Monday, February 14, 2011

Chapter 6 Flying High

Dad learned to fly in an open cockpit biplane in about 1929. I remember going out north of Lubbock on the Amarillo highway to the airfield to watch Dad practice takeoffs and landings in that biplane. Dad’s instructor was a pilot named Ben Branson. He and Dad flew to Austin in 1930 in an open cockpit biplane. Dad was doing his first “cross country” and Ben handed him a note with instructions. The note said for Dad to take over and fly to Austin by himself but to know where he was at all times.
clip_image002Of course, they had no radio or intercom in those days but the fuselage was all open between the two cockpits so you could pass a note from one pilot to the other. Notice they got each other’s attention by shaking the control stick. Apparently, the oil pressure gauge was  only in one cockpit. Knowing where you were all the time was a challenge. All little towns painted their name on their water towers. Since there were no radios or navigation equipment, if you got lost you flew down close to the ground and checked the name on the water tower to figure out where you were.
After getting his pilot’s license Dad bought a 1929 Curtis Robin Cabin plane. It was a three passenger plane with two seats behind the pilot. The seats were made of wicker. The pilot sat up front alone and the two passengers were behind him. The pilot had a control stick, and this was before any airplanes clip_image002[6]had “steering wheels” to control them. 
On one particularly memorable trip, Dad was flying alone over the Davis Mountains in West Texas when his engine quit. In those days, everyone wore parachutes when they flew. He could not get the engine started so he got out on the step and started to drop off and bail out when he spotted a corral down by a railroad. He figured it was big enough to land in, so he got back in the plane and glided down like a big buzzard, going round and round and got lined up to land. As he came in, he barely made it to the corral. He knocked the top board off the fence but set the plane down successfully.
However, the pen was not as large as he thought, so when he got to the other end he was still rolling pretty fast and he ground looped the plane. It finally stopped, he got out, gathered up his stuff, and walked over to the fence next to the railroad track. He said it was six hours before the first freight came by. It was moving pretty slow so he jumped on and rode the train into the next town where he got a car and went on to Austin to bid on a job. They had to come in and dismantle the plane to get it out of the corral. After it was dismantled, they put it on a freight car because there were no roads anywhere close.

No comments:

Post a Comment