W o r d s F r o m A u s t i n
I was browsing the old logbook the other day, and noted the first time I flew a PT19. Sure was long ago. The airplane and I got together because Ross had a busted hand and couldn't manage all the things ya need to manage in an old ship like that. I first met Ross one night when I was sitting up in the tower with George Walker, listening to a ball game and handling traffic. You could do things like that back then,..climb up to the tower and sit and yap and visit. George was one hell of a controller. He could handle commercial stuff, flying schools, some military, and float planes, and still have time to catch the ball game. He was not a pilot and didn't want to be. Maybe that is how he fit it all in. Anyway, one night in walks Ross with a big club of a cast on his mitt, the result of a kickback while trying to hand prop the PT19..... Doc Baxter, who flew a Bonanza and had a heart for airport bums, set the hand, no charge... Poor old Doc later died in an IMC approach on an Oregon beach, coming home from Mexico.
She surely was not an RV....not invented yet, but with the aura of a military, heavier craft that was cheap and thrilling.....much like my first girl friend..............
Doc loved Mexico and urged me to go there, telling me that, "Soy Americano, no comprende Espanol" was all I needed to get by, and have a great time...with that and my shots, that turned out to be all true.... Anyway, Ross was a drifter, part time drunk, and some thought, homosexual, because he never spoke of women, nor was he ever seen with one. Actually, it was that Ross was just too lazy to work, too cheap to spend money on anything but burgers and gas..in that order, that there was no room for any relationships beyond the airport fence.
I was about 18 and Ross had to be 37 or so, and I was keen to build time and try out different airplanes, so he had me fire up the PT19 with him in back and off we went. Just as we were trying slow flight, he told me to put down some flap, and I had no idea where the flap handle was.....he liked that and raved, " how the hell can you take off in an airplane without knowing where everything is " ?.....lesson learned.
It was great fun to fly the thing, and since it had no keys, he let me roll back the hood and get in and fly her whenever I wanted... It came to an end when the airport officials put a sticker on the airplane saying it was not airworthy....old Ross hadn't paid any bills and maybe there was a hairline crack in the wood prop....
But in the meantime, I got some time in a WW2 trainer and could slide back the hood and feel the wind and not hear anything else, but the change in octave of the pipes as I journeyed the throttle... She surely was not an RV....not invented yet, but with the aura of a military, heavier craft that was cheap and thrilling.....much like my first girl friend..............
During this time, Ross and I became colonels in the confederate airforce and I had an I.D. card and a mug with a crest that showed a winged mug with the logo of "Semper Mintus Julepus" inscribed therein.....I still have them, 50 years on. One of our flights was on a search for a local guy who had been flying tail-end Charlie in a group of 5, headed out over the nearest mountains to avoid radar and control zones, since nearly all were Nordo in those days...why spend good money on a sometime radio when you could buy lots of gas, burgers and beers for the same investment ?
Somehow, Cliff was suddenly not among the group... Sadly, he was found a few days later, nose down on a sandbar, dead of a broken neck. Turns out his throttle control came unattached at the carb....guess he hadn't practiced engine out procedures for a while.
Just 5 minutes airtime from there though, a twin engine Lodestar was recently discovered by nature hikers right where it came to rest 45 years before. It lay in the shade of 250 year old Douglas firs, no sun rays ever able to reach and reflect off the polished skin, and here it was with twisted props and moss blanket, waiting for passers by. Out of the wreck, a pocket watch was retrieved, the inscription still legible as the day it was given to the pilot wearer, a token of military service days. It was returned to the family, just running 45 years late.
The hours of free flying the PT19 were now history for me as Ross moved from one airfield to another when his credit ran out......... Last I heard, it seems his luck finally ran out too one foggy night as he sat in an old airliner chair, shmoozing in the radio shack just off the side of 26.... A DC8 landed in the soup and left the runway and carried on through the grass and the radio shack and into a maintenance hangar.... Ross was killed before he knew what the thunder in the fog was....
In a way, time becomes a fog too, but cracking open old log books sometimes has a way of clearing it up for a while.