I have been encouraged to write a book by some of you good people which I intend to do. "I'm a fixin to" as we say here in Texas. These essays will become a part of that book but I am not going to include all of them in E-mails otherwise you would not have a reason to purchase the manuscript. I would appreciate any comments as long as they are positive. I have a tendency to cry and mope a lot when criticized.
I would have loved to have been around and maybe work for the Wright Brothers. They are my kind of people. I suppose man has wanted to fly ever since he saw the first bird. It appeared that Icarus might have been on the right track had he used something besides wax to construct his wings. The Wright boys just didn't build a clumsy craft, take it to Kitty Hawk and fly it the first time. They had about as many marks in the failure column as they did in the success. Now look at us. In less than seventy-five years from that date we had put a man on the moon and now space travel is so common they allow civilians with enough money to orbit in space for a couple of weeks. It is so easy, the Chinese now say they will have a man in orbit early 2003. Looks like they would have been first. After all, they are credited with the invention of fire works and if an Atlas rocket ain't fireworks, then you can stop me right here.
I was born in 1933. The first airplanes I remember were the old biplanes they used to haul the mail. This was about 1939 and must have been the mail because they flew over our farm about the same time every day. My uncle taught me how to carve a silhouette and whittle out a propeller to make a wind vane. Pretty soon, there wasn't an apple crate to be had. I used them all to make wooden airplanes that wouldn't fly.
Dad would not hear of it when I wanted to go to the airport just to watch. He and mother had witnessed a barnstormer spin in to the ground at a county fair and as far as he was concerned, it could happen again. But as the saying goes, I got lucky.
In 1947, just before my fourteenth birthday, I was hitchhiking back to my granddad's dairy. Middle of the afternoon and I had not caught a ride. Frank Hogg, a man who farmed large tracts in Dawson County, had built an airport in the middle of a cotton patch near the highway. Sitting outside the hangar was a J-3 Piper Cub and I walked over to get a closer look. I had my head stuck all the way inside and didn't hear Frank when he came up behind and asked if I had ever been up in an airplane. I told him no and he told me to hop in. He showed me how to apply the heel brakes, hold the stick back and what to do with the throttle when the engine fired. He pulled the prop through a couple of times, yelled, "CONTACT," I flipped the ignition to BOTH and that mighty 65 hp engine roared to life. On the way to the end of the runway, he told me to keep my hands and feet on the controls and follow him through. Right then Charles Lindbergh didn't have a thing on me. We were up over an hour and Frank had actually let me fly the plane!
After we had pushed the airplane inside, he asked if I would like to take flying lessons. He must known I didn't have the money and offered to let me work it out around the airport. The rest of the summer was spent at the airport. If I cut across a plowed field, it was about two miles and back then I could run most of the way. Sometimes I would work an hour or two, sometimes I would just show up, and we would go flying. Frank loved to take movies with his little 16 mm camera and look over the land he had under cultivation and the people he had working for him. If he needed a closer look, we would land on the turn row. By the time I had seven or eight hours of dual, I was doing all the flying.
Frank had one little habit that is frowned upon in flying circles. He carried a half pint of whiskey in his back pocket and would take a little nip just before we went flying. I never saw him drunk and I could hardly wait until I was old enough to drink so I could fly as well as he could. When he ran short of whiskey we would fly to Big Springs, land behind the liquor store and stock up. He never sold it, he drank it!
I picked up a lot of bad habits from Frank. Well, not bad habits, just practices that are illegal today. Flying too low, landing on roads, flying above clouds without the proper instruments. But you know, Frank owned all the land we flew over and he figured he owned the air above it. It is called CONTROLLED AIRSPACE today.
We only had one incident that I recall. I asked him one day what would happen if the engine quit. He said, "Why son, that is when you become a glider pilot." Sure enough, on takeoff one day, we were about three feet above the ground when there was a loud bang and smoke poured out of the engine. I yelled, "What do I do." From the back seat, "I don't know, I never had this happen before."
He had his share of incidents. It was his custom to fly an airplane home and land on the road in front of his house. Next morning, he would fly back to the airport and if he had business in town drive his pickup. One day he came back from town with a three day old calf he had purchased. We tied both feet and strapped the calf in the back seat. In order to make a three point landing in a tail dragger, the stick has to come all the way back just before touchdown. When Frank flared for the landing, the stick would not come back. The calf had slipped down between the stick and the seat. After a lot of crow hopping, Frank finally stopped but he said he almost cut that poor calf in two.
Every time we flew, Frank noted the flight in my log book. The date, type aircraft, horsepower, comments and signed it. He might just as well have been writing it on scrap paper. I didn't have a student ticket or a physical and Frank was not an instructor! He only had a student ticket himself. I didn't find this out for many years but I forgive him. I know now how I could work fifteen or twenty minutes and receive two to three hours flying time.