Baron - 4
Baron - 3
Baron - 2
Baron - 1
the Cassutt - 2
Up in WV
Rico - 2
on the Roof
If you enjoy interacting with people who
are just a tick off of the homogenous type our cookie-cutter
world seems to turn out, you'll find that aviation is the mother
lode of really interesting characters. Our industry seems to
attract the person who is off a half beat or so, in marching to
the drum that society thumps for all of us.
the years I've met many of these flying mavericks, and while my
experience with them wasn't always a wonderful thing at the
time, it was never boring and I look back with a certain
fondness to almost all of them. One that comes readily to mind
is Dwight. Dwight D. was an unforgettable and unwashed escapee
from a John Steinbeck novel and one of the first local pilots I
met when I came to the almost deserted little airport in
Buckhannon in 1968.
Buckhannon became home for my
flying school by default in a way, when I was declared persona
non grata at the Clarksburg Airport, where I had been
instructing flying students. This banishment came about when the
owner of the airport's existing flight school, who conveniently
was also the airport manager, one morning took off his flight
school hat, put on his airport manager hat and wrote me a letter
on official airport letterhead asking me to cease and desist my
Looking back, my ejection from
the big airport was a Godsend since it caused me to find Lewis
Field. This little airport proved to be the perfect place at the
perfect time for what I wanted to do, which was to build a
flight school. It had been a Civilian Pilot Training base during
the war and it boasted a 60- x 60-foot hangar in good condition
and also second small shop hangar. The runway was 1,600 feet of
well-established sod and it sat in a broad valley just west of
the town, surrounded by farmland.
the war, a successful flight school operated there and trained
dozens of GI Bill students. The late 40s found it a very busy
place, with scores of pilots flying from there and many aircraft
calling the field home base. Airshows and hangar dances occurred
regularly and the airport came to contain a life and a spirit of
its own that can only occur where people who genuinely love
airplanes and flying come together.
When the post war
aviation bubble burst and the GI Bill ended, student flying
almost stopped and aviation sputtered at airports all over
America. Sadly, Lewis Field was no exception. When I arrived in
the winter of 1968 the FBO had been shuttered for a dozen years
and a cold and lonely February wind blew through a hangar
holding three airplanes. Just a Cessna 182 that I knew was owned
by the town's colorful Dodge dealer, a Super Cub owned by the
Civil Air Patrol and a beautiful Luscombe owned by Dwight D.,
whom we were soon to know, squatted in the dim confines of the
I made arrangements with the farmer who owned
the airport to rent hangar space for my airplane and office
space for me. With the help of friends, we began working on the
office and throwing out the detritus of many years.
is surer to accumulate junk than a dry and empty place where you
can "temporally" store things that you haven't gotten
around to throwing away yet. The airport office had apparently
been ideal for such use because there was tons of the stuff. It
was a lean-to connected to the hangar and, before being
abandoned, it had once been a fine facility. Over a period of
several weeks we installed windows, got the bathrooms working,
installed a new ceiling and a heating stove and got ready to
open the school.
One day, about the time we opened the
doors of our new flight school, Dwight drove into our lives,
nosing into our parking lot in the 1937 Plymouth Coupe that he
had purchased new and that, he would tell me later, he equipped
with every option he would ever want, including a radio, heater
and dual horns.
Dwight was a bachelor of the hard-core
and unrepentant variety and at the time of this story was
probably in his mid sixties. But the solitary life had stamped
his appearance with another ten or fifteen years, and without a
doubt he could have passed for late seventies.
retired from running a successful auto glass shop and he lived
alone in a nearby town, still in the same two-story house that
he grew up in and which his parents had left him. I am certain
those good people would have rolled over in their graves could
they have seen the house now, since it was stacked from floor to
ceiling with things Dwight was saving. He was a hoarder, and
only a narrow path was available to get from room to room.
doubt Dwight washed his face and hands, but I'm much less sure
he ever took a bath. In fact I'm pretty sure that if he did it
was of the seasonal variety, but one of the things that made me
doubt even this was his annual "Airing of the Pits."
