The Places You'll Go
Baron - 4
Baron - 3
Baron - 2
Baron - 1
the Cassutt - 2
Up in WV
Rico - 2
on the Roof
leaving Buckhannon in the early seventies for the new FBO in
Morgantown, I keenly felt the attraction of the small grass
airports whereI had cut my aeronautical teeth. The airport at
Morgantown had many advantages for the flying business but I
missed the camaraderie I'd enjoyed at the small airports. Then
too, because Morgantown was located at the very northern border
of the state, I missed the central area of West Virginia, where
I grew up.
Fortunately almost every airport has a sub
culture of aviators who love the little, slow airplanes that
were built so long ago and the adventures that flying such
machines can bring. Morgantown was no exception. Flying,
servicing and selling new airplanes was our job and it paid the
bills, but for social aeronautics my tastes ran to yesterday's
aviation scene. Our Cub was a perfect fit with the Aeronca's,
Luscombe's and Cessna 140's that were pulled from Morgantown's
hangars on pretty week ends, and we happily became a part of a
group looking for summer taildragger adventures.
course there were the twenty five dollar hamburger flights to
airport restaurants in the area, and flights to see some
attraction or the other, and the flights to area airshows, but
the group fly in camping trips were my favorite. When summer
high pressure systems came floating along and the forecast
bespoke of a weekend with weather too perfect to not be in the
sky, we would get our heads together and pick a small airport
with a friendly FBO and acres of manicured grass to stake our
airplanes to and pitch our tents on. Friday evenings would see
us all airborne, our formation of bug smashers spread across the
sky, highlighted by the golden, slanting light.
our favorite camping destinations was Simpson Field, a 1300 foot
grass field, where as a Private Pilot I had spent summers just
hanging around, learning about aviation and where eventually I
started my instructing career. Simpson was located near the farm
where I grew up and it was run by Wilbur Simpson, a WWII aviator
who built the field after returning from the Army Air Corps. He
had trained scores of area Vets on the GI Bill after the war,
but by the seventies his training activity had declined and the
short runway discouraged most pilots from trying to shoehorn
their airplane into the strip, so he welcomed the activity that
our armada of campers brought to his airport when we descended
at Wilbur's were spent taking short flights around the area,
swimming in the pond below the runway, cleaning and waxing our
airplanes and just relaxing in the quiet of this special place.
Nights brought campfires, preparing and sharing meals and
spinning flying stories in the best 'around the campfire'
tradition. Sometimes there would be music, when a guitar was
We would ordinarily strike camp, pack up and
head back to the ordinary life of serious airplanes on Sunday
afternoon, but on occasion, wanting to wring just a little more
out of the weekend, we stayed over Sunday night and made an
early departure on Monday morning.
such weekend, when the weather had been particularly beautiful
and the campfire music and conversation most scintillating, we
decided once again, to delay our return to the real world until
Monday morning. At about seven that morning we checked the
Morgantown weather and found it to be clear with 3 mile
visibility in haze, much as it was at our location.
I recall, some of the other campers decided to wait for better
visibility, so only the Cub, with me flying and Barbara in back
with our 3 month old German Shepherd on her lap, Sam, with his
Cessna 140 and Skip in the Chief took off for Morgantown.
this age of 150 knot airplanes being the norm, 3 miles is very
minimal visibility and the edge of your vision forward is not
much more than a minute away. While legal, it is a stressful and
uncomfortable flight condition.
But the 70 knots that
our antique machines were traveling this morning (Sam and Skip
had slowed to accommodate the Cub) enabled us to see almost
three minutes ahead and while not ideal I felt it was a
reasonable condition to be flying in. Soon though, the haze
seemed to thicken and I saw the three miles visibility became
two miles and then one. In what seemed like an instant and
before we could turn and start back to Wilbur's airport, the
mist below us closed up and became a solid undercast.
so there we were, three experienced IFR rated pilots in three
very VFR airplanes, caught on top of clouds like the most
careless student. We closed up our formation and with hand
signals agreed that we should continue on north, in the
direction of Morgantown in hope of clearing or at least a hole.
aloft gradually improved to five miles or so, but the undercast
remained stubbornly solid. Nearing Morgantown, Sam and Skip
signaled that they were descending and started down. I was
unclear about their intentions and as I watched I was horrified
to see them descend into the undercast. I knew none of us were
equipped for instrument flying and I wasn't about to join them
in what I felt would be a deadly attempt to find the airport. We
flew on north..
After about forty minutes of very
tense progress, I saw a hill in the distance, poking up out of
the clouds, like a green island in a sea of white. At that
moment I felt the happiness that I suspect a shipwrecked sailor
must feel upon spotting an atoll in the distance.
closer I could see a ribbon of highway bisecting the hill,
making what by this time looked like the most beautiful landing
place in the world. At last we could put this airplane on the
The highway turned out to be Interstate 79 and
a hurried landing was made followed by a hasty exit onto the
median. Once installed there we watched traffic burst out of the
fog at either end of our 'runway', the motorists giving us
puzzled looks as they sped by; the spectacle of an old airplane,
a young couple and a pup being very unusual inhabitants of the
grass between the lanes.
After the fog lifted we made
our way to Morgantown, anxious to learn the fate of Skip and
Sam. We were overjoyed to see them waiting for us on the ramp,
alive and well, aircraft undamaged and anxious to tell us the
story of how they found the airport and were able to descend
through the clouds without losing control.
turned out, Sam had a turn and bank instrument in the 140 and
Skip had a radio. Using hand signals, they agreed that Skip
would call Flight Service and get a DF steer (remember those?).
Their plan was that Skip would lead the way to the airport,
following the directions from Flight Service, but Sam would
maintain flight orientation with the turn and bank and Skip
would maintain control by flying on Sam. As crazy as this
'bottom of the bag of tricks' plan was, it worked. As it
happened Sam's father was working at flight service that day and
it's doubtful if he ever gave a better DF steer in his long
career. His smile was ear to ear when he saw the two airplanes
emerge from the mist and touch down, and thus was one of the
strangest instrument approaches ever done at Morgantown
Sam and Skip went on to have a long and successful life's work
in aviation and so far as I know, never repeated their Siamese
Twin instrument approach again.