Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Flashback ~ My First Airplane

Originally posted: March 21, 2009

Try as I might, I couldn’t find it. Apparently, they are no longer available. Again asking Google to search for me - I went looking for a photo of my first airplane. This is a photo of the real thing so that you’ll get the idea of what a Piper Cub looks like.

Google searched for Piper Cub - models, tether controlled toy airplanes, gasoline toy models airplanes and several other subjects. The search “antique toy airplanes” didn’t get any good hits either - for those of you laughing at this old timer, here. I guess model airplanes today are all radio-controlled for more realistic flight. At this point in my history, the transistor radio has yet to make an appearance on the market.

Continuing on with my subject of my personal interest in flight, airplanes, air shows and the wild blue yonder, I began to think back about my youthful cloud-busting days. You know of the phenomenon; laying down, face up in the grassy yard looking up at the clouds in the sky and searching for faces in their formations on a lazy, warm sunny day and breaking them apart just by thinking about it. As a kid, some days were just like that. Pulling up a tall foxtail and nipping at the sweet end, I thought I saw George Washington once. The wind was pushing the clouds slowly to the East. It was going to be a nice day.

My friend, Ralphie came down to my house and brought some of his comic books and I went inside to get a few of mine too. Between us, we had our own lending library. He’d always have some that I didn’t have and visa versa; we’d trade. Sometimes the advertising on the back covers were funnier than the comic books themselves. The one featuring the strong man, Alan Atlas, who said big kids used to kick sand in his face on the beach until he began to work-out with weights and got big, strong muscles. The cool babes in bikinis hanging on his arms really killed me. In our neighborhood, we’d just a) let it ride (usually not) or b) jump up and fight back.

There was one full-page, color ad that really got my attention. It was loaded with small pictures of toys and other “prizes” that we could win for FREE. That’s right, FREE boys and girls, and all we had to do was sell 25 boxes of greeting cards to get - absolutely free - a gasoline-powered, tether controlled, ready to fly, bright yellow Piper Cub - an airplane! Cool!

Rolling over onto my back from the prone comic book reading position, I looked at the photo of the Piper Cub and looked up at the billowing Cumulus clouds and began to dream aloud with my friend Ralphie. How cool it would be to have a gasoline powered model airplane and see it flying in the clouds. I wonder what our house would look like from up there? Yeah, but how hard would it be to sell these greeting cards? The ad said it would be really easy and when people see them, they’ll sell themselves. All we have to do is show them to people.

Of course, you’ll want the short version of this story here. After repeated talks with mom, she eventually said it was up to me to sell these cards - not her - and that I could have any “prize” I wanted. I cut-out the little form at the bottom of my comic book cover, filled it in and mom mailed it for me.

In no time at all, I received a large box - addressed personally to me - which contained about 24 boxes of greeting cards - Christmas card assortments and all-occasion assortments. Some were pretty nice, but some weren’t. I just know they weren’t “Hallmark”.  Now, how do I sell these? What do I say? Where should I go to sell them? What do I do now?? I was in the Fifth Grade, my thinking was one step at a time. I definitely hadn’t thought that far ahead.

So, I pulled my Radio Flyer wagon containing the big box of greeting cards around the neighborhood to each house. Taking one box of each assortment, I nervously approached each house in the neighborhood. When the lady of the house answered, I asked, “Would you like to buy some greeting cards? I have two assortments.”  In response, I would then hear the not-so-magic word, “No or No, thank-you.” Then, I walked-on to the next house where I repeated the procedure over and over and over and over again.

After a whole day of “noes”, I went home, stashed the box of greeting cards in a corner of my bedroom and lay down on the bed. I don’t remember ever hearing the magic word, “Yes”.  I tried one more time in a different neighborhood, but quit after a half-day of no sales and a threat of rain on my little red wagon and the box of yet-to-be-sold greeting cards.

Mom eventually sent the box back to the company and explained in a letter that no sales were made. I was doubly devastated at not selling any greeting cards and not getting my free prize of a gasoline powered, tether controlled, flying Piper Cub airplane. It would be my last attempt at a sales career for many years.

That winter, my greatest Christmas surprise was - can you guess? (I love you, mom.) Was a brand new, gasoline powered, tether controlled, bright yellow, ready to fly, Piper Cub with a 15” wing span with a Cox .049 Babe Bee engine. “Wow! Thanks, mom!” How cool! I couldn’t wait to show it to Ralphie and get it in the air. I would have to wait. There was eight inches of  snow on the ground.

It would be a few more months to wait since this was a Summer toy. It would be after that, too, because I also needed a starting kit - fuel and a 6-volt battery to power the glow plug (“Whatever that is”, I thought), until the engine starts. I would also need a ground crew person to hold the plane on the ground until I could get back to the outstretched string and matching yellow plastic tether controller. Who could I get for ground crew without letting them fly my plane. I didn’t want just anybody flying it. They might crash it.

I wanted to try and fly it without engine power - just by slinging it around and pulling the tether strings back and forth to make the plane climb or dive. Sure, it worked, but not very well and I got dizzy very quickly, twirling in one place so fast. When the engine is running, you don’t have to twirl so fast to make it fly as the propeller does all the work. Lots more fun, too.

I would later trade that hobby - because my Piper Cub crashed one too many times (pilot error and wind shear) - for the hobby of making balsa wood and paper airplanes due to the influence of my Sixth Grade teacher, Mr. Ayres. Over the next school year, I built a Fokker D-7, a Spad, a French Newport 27, a P-51 Mustang, a P-40 Warhawk - because of the cool tiger teeth - and a few others. Those stories, I’ll save for another time.

It now seems like another lifetime ago, but I’ve sat, at the controls and flying in the “left seat” of a Piper Cherokee back in the mid-1970’s and I loved it there. I didn’t realize it then, but it would be the flight of a lifetime. In later years, I would compare that experience to being merely a passenger on a commercial flight. It is just no where near the same exciting experience.

Keep looking UP!



  1. such a fun read! haha ... I'm wondering if perhaps you saw George Washington that you had too much foxtail nipping! :)