Flights & Fancy: When Pigs Fly

An ingenious new use for an old Cessna

BILL ROUSSEAU LIVES IN GRAIN VALLEY, Missouri, about 25 miles east of Kansas City—in his words, "the center of the universe for barbecue. It's a religion around here." Along with his skydiving partner, Marty Edwards, Rousseau for years has barbecued in teh back yard and the driveway and watched barbecue contests on TV. (Bill specializes in pork ribs; Marty's more a beef brisket man.)

One fall night in 1990, Rousseau and three members of teh Missouri River Valley Skydivers parachuted into the first high school football game of the season, carrying the game ball. "There was a barbecue contest going on across the street," Rousseau says, "so we went over with our ground crew and wandered around. I'd never really been to one before, and you know, those people were having too much fun. So we said, 'We can do this.'"

One interesting thing, Rousseau discovered, was the "many different kinds of barbecue grills. There's thousands of different cooker designs. People have built them to look like steam engines, like armadillos, like pigs. I've seen them built into the trunks of cars. There's one guy down in Texas who built one to look like a large revolver."

A gun?

"Yeah, the smoke comes out of the barrel. So I saw you could do pretty creative things with barbecue grills." A few weeks later, Bill discovered a wrecked Cessna 185.

"We were out at the airport in Lexington, Missouri," Rousseau explains. "I'd made a couple skydives that morning, and then it got cloudy and windy so I was just wandering around. I saw this fuselage and thought, Hmm, that would make an interesting grill."

The 43-year-old airplane had been damaged in a thunderstorm. "One of the tie-downs broke under the wing, and the storm flipped it over on the tail. The insurance company totaled it, so it ended up in a scrap yard.

"We jump out of Cessnas, and because this one had been flipped over, the landing gear was still in good shape. They could take those parts off and use them on your jump planes. I asked them, 'What are you going to do with the rest of this?'"

The answer, after all the useful parts had been stripped off, was "Not much." Rousseau was welcome to the rest of the airplane.

"We drug the fuselage home on a trailer and stuck it in my garage. Then the next time Marty came over, I told him, 'We're going to build a barbecue grill out of this.' He told me I was crazy, and I said, 'That's beside the point, we're gonna build a grill out of this.'

"We sat there for like two days in lawn chairs, drinking beer, trying to figure out how we were going to do this," Rousseau says. "Finally we just ordered some steel, fired up the cutting torch, and went after it.

"To make it into a smoker, basically, function had to follow form. We built a heavy steel fire box, lined it with fire brick, then hooked it, using large steel pipes, to the cook box, all inside the cockpit of the airplane. If you're familiar with Cessnas, you open the luggage door to access the fire box, where we put the charcoal and the wood.

"The pilot's door is not on it. The passenger door is, though; that's on the show side of the plane. It's painted dark blue and silver, and we've got nose art too.

"Then we hit on the idea of putting a rotisserie inside the cockpit, so Marty salvaged an elevator door mechanism from work and we mounted it inside the nose of the airplane. Basically it looks almost like a Ferris wheel inside there, four long thin racks going around in a circle."

The barbecuing team, originally just Bill and Marty, became known as the Swine Flew. Their motto: "There is no cure."

"Our only rule," Rousseau explains, "is if anybody gets caught taking it serious, they can't play anymore." Depending on personal schedules, as many as five or six other skydivers, private pilots, and friends join the two at cooking contests, where Swine Flew has won over 75 ribbons and trophies. Certainly their Cessna cooker attracts at least as much attention as the food produced in it.

"The largest single animal we've had in there was a 265-pound-dressed-weight whole hog," Rousseau says. "That thing was huge. One time I put 24 or 25 full-size turkeys in there and smoked those."

It's interesting, I say, that turkeys don't really fly, yet they all got in the airplane.

"Well, they went willingly, and they were delicious."

—Richard Sassaman


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