Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cookie's new toy, along with some interst'n history.

Back in 1956, several months after Cookie's 12th birthday and a week or so after Christmas, my brother Bob, who was already an accomplished pilot at the age of 24, took me out to Cicero Airport in Cicero, NY for my first flight lesson. He had bought me this flying lesson as my Christmas present.

The first person I was introduced to was the owner of the airport and the chief flight instructor, Billy Michaels. More interest'n things about Billy further down the story.

It was cold January day and all the aircraft at the airport were equipped with ski's for taking off and landing in the snow.

I can still recall climbing into the front seat of the ice cold cockpit and the thrill of the sound of the Piper's engine as it roared to life. A J-3 Piper Cub was simply made of treated fabric and a metal frame, there was no internal cockpit heat. The plane chattered and vibrated as we taxied down the dirt/grass runway to get into take off position. At that time Cicero airport was simply a grass field landing strip, there was no paved runway or taxi strip. My teeth and lower jaw were also shivering and chattering and to this day I'm still not sure if this was from the aircraft's vibration or the cold winter air seeping into the cockpit through various gaps in the side door, or was it from the excitement and a tinge fear.

After Billy instructed me how to, and do "hands on" for the pre-flight check list, flight controls, left mag, right mag, carburetor air heat, tachometer readings, brakes etc., he had me go hands off the controls for the take-off and he pushed the throttle control full forward. The engine roared to full speed and we accelerated down the snow filled runway. I was absolutely thrilled as I watched the ski's leave the ground and we were airborne. The bouncing and vibration stopped and I watched as the cars on Route 11 grew smaller and smaller.

Upon reaching 1000 feet altitude, he told me to take the stick and told me to take us to 5000 feet. Upon reaching 5000 feet, he had me do a series of flight maneuvers so I could get accustomed to the feel of the aircraft. One hour later we landed and from that day on I was hooked on flying and solo'd on my 16th birthday. Federal Law at that time prohibited solo flights by people under the age of 16.

As anyone who follows Cookies blog knows, Cookie loves to fly, but, being diabetic, the FAA prohibits folks like me from obtaining a Pilots License unless its one of the new Sport licenses which allows one to fly Ultralights. Another story.

Yesterday, Christmas day my wife Elaine had gotten me a model Radio Controlled, Electric J-3 Piper Cub with a five foot wingspan. You know us guys, we love our toys, so when I unwrapped this beauty, it immediately brought back a ton of memories which I'm sharing with y'all know.

Below, are two still images of the model and a short video of what the model looks like in flight.

This photo gives y'all a perspective on the actual wingspan, 5 feet.

Below photos were taken of myself and my grandson Gabriel next to a Piper J-3 Cub and a WWII Curtis P-40 Flying Tiger aircraft at a Classic Aircraft Airshow in Geneseo, NY, about two years ago.

Now Sir, the photo of the Curtis P-40 Flying Tiger aircraft bring me to the interesting side note in this story. Back on the day of my first flight lesson in 1956, I had been told by one of the airport staff that Bill Michaels had flown combat missions with General Claire Chennault's in China with the famous "Flying Tigers" in 1937. I'm not sure of the truth of this story but I did also hear it from some other folks.

The Flying Tigers were a group of American "mercenary" pilots that flew for the Chinese Air Force and fought against the Japanese. At that time, America was not yet officially in the war so any pilots flying with the Tigers were in fact personally contracted to the Chinese. One of the pilots who also flew with the Tigers would later become very famous and win the Congressional Medal of Honor and this was Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (photo below) who would become well known for his exploits and adventures with the famous "Black Sheep Squadron" in the Pacific theater of operation. Many of you have probably watched the old TV show/series, "Baa Baa Black Sheep", the story of a group of misfit Marine pilots (of course ALL Marines are misfits).

So, its possible that Billy Michaels at one time flew alongside "Pappy Boyington.

OK, thats it fer t'day. All these memories and info were triggered by a great Christmas gift from a wonderful, caring wife. Me Irish lass Elaine.