Joy of flight is in my genes

Aug 15, 2013

Was I born to fly?  As a pilot… No.  As a willing passenger… Yes!  I was raised around the flying of private aircraft.  My Dad got enthused over flying in his late 40s.

He was a master trader, which netted him a very airworthy, fabric-covered Piper J-3 in a swap of a rusted out hulk of a 1912 Model T with blackberry brambles growing out of its piston holes.

When the family moved from our Tumwater home to Yelm, Dad landed the J-3 in our back yard.  Soon he acquired permission to utilize the adjacent barren pasture.  As soon as we cleared the many large boulders, he was able to fly into that short but decent landing area where we could tie down the plane.

At the age of 15, I was his willing and excited passenger, and I spun the prop by hand to start the 38 horsepower engine.  Then I would run around to the folding side opening and pile into the back seat of the 2-passenger, tandem-seat aircraft.  Dad and I spent many flights over Yelm, Rainier and Tenino.

The underpowered J-3 wasn't much for aerobatics, but I couldn't get enough of intentional stalls, spins and other aerial maneuvers of which the plane was capable.  On one occasion, at about 4,000 feet, I encouraged Dad to go into a tight spin over a certain farm house where a girl of whom I had taken notice lived.

She later became my wife (now past 60 years) but her father, at the time, complained that his chickens stopped laying and his cow went dry.  A lot of imagination prompted those claims, I'm guessing.

Once my Dad flew to Oregon to visit the family where all of the younger ones were attending some kind of a Bible camp with my mother.  That left me the only one at home as two older brothers had joined the Navy and our oldest sister had gotten married.

On his return trip, he encountered a layer of fog over the Columbia River but, thinking that it wasn't terribly unusual, he proceeded north until he had gone so far that a return was impossible and the fog hadn't abated.

In heavy fog I heard him fly over our house at a low altitude. Worried, I wasn't too surprised a couple hours later to get a call from him to drive to the town of Rainier to pick him up.

He had, with his last quart of fuel, elected to stall the plane out over a stand of young alders on a small mountain top.  He survived reasonably unscathed, but the plane was nearly demolished.

We borrowed a jeep a short time later, and towed the remains out of the brush and to the Spanaway airport where he swapped it for several hours of time in another craft.

Yup, Pappy was a master trader and an exceptional pilot, though a little too much of a dare devil.

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