Back in the mid 1980s, I bought a share in a flying club that owned a Piper J-5 Cub Cruiser. They hangared the aircraft at a grass field in northern Ohio called Sunset Strip. The membership cost $800. Flight time in the J-5 was, if I recall correctly, $4 an hour plus fuel. And avgas was a lot cheaper than gasoline because the highway taxes did’t apply. So I spent every free moment in the air.
The J-5 was produced in the mid 1940s. It was a taildragger like its more famous predecessor, the Piper J-3 Cub, but had a wider front seat and a larger engine. It also soloed from in front instead of in the rear like the J-3.
My flight instructor flew helicopters for the Ohio National Guard. He wasn’t like the guys who teach in Cessna 150s. Trust me on that. I spent my first several hours of ‘flight’ time doing high speed taxi manouvers on the grass. Then on that short strip of gravel. And, yeah, that’s a pond next to it. The gravel’s where he made me land. Until it rained. Then we used the water-soaked grass.
I’ve made several emergency landings over the years, and Dave Guerra’s the reason I was able to put my Aeronca Champ down safely in a small cow pasture.
Dave tried to get me to join the Guard and learn to fly Hueys. Seriously? Well, yeah. Have you ever flown in a helicopter? Way cool. Except I was like one year too old to join.
I’m not sure it would have worked out anyway. I have a spatio-temporal deficit that kept me from learning instrument. I can fly. I can fly by instrument. What I can’t do is keep track of where I am without some visual reference. I get half way around a holding pattern and something in my little brain forgets where I am in the loop and how the loop is oriented.
So I gave up ever being an airplane flight instructor. They’re required to have an instrument rating. Instead, I saved up money for my own plane.
Sunset Strip had an active Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) chapter. Most of the guys were either active or retired union workers–guys who could make anything if company management actually let them. Some were more interested in building their own airplanes than in flying them. So I bought a lovely homebuilt from a gentleman who was a perfectionist.
The Baby Ace is a single-seat, open-cockpit, taildragger. This one had a Continental engine and a nice wooden prop. Even leather trim and an oak dash. Only two minor problems, really. There was no way, at least not wearing a Laura Ashley dress, to get in or out of the cockpit in a dignified manner. And a single-seat aircraft meant learning to fly the Baby Ace without an instructor on board.