UN­USUAL AT­TI­TUDES

Flying - - DEPARTMENTS - By Martha Lunken

Brownie’s: A look at an­other field from the dis­tant past

An ac­quain­tance named Mark Bur­ton re­cently sent me a copy of his book about an air­port owned and op­er­ated by his fam­ily called Brownie’s. A few days later, I met a guy at a party who re­galed me (un­so­licited) with wild and woolly tales about fly­ing out of a now de­funct air­port called Brownie’s with his fa­ther, who kept an air­plane there. I know it, and found, on Paul Free­man’s great site Aban­doned and Lit­tle Known Air­fields (air­fields-free­man .com), lots of early Brownie’s lore and pho­tos in the South­west­ern Ohio section. So it seemed like the syn­ergy was there to share my mem­o­ries of this rather unique ’drome.

I’m not sure how I first found it; I sus­pect it was my friend Tom Byrne who pointed it out when we were fly­ing my Cub or his Champ Chal­lenger in the 1960s. In those air­planes, get­ting in and out of any­where was pretty much a no-brainer, but a few years later, when I had my fly­ing school and rental op­er­a­tion, I wor­ried that some renter or stu­dent would try. So, I took them into Brownie’s, which, at best, proved to be an eye-opener and, at worst, a gut-wrench­ing and har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for stu­dents and novice pi­lots ac­cus­tomed to a con­trolled air­port with long, well-main­tained, paved run­ways. I’m not sure if it was the world’s great­est idea — this in­tro­duc­tion to Brownie’s — but it seemed like it at the time.

“Look, this is the kind of place you need to know about — and avoid. But if you ever ab­so­lutely, pos­i­tively have to get on the ground — you’re sur­rounded by ugly weather, or lost and low on fuel, or have a prob­lem like high oil tem­per­a­ture and low pres­sure — and the near­est air­port looks some­thing like this, at least you’ll know you

can do it. So, let’s make some full-stop land­ings and take­offs, and you’ll learn how to do it … right.

The strip, chris­tened in the 1940s, was first on the charts as War­ren County, then Duff’s (af­ter the owner of a nearby smor­gas­bord restau­rant) be­fore it was fi­nally called Brownie’s. It had a home­made nar­row, “sort of” paved 2,100-foot run­way, which was dis­placed 200 feet when land­ing to the east. Stay with me and I’ll ex­plain why — pre­vail­ing winds be damned — you wanted to land to the east on Run­way 9 at Brownie’s. The thresh­old to 9 was dis­placed be­cause of some nasty tele­phone wires on the road right on the ap­proach end, but the re­main­ing us­able 1,900 feet was up­hill — well, un­til you got near the end. Then the last 250 feet dipped down a 3- to 4-foot grade, fol­lowed by an awe­some drop-off at the end.

It was, in fact, scary enough that I didn’t worry much about any­body at­tempt­ing it on their own.

But what fun it was for them to learn! What a con­fi­dence builder when “big-city air­port” pi­lots found that the Cessna 150 was the “lit­tle en­gine that could.” You just had to keep telling your­self, “I think I can, I think I can,” and use those short-field tech­niques you sim­u­lated on big, long run­ways. It was a great feel­ing when they found that, by do­ing it right, they could get in and out of Brownie’s.

You avoided us­ing Run­way 27, which, in these parts, is usu­ally into the pre­vail­ing wind, not only be­cause of the down­hill slope of the run­way but also some mean-look­ing and for­mi­da­ble high-ten­sion power lines on the ap­proach end. Ac­cord­ing to Mark, they were 1,000 feet out and only 14 feet higher than the air­port, so he claims, “They only looked to be a true ob­sta­cle. How­ever, one guy did

man­age to hit them.” Mark’s dad was a pi­lot who lived and ran a ma­chine shop on the strip, and Mark still op­er­ates a shop on a slightly longer grass run­way since the “pave­ment” is un­us­able. In his book, which has great pic­tures of the air­port and the peo­ple who used it over the years, he says, sadly (I think), “One day, in about 1983, when the fuel sup­ply fi­nally ran out, [we just didn’t] buy any­more.”

I can’t say I knew Brownie’s that well, or the peo­ple who hung out there, be­cause, in the ’70s and ’80s, it was pop­u­lated mostly by sky­divers. Some­body man­aged to get a DC-3 in and out of there, which im­presses the hell out of me. A pi­lot would have to make the ap­proach at some­thing less than the nor­mal 80 knots, and some of the “num­bers” in the man­u­als wouldn’t work, but given that, it’s pos­si­ble to get a Goon in and out of nearly any­where — as any old mil­i­tary pi­lot would at­test. Any­way, the sky­divers were in sev­enth heaven over the chance to jump from a DC-3/C-47.

Paul, him­self a pi­lot, started his Aban­doned and Lit­tle Known Air­fields web­site “to keep their sto­ries alive. It’s my niche and it’s be­come my pas­sion project.” He wel­comes any help peo­ple can give by send­ing him pho­tos and in­for­ma­tion about other fields you know about. If you haven’t looked at the site yet, you’re in for a treat. Click on your area to find lots of air­ports and fields you may re­mem­ber, and lots you prob­a­bly never knew ex­isted.

An­other field on Paul’s site that I re­mem­ber, Wright’s Farm, was on prop­erty owned by the pres­i­dent of a large lo­cal pa­per com­pany. It wasn’t too long, but it was re­ally nar­row. Bill Hogan, from nearby Hamil­ton Air­port, told me what a “hel­luva bitch” it was to pick up and drop off “Mr. Pa­per Com­pany” in his Cessna 310, es­pe­cially at night when the weather was down. I can’t be­gin to imag­ine, but I do know Bill could and did fly any­thing, any­where.

Mary and I flew over in our Er­coupe one af­ter­noon, and I as­sured her, when she re­marked there were cows all over the run­way, that we’d chase them off with a low pass. I can’t re­mem­ber how many passes we made, but the cows just looked bored and went back to graz­ing and I fi­nally gave up; in a con­fronta­tion be­tween a cow and the Er­coupe, you can imag­ine who’d win.

There are lots of old, aban­doned or re­lo­cated air­ports in south­west­ern Ohio, prob­a­bly be­cause it’s the birth­place of avi­a­tion. How fas­ci­nat­ing it is to see air­ports you never knew ex­isted — some still barely vis­i­ble, oth­ers oblit­er­ated by shop­ping cen­ters, hous­ing de­vel­op­ments and soc­cer fields.

And how sad.

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