If Sun ‘n Fun gave an award for the most whimsical aircraft, Ed Grossheim of Camden, S.C., would likely take the prize with his airplane, a Cessna 120 painted to look like a honey bee.
The high-wing taildragger sports a brown and gold striped empennage with a whimsical cartoon bee painted on the side. Wherever he lands, the Cessna 120 attracts a crowd, including at this year’s Sun ’n Fun.
“People were lined up on their side of the taxiway taking pictures when we taxied in,” he said. “It just makes you want to wave. You’re a one-man parade.”
People’s reaction to the paint job depends on gender, he added. “Girls love it. They want their picture taken with it. Guys think it’s a little goofy,” said Grossheim, noting that the insect-inspired design was not his idea — it came from a previous owner.
“I haven’t owned the Bee that long,” said Grossheim.“I bought the airplane last May from a gentleman in Michigan. He had bought it from a lady, who bought it from a guy named Henry Hilbert, who was a beekeeper by trade. He used to market his honey in this airplane back in the 1950s and early ’60s. The plane was how he transported the honey to his customers in three counties up in Michigan. The airplane was his advertising gimmick.”
Grossheim traces his love of flying to his father, who was a B-17 pilot who flew 34 combat missions during World War II.
The younger Grossheim followed his father’s example and served in the Marine Corps and also in the Army for a total of 20 years. However, he did not pursue his pilot’s license until 1993, the year his father died.
At the time Grossheim was living in Massachusetts. He did his training at Executive Flyers in Ashton, a school owned by aerobatic pilot Mike Goulian. Mike’s father, Myron Goulian, was the examiner who administered Grossheim’s private pilot checkride in a Cessna 172.
“The day of the ride happened to be my now ex-wife’s birthday. I got in all sorts of trouble because I was late for the party,” Grossheim laughed.
Grossheim continued to train with Mike Goulian, learning aerobatics, then life got in the way and in 2000 he put flying on the back burner.
“I got back into it in 2010 when I moved to South Carolina. I had a motorcycle I had built, and I decided that I’d rather fly than ride, so I went shopping for an airplane,” he explained.
Grossheim chose the C-120 because it appealed to his sense of nostalgia. “I’m an older guy and I wanted an older airplane. I found a guy who was willing to trade me the Bee for the bike,” he said.
It was love at first flight for Grossheim.
“The Bee is a wonderful airplane! It is very fun to fly. It doesn’t have any bad habits to speak of except, of course, in crosswind landings the tail wants to come around, but that’s any tailwheel airplane. There are no flaps to worry about — it is as simple as it gets.”
When he finished his transition training and tailwheel certification for the Bee, Grossheim had his father’s military ID bracelet mounted on the panel “in homage to him,” he explained. “On my first solo flight, I ‘talked’ to my dad all the way through the pattern and landing, and ‘greased’ the landing, arguably the best landing I’ve done in the Bee. My dad was definitely flying copilot that day.”
Later that evening Grossheim watched “Always.” In the film the character played by Richard Dreyfuss is a firefighting pilot who, after his death, learns that he had another pilot spiritually flying with him the day of his first solo. “And it all kind of made sense to me,” said Grossheim.
The Bee has character, but it is showing its age. The paint is faded and the interior needs to be redone. Grossheim says a refurbishment is on his to-do list. He plans to start with the inside, because he isn’t sure what to do with the exterior.
“Every time I mention repainting it, I get a hoot and holler and a ‘don’t you dare! Keep that paint job!’” he laughed. “I am begrudgingly working on a new paint scheme, a little more attitude, a little more of a guy thing — more like a yellow jacket perhaps?”
He’s already made a few upgrades to the avionics. “The airplane came with a Cessna radio. This one is a TKM1000. It is a direct slider replacement. I got it because I wanted to upgrade to digital read-out and flip-flop capabilities. I also put the directional gyro back inside. The previous owner had taken it out to save weight. I put it back because I kind of liked it. I also added a GPS on the floor. I like charts, but I wanted that something extra.”
The powerplant is a Continental 85-12, which burns 5.5 gallons of 100LL per hour in cruise flight.
At Sun ‘n Fun Grossheim was the very image of an aviation enthusiast. He wore a leather jacket with a fur collar and Cessna 120/140 Association patch on it.
“I’m a new member and the state rep coordinator for the association,” he said. “I joined them last year. I love to volunteer for organizations like that. It’s an organization built up of owners of Cessna 120, 140 and 140As from across the world. We have people from as far away as England, Ireland and Australia.”
The Cessna patch is on the right side of the front of the jacket. On the left side he has a leather name patch with FAA pilot’s wings.
“I am a private pilot and the FAA certified me, so I figured I’d wear their wings,” he sighed, “but I’m thinking about upgrading to EAA wings or to my old Marine Corps crew chief wings.”
Grossheim’s volunteer efforts extend to cultivating the next generation of pilots.
“This airplane flies a lot of EAA Young Eagles,” he smiled. “I am the president of the local chapter in Camden. The kids are right up front because this airplane doesn’t have a back seat.”
This summer, Grossheim may pursue his commercial certificate. In the meantime, he continues to build his hours.
“Between May and December I’ve put 110 hours on the Bee,” he said with a grin, “with more to come.”