Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pants and a Piper Cub

Farming vs Flying
My first interest in aviation was at the early age of eight or nine-years-old. World War II had plunged the United States into the great conflict by an aerial attack on Pearl Harbor, and the war eventually filled the skies of Texas with military training aircraft.

The most prominent types were the BT 13 Vultees, PT 19 Fairchilds, and PT 17 Boeing Stearman - tail-draggers all. A few other lesser know types appeared from time to time. As I was hoeing weeds out of our cornfield on hot summer days, much to my parent’s displeasure, I spent a good bit of time staring up at the sky watching these planes and envying the young men who were preparing to become part of the world’s greatest air force. I made a promise to myself that one day I would be a pilot and, above all, I would have nothing to do with farming.

The war ended. We won. My desire to fly diminished, but never quite left me.

Crops and Cropdusting
Some ten years later I happened to meet a man who was a professional “cropduster” pilot. I was dating his daughter. I observed him plying his trade and the more I watched the more I became fascinated with this type of flying. He encouraged me to begin learning to fly and promised me that if I got a commercial license, he would put me to work. I enrolled in a flying school and soon had my private license. Some three months later he was killed in a cropdusting accident. That slowed me down and dampened my enthusiasm for the low and slow flying. Even so, I found I enjoyed flying so much that I spent every dime of my hard-earned money on airplane rentals.

With Friends Like This...

I had a friend who was also interested in learning to fly. He suggested that we pool our money and buy a small plane. We did. It was a two-place, sixty-five horsepower, Piper Cub, PA 15 Vagabond. A fun little tail-dragger plane. We hangered the plane at the old TCU airport just south of Fort Worth. This little country airport had one turf type runway of about fifteen hundred feet in length. There was a couple of small hangers and other out buildings. Altogether a very primitive, seldom used little airport, and a good place for a new pilot to practice and play.

One afternoon we drove out to the airport and I took my friend up, and we shot a couple of touch and go landings. After the third landing, I felt the urgent call of mother-nature. I left my friend seated in the plane with the engine running and repaired to the old-fashioned outhouse. While seated in the one-holer, I hear the engine RPM began to increase. The outhouse, being old and weathered, had cracks between the planks that I could see through. Suddenly I realized my non-flying buddy had decided to taxi out onto the airstrip!

He taxied to the far end of the strip, turned around and started back. Obviously he had convinced himself that he could handle the little ship and I could hear the RPM increase more and so did his taxi speed. Meantime, the thought jumped into my mind that my half of that airplane was firmly attached to his half! I speedily arose from the throne and stumbled from the outhouse with my pants at half-mast, intent on flagging him down. At about that same moment, the tail wheel left the ground. He careened sharply  to the right and made a wheel squealing ground-loop. Fortunately, he had enough presence of mind to chop the throttle and roll to a stop.

I was still standing outside the so-called country restroom with my pants just up to my knees when I suddenly realized that a car had pulled up in front of the hangers about thirty feet directly in front of me with a young man and three young ladies on board. They seemed to be fixated on the arrangement of my clothing as well as the strange behavior of the Vagabond cub. I quickly tugged at my pants as I trotted down to the cub and blasted my friend for endangering my half of the plane.

 He apologized and then said, “Did you see that car leave in a cloud of dust? I guess I must have scared them or something.”