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Back Then…


    "Back Then" was 1959, a long time ago.  A "lot of water has gone under the bridge" as they say, but my memory of some of it is filled with smiles