SIS­TERS AND ERCOUPE AD­VEN­TURES

OUR EAR­LI­EST FLY­ING EX­PE­RI­ENCES CAN CRE­ATE SOME OF OUR FOND­EST MEM­O­RIES

Flying - - UNUSUAL ATTITUDES - By Martha Lunken

It’s been said that you don’t ac­tu­ally re­mem­ber an event from your past; what you re­call is your last mem­ory of it.

Maybe, but I’ve kept lit­tle day books since about 1970, so I can usu­ally re­con­struct events with some de­gree of ac­cu­racy — both for­tu­nate and un­for­tu­nate be­cause it’s all there, the good and the not so good. My sis­ter has solemnly sworn to de­stroy this cache be­fore the dust set­tles and/or all parts of me and the air­plane are re­cov­ered. But since th­ese rem­i­nis­cences pre­cede those logs, I’ll do my best.

Mary and I be­gan fly­ing in win­ter 1961-62, in what was, I sus­pect, a far­less-than-air­wor­thy 1946 Ercoupe squat­ting in a muddy field on the south line at Lunken Air­port. When we showed up for our first lessons, they were resched­uled be­cause the nose­wheel tire was flat and a wing tank had sprung a leak. The new, young me­chanic who re­paired it was a lit­tle scruffy look­ing and not too well spo­ken, but I would later learn that the

only A&P school in the state of Ohio was the Chillicothe Re­for­ma­tory.

This Ercoupe had no gyro in­stru­ments, and the turn and bank in­di­ca­tor had been lib­er­ated from some­body’s Link trainer so the whole in­stru­ment rolled left and right with the air­plane. I mar­vel when I think about cor­ro­sion is­sues with “min­i­mally main­tained” Er­coupes, but I guess that an­gel was work­ing over­time be­cause N341 valiantly stayed in one piece.

We flew it on gen­er­ous loan from the own­ers, two young priests whose prized pos­ses­sion had slipped un­der the radar of the lo­cal arch­bishop — a hu­mor­less, self-im­por­tant guy who lived in a man­sion built by Powel Crosley (did Je­sus re­ally have this in mind for the “shep­herds” of his flock?). When His Ex­cel­lency found out and they were or­dered to di­vest them­selves of this fri­vol­ity, Mary and my dad each kicked in half and bought it for $2,500. Hav­ing no money, I kicked in noth­ing but flew the hell out of it. Af­ter one les­son my father de­cided fly­ing wasn’t for him.

My par­ents were un­happy when my grades in col­lege went from straight A’s to in­clude a smat­ter­ing of B’s, so I was un­der strict or­ders to stay away from the air­port. So the morn­ing af­ter they left for a Mex­ico va­ca­tion I rode the city bus to Lunken Air­port (in­stead of col­lege) and walked down Air­port Road. There was 341, sit­ting as usual in the grass. No prob­lem.

Wrong — prob­lem! My father had wrapped a hefty chain with a big pad­lock around the prop. So I was forced to en­list the aid of my new best friend from the re­for­ma­tory, who deftly wielded a bolt cut­ter. Af­ter two weeks of fly­ing to my heart’s con­tent (it had no tell­tale hour meter) he re­in­stalled the chain and pad­lock.

Mary left teach­ing late that spring to work for Lake Cen­tral Air­lines as a stew­ardess in its DC-3s, and I had a later train­ing date as a host­ess with TWA in Kansas City. A newly li­censed pri­vate pi­lot, she was on standby and liv­ing at home but would drive her VW Bug across town to Lunken to prac­tice touch-and-goes in the Ercoupe. If the air­line called her for a flight my mom would call the tower and they’d tell 341 to “make it a full stop.” She flew the Coupe to CVG (the big air­port) for a flight one af­ter­noon and, float­ing down fi­nal for Run­way 18, the tower sent the 707 be­hind her around. Un­like her younger sis­ter, Mary was shy, apolo­getic and hugely em­bar­rassed, but she still talks about look­ing up, hear­ing a tremen­dous roar and see­ing “a sky filled with alu­minum.” The Lake Cen­tral crews thought it was rather funny, and one guy com­puted it cost the air­line more to send the jet around than the Ercoupe was worth.

Drop­ping her off at CVG one af­ter­noon, I landed on 18L — ex­cept there was no 18L. It was a taxi­way. Well, a re­ally wide taxi­way. No prob­lem, no NASA forms, no let­ters from the FAA. It was a dif­fer­ent time.

Then there was the blue­bird af­ter­noon that spring when I flew N341 to In­di­anapo­lis’ Weir Cook Air­port for the fun, I think, of be­ing al­lowed to check weather at Lake Cen­tral Op­er­a­tions. In those days Lunken had noth­ing more than a chat­ter­ing tele­type ma­chine manned by the jan­i­tor in the ter­mi­nal build­ing.

Af­ter park­ing at Roscoe Turner Avi­a­tion, I went in­side and was greeted by a tall older man with a mus­tache. Now, here’s where the mem­ory thing comes into play. I re­mem­ber this was Roscoe Turner him­self, and that he showed me his Turner Spe­cial hang­ing from the rafters in an ad­ja­cent han­gar. But, while I knew he was kind of fa­mous, I had no idea how fa­mous — all the records, air races and tro­phies; his fa­mous lion, Gil­more; and even his Dis­tin­guished Fly­ing Cross. When I told him I’d flown in from Cincin­nati Lunken, he smiled and said he had fond mem­o­ries of that air­port.

The flight home was also mem­o­rable. To this day, I re­mem­ber the mag­netic course from KIND to KLUK is 117 de­grees. At that time I was, uh, nav­i­ga­tion­ally chal­lenged and hadn’t ab­sorbed the con­cept of a com­pass rose and courses or head­ings be­ing three-digit num­bers. So af­ter leav­ing In­di­anapo­lis, I turned to my com­puted head­ing of 170 de­grees and, a half-hour later, was lost over the wilds of In­di­ana.

Even­tu­ally, I re­al­ized that “one seven­teen” and “one sev­enty” are very dif­fer­ent and take you to very dif­fer­ent places. When I found my­self on the sectional I re­al­ized I was south of (and had barely avoided) the Camp At­ter­bury re­stricted area. That big air­port to the east was prob­a­bly Free­man Field in Sey­mour, In­di­ana, so I landed and con­firmed it by check­ing to see where the string started on the big wall chart (you old guys know what I’m talk­ing about). Then I plot­ted a two-legged course — north­east to North Ver­non Air­port and then east, around an­other re­stricted area, home to Lunken. Nav­i­gat­ing in In­di­ana, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that North Ver­non is in the south, South Bend is in the north and French Lick isn’t, uh, what it sounds like.

Years later, comb­ing boxes in the old Queen City Fly­ing Ser­vice han­gar at Lunken, I dis­cov­ered why Roscoe had fond mem­o­ries of Lunken Air­port. It seems he’d been a friend of part-owner Max Sch­mid­lapp and had hid­den his Turner Spe­cial racer in the back of Queen City’s han­gar for over a year to keep it from the clutches of a soon-to-be-ex-Mrs. Turner. Af­ter the di­vorce dust set­tled, his rental bill was con­sid­er­able. Roscoe, I think, lived pretty close to the edge. In the copy of a charm­ing let­ter, Max told Roscoe his air­plane was ready any­time, and con­sider the rent “a gift from a friend.”

I RE­MEM­BER THIS WAS ROSCOE TURNER HIM­SELF, AND THAT HE SHOWED ME HIS TURNER SPE­CIAL HANG­ING FROM THE RAFTERS IN AN AD­JA­CENT HAN­GAR.

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