For regular readers of this blog, and seriously, what are the odds there are regular readers of a blog that hasn’t been updated in almost a year, I must apologize for having been away for a while. A long while, in fact. Doing things. Important things. Things that are important to me, in any case.
Perhaps I should explain myself.
Regular readers know that I write for a living. It’s writing that paid for the house, the cars, the motorcycles, the electric bill, the kid’s braces, and all the sundry items that go into making a fine suburban American life. I enjoy writing. It soothes me in a way that sitting in traffic, waiting in line at the bank, and standing behind the woman who rolls a full shopping cart into the ten items or less line at the super market, never could.
I am a writer.
But “writer” doesn’t really describe who I am any more than it fully describes what I do. It’s just a facet of my life. An important facet, undoubtedly. Yet it’s still just a sliver of the fuller life that lies largely hidden from the printed page.
For the past year I’ve been sidetracked in the most enjoyable way. I’ve been flying a lot, you see. Not on Delta, or Southwest, or any of the commercial carriers you might be thinking of, however. No, I’ve been flying a seventy-seven year old fabric covered airplane that has worked itself into my heart in a way no machine ever has before.
There is a literary link to this love affair, of course. This journey begins on Runway 5 at Winter Haven Municipal Airport at Gilbert Field, in Winter Haven, Florida. It was on that very field, in a wood frame house that used to sit on the edge of Lake Jessie, that Richard Bach wrote, Illusions: the Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. One of my favorite books. That was forty years ago, and my little yellow Piper Cub was nearly that many years old.
That house is gone now and Richard moved away long ago. But the aura of his clever storytelling remains. And there are airplanes, of course. Lots of fascinating airplanes, as well as the amazing men and women who operate them.
The designer of the venerable Piper J3 Cub, Walter Jamonuneau, was sixty-five years old forty years ago. It is his signature that graces the original Statement of Conformity paperwork that made my airplane legal to fly away from the factory in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania all those years ago. Mr. Jamouneau was a spry twenty-seven year old at the time, less than two weeks away from his twenty-eighth birthday.
He was just a baby. I’m nearly sixty years old at this point, so anyone under thirty strikes me as a baby, or a very large toddler. But this particular baby designed and oversaw the production of what may well be the most popular and beloved airplane ever built. Not the most produced. That title goes to the Cessna 172. It is the Piper Cub that is most revered, though. Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of pilots logged their first flights in the lowly Piper J3 Cub. Sporting only 65 horsepower, a wooden propeller, and barely enough space for two adults to strap inside the cockpit, the Cub has a casual elegance that is difficult to describe, and virtually impossible to replicate.
Unlike modern aircraft, the Cub didn’t come with a Airplane Flight Manual filled with specific details about the airplane and its various systems. No, the Cub came with what amounts to a comic book. It included all sorts of great information about the airplane, how it was built, the variants of the basic model that were available, and even a lovely pictorial spread that explained how to fly the airplane. It’s a hoot. A blast from the past. A riot.
And so, dear reader, please know that I have no abandoned you, I’ve merely gone on a quest to seek out a historic adventure in a machine that I have the good fortune to be caretaker for at the moment. One day it will pass to someone else, as it has over the many decades between its production and eventual arrival in my airplane hangar. From Pennsylvania, to Kansas, to Missouri, and then Louisiana, it has traveled. It lived in Texas for many years before moving north to Minnesota, then on to North Dakota, before it came to me on the big, swampy sandbar known as Florida.
All of life presents us with stories. I’m living with an interesting one at the moment. Perhaps I’ll tell you more about it one day. I am a writer, after all. It’s practically duty to fill in the blanks and provide a story to bring life to the inanimate love of my life – a 1940 Piper J3 C-65 Cub.