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March 11, 2005
|January 10, 2007|
was the summer of 1969, there was a war on, and people were wearing flowers in
their hair in San Francisco. But the wind that blasted through the open windows
and into the back seats of the 7-AC Champ and the 7-ECA Citabria, where I spent
most of those long summer days, would have made short work of any decorating I
might have done to my head.
For the most part my thoughts that summer weren't on the war raging
in a place called Viet Nam, or even on what the Hippies were doing in
California. My mind was occupied with the challenge of turning my flying
business into a full-time endeavor, and hopefully one that would pay the bills
with enough left over to feed me.
I had become an instructor a few years before and had done free lance
instructing at some of the local airports for a time, but the urge to have my
own place kept eating at me. I wanted somewhere away from concrete and
corporations and grumpy airport managers. In early 1968 heard that an almost
abandoned 1600 foot grass field in Central West Virginia was available for rent
and at first glance looked like it might be the answer to my dream. I went to
I knew something about this field's past and as my footsteps tracked
across the dusty office and echoed in the empty hangars, history seemed etched
in the walls. The airport had played a part in the training of pilots during the
Second War, when a Civilian Pilot Training school had operated there, giving
pilots that would later see action in the skies of Europe, their first taste of
flight. After the war a very busy flight school trained returning veterans under
a GI Bill that not only paid for the training, but paid the students for getting
their license. When dozens of local people learned to fly, a sort of
aeronautical society sprang up, centered around the airport. It became a social
center for many, along with their families. Over the years I had heard many
stories from older pilots in the area, about the dances and picnics held there,
about the fly ins, the breakfast flights and the airshows. When the aeronautical
bubble burst in the early 50's and the post war aviation slump came, the airport
operator shut the business down and airport activity slowly spooled down, until
the only thing moving on this cold February day was the loose siding on the
hangar, slapping in a gusting wind.
Since the field was without an operator for almost 15 years, the empty space in
the hangars and office had become a magnet for things no one wanted. Friends
pitched in as we pitched out stored junk from the office and hangars, got the
rest rooms functioning and made an apartment in the back for my living quarters.
At the time I had a full-time job as a sales rep for a large company and I
traveled within a three state region. My weekends and evenings were free, so my
plan was to instruct when I wasn't traveling. My new aeronautical home would
give me a hangar to store and maintain the airplanes in, and it could be a sort
of gathering place for my flying friends. My dream had come true.
As word of the activity at the little grass strip spread, more and more students
appeared, and I found myself struggling to keep up with the demand for teaching.
By summer I caved in and hired a full-time instructor who could keep things
going when I was traveling and help me with the weekend crush. We were using
tube and fabric aircraft and our prices were about half of those of the 'normal'
flight schools that were using the new Cessna and Piper trainers. Students were
driving 50 miles or more to get to us, passing bigger airports and their shiny
new trainers to fly up a storm in our old taildraggers. A Piper J-3 soon joined
the Champ and the Citabria, then a very used 172 became our instrument trainer,
and our monthly flying hours kept increasing. Even better, the old social club
at the airport was reborn and the hangars once again resounded with the chatter
and laughter of happy people, as picnics, cookouts and fly ins were held there.
Many of the old flyers who had been part of the airport crowd in the old days
became involved in aviation and the airport once again, and scores of new flyers
and their families completed the airport's rebirth.
the spring of 1969 though, the unwelcome clouds of change appeared on the
horizon. The company that I did my 'real work' for notified me that I was being
transferred out of state and I had 30 days to get ready to move. I appealed to
them to let me stay in my present location and continue my work at the airport,
but the die was cast and the move must be made. It would mean of course, the end
of my little flight school and the idyllic life I had carved out at the Field.
To be continued