] Eric Whyte, and he and Craig Henry came from Milwaukee at warp speed. By then I had lots of wonderful guys helping. I just kind stood back as all the folks got equipment, men and help.” In short order, Dream Catcher was stored in a local hangar and Carri was sorting out legalities with the FAA. It wasn’t the first time Carri’s AirVenture Cup friends came through in a time of need. In 2008, her eldest daughter Erica, an accomplished corporate, aerobatic, and racing pilot, was killed in a crash while qualifying at Reno. “The AVC folks wrapped their arms around me after my daughter died, and have not let go of me since,” Carri says. As much as Carri loved Dream Catcher, its loss paled compared to the loss of her daughter, or the life-shaking changes Carri experienced when she came out as transgendered and underwent sex-reassignment surgery in 2003 (a topic on which she now speaks to groups nationwide). With the help of her faithful friends, this too could be overcome.
“Less than 30 days after the accident, Eric Whyte called me and told me I had to get back on the horse. He said he had just the plane for me.” The airplane that Whyte had in mind was owned by his friend and former colleague, Iain Day. “I called Iain up and made a deal. The neat thing is that he knew Erica when she was a captain for Citation Shares,” notes Carri. “He was glad the Emeraude was staying ‘in the family.’” Soon after Day delivered the airplane from Boston, Carri had the cursive “Elso” applied to the cowling. “The name was chosen by my two daughters. From the time that their sister Erica could speak, until she came home with two Masters degrees, she would pronounce ‘also’ as ‘elso,’” Carri recalls with a chuckle. One of Carri’s first flights in Elso was over Erica’s gravesite, showing off her new pride and joy to an airplane-loving daughter who would have wholeheartedly approved.
The 2014 AirVenture Cup was Carri and Elso’s first long adventure together. The Emeraude, while considerably slower than the other homebuilts in the Formula FX Red class, makes much better time than the Taylorcraft. Carri and Elso covered the 423 statute miles from Mitchell to Wausau in 3:14:50 for an average speed of just over 130 mph. “I didn’t have to get up and leave at the crack of dawn this year to make the finish line before everyone was having desert at the awards banquet!” Carri says. Still, she found the race experience to be similar to her previous runs with Dream Catcher. “The race is still about the people, and maybe if you have time, the race itself. It’s like Oshkosh: 10% airplanes and 90% friends.” Many AVC racers say this is what brings them back year after year, but Carri knows first-hand just how deep the friendships formed over an airplane race can reach. It’s a fair bet that come next July, Carri Hoagland’s pretty green-on-cream Super Emeraude will be gracing Mount Vernon’s ramp, attracting a crowd of curious admirers with its classic lines and whimsical appeal.