This ritual occurred each spring when the weather had warmed and
he had made his seasonal change to a short sleeve shirt with
rather loose fitting sleeves. He would carefully pick a day with
a good breeze blowing, then align himself properly with the
prevailing wind, and holding his arms straight out from his
sides, let the wind blow up his shirt sleeve. He would turn from
time to time to give each side an equal flushing, and stand
smiling, arms outstretched like a welcoming statue, doing a
strange little back and forth rotation of his hands as the
breeze blew away the darkness of the winter past.
was working on replacing a cylinder on the engine of the
Luscombe when I first met him. He would arrive with his tool
kit, a stool and a drop light and work calmly in the dark
confines of the hangar, his ever present plug of chewing tobacco
in his jaw. It seemed to take an age before the new cylinder was
in place and the airplane was ready to fly and by the time he
had it all screwed back together it was Spring.
approached me one day and asked if I would give him some dual
instruction in the Champ. Apparently the Luscombe had been
grounded for some time and he felt his flying skills needed to
be tuned up a bit before flying his airplane. I agreed to fly
With Dwight installed in the front seat of
the Champ, I showed him where all the controls were and climbed
in the back. Someone twisted our prop and we began to taxi down
the long grassy taxiway to the runway.
I had always
required my students to taxi the tail draggers "no faster
than you can walk" to preclude taxi accidents, but Dwight
had the throttle well up and we were proceeding faster than a
good man could run. I pulled the throttle back and asked him not
to taxi so fast. A second time the throttle went forward and our
speed increased, so I repeated reducing the throttle and asking
for a slow taxi. Once more the throttle went forward; Dwight
then turned his head and addressed me. "**** you, I'll taxi
as fast as I want to."
Somehow, this not only
didn't offend me, it hit me as one of the funniest things that
had happened to me as an instructor, and from that moment on I
considered that this flight was not about teaching and that my
only function today was just to make sure my airplane didn't
I needn't have worried about this, for once off
the ground Dwight flew with a smoothly coordinated touch.
Needless to say, his pattern around the airstrip bore no
resemblance to the one that we taught, but he got us out to the
practice area, through some stalls and back on the ground in
fine form. I told him that as far as I could see he should be
good to go in the Luscombe and that same day he wheeled it out
of the hangar and started flying it.
Dwight and the Silver Luscombe became regulars in the sky around
Lewis Field. On pretty days he'd arrive in the Plymouth and pull
the airplane out of the hangar and spend the day tinkering on
the airplane and making several local flights. He also made
several cross-country flights, some of them overnight and one of
them as far as Detroit he said. Esso road maps were his
navigational aids, for Dwight's travel in the airplane was the
same as it was in his Plymouth. He followed the roads, and this
seemed to work well enough, for he always made it back.
far as I knew Dwight had only a Student License and since I had
not endorsed him for solo and certainly not for cross-country,
he was flying under the FAA radar.
One Saturday in
September Dwight returned from a local flight and taxied up to
the hangar even a little faster than his usual clip. When he
alighted from the airplane I was horrified to see he was covered
in what I at first thought was blood, and his face was ashen. As
I got closer to him I saw that whatever was covering his face
and clothes appeared too dark and too brown to be blood, and I
asked him what had happened. With a shaking voice Dwight told me
he had hit a wire. He was flying low near his home and hit a
major power line which, as it turned out, put the entire town in
the dark and the authorities on his tail.
The wire had
connected with the airplane just under the propeller, missing
the turning blades completely and the jolt of the collision had
jerked the nose of the airplane down before the wire broke, and
Dwight's head had crashed into the skylight, breaking the
Plexiglas and giving him a nasty bump on the head. Even worse,
his spittoon, which he kept in the place of the right passenger
seat, had sprayed violently over the inside of the airplane.
Photographed in black and white it would have looked like the
battle station of a WWII aircraft that had been hit by flack.
than a small dent in the nose bowl and the broken skylight, the
Luscombe appeared to have come through the ordeal unscathed.
Dwight, not so much, since the blue tinted Plexiglas from the
skylight was found 'at the scene' and was traced to our airport.
I don't know what the FAA did to Dwight, since he had no license
for them to take, but I do know the power company came after him
with a vengeance. It apparently didn't take all his money
though, for several years later when he died and his house was
sold, the buyer found $30,000 in cash hidden in the wall while