THE DAY I PURCHASED N39911
Independence Municipal Airport (IIB)
It was three days before my 22nd birthday. Taylorcraft, N39911, was to be delivered to the home farm of my father by my instructor, Johnny Fitzpatrick, on June 6, 1960. I was seven years older than the Taylorcraft when it was manufactured on November 26, 1945, in Alliance, Ohio. I guess that makes my birthday on June 9, 1938. The farm was located on the Buchanan/Delaware County Line in Delaware County three miles northeast of Lamont and just north of what was then highway 187 leading to the Backbone State Park where I worked during the summers.
Johnny’s arrival was awaited with a great deal of enthusiasm as he approached from the Oelwein Municipal Airport (OLZ) where the Taylorcraft was based. Johnny had purchased it from a flying club in Des Moines, Iowa. The aircraft had about ten owners scattered throughout the mid-west prior to finding its permanent home. Johnny knew how much I loved flying and flying another black and white Taylorcraft that was based on the field. So he purchased N39911 just to tease me. It certainly worked as I purchased it with $1,050 cold hard cash before my 22nd birthday by three days. Johnny said that he made $50 on the deal.
I had two fine grandmothers at the time. The one on my mother’s side gave me $50 toward the purchase. Needless to say, she received more than one airplane ride. My grandmother on my father’s side said, “If God had intended for you to fly, he would have given you wings.” Well, she did not get a ride, and so everyone ended up being pretty happy.
I started taking flying lessons after my 21st birthday while attending Upper Iowa University, Fayette, Iowa. I had my majority then, and figured no one was going to discourage me from flying. I just took a lesson one day, and went home and told my parents what I had done. My dad was always quite enthusiastic about flying, and wished that he could fly. My dad was my first passenger.
Back to the skies, Johnny was just a speck above the farm, but we all knew it was he. And, the Taylorcraft engine has a very distinctive sound. It was time for the grand arrival. He put on quite a show as he did stalls, loops, wingovers, chandelles, and many spins down from altitude. I wished that I had counted the number of spins before he pulled it out at pattern landing altitude. He made a beautiful short three-point landing in the unfamiliar cow pasture.
Johnny was a fun instructor to fly with. It was on my second lesson that I asked him if the Taylorcraft could fly upside down. No words were spoken, but we were suddenly diving and rapidly building up speed. Johnny hauled back on the yoke and straight up we went pulling G’s in the first half of a loop with the airspeed bleeding off rapidly. Inverted at the top he held us straight and level for a bit, and things began to happen fast. The seat belt started cutting into my waist, and I was grabbing for anything to hang on to. The fuel from the cowl tank located directly in front of the windshield was running “up” the windshield. Before the engine could quit from a gravity fed fuel system, Johnny pulled back on the yoke again, and we finished the final straight down half of the loop with old mother earth growing larger by the second. As the saying goes, “The cows are getting bigger.” I was happy, question answered, and I could hardly wait for my third lesson.
The field I intended to keep the Taylorcraft in was nothing but a cow pasture, with cow paths running right down the middle. It was eighty rods long and that was certainly enough. It did slant downward slightly to the left side toward the east, but that did not seem to matter a great deal. A thing of greater concern was a tile outlet and a spring with large boulders that was located right at the halfway point down the runway. The south one-half of the runway was much more narrow with bogs and a ditch on the right or west and huge rocks close to the fence line on the left or east. There was a fifty-foot high Cottonwood tree located at the north end of the runway just to the right or west of center. This was usually more helpful than not as it was very easy to judge how high you were on the final approach from the north. Several tall trees stood like sentinels guarding the south approach to the runway. There was a gap in the trees to the left that you could fly through nicely. My high school principal, a tall well-built man, went for a flight, and we took off to the south. The trees were getting bigger fast due to the extra weigh so I deftly side slipped the T-craft to the left, and headed for the gap. We did climb above the trees, and he was able to watch the leaves go by on his right. I often wondered if he thought everything was routine or if I was trying to give him a thrill for all the grief he had given me in freshman algebra class. I did enjoy geometry my sophomore year, and he enjoyed flying, and did go again. At the time of the flight, I was working for him as a business teacher in the Lamont High School.
Sometimes cows were on the runway right where I wanted to land. So I would have to wait for them to move. Often times if things did not seem to be just right, I would apply full power and go around for another try at the landing. I always felt that the field was a great training exercise.
I constructed a “cheap” hanger from discarded steel roofing left over from the tornado that wiped out the farm buildings in 1953. The hanger was closed on all sides except the front that faced the east. It kept the sun and any hail from the plane, and that was very important. It did leak some.
When the plane needed washing, I would land it in the cornfield next to the farm buildings so I did not have to carry the water so far. The corn was still short and I could straddle the rows with the main landing gear. I do not think I hurt any more corn than the tractor did turning on the end rows. I only landed in the cornfield when the ground was firm and packed prior to tiling.
It was great fun to go for a local flight after the chores were finished, and check up on the neighbors. I would fly by and wave at them as they were about their farm activities or working in the fields. I never seemed to bother them, and I think they actually enjoyed seeing the plane around. I always received a friendly wave back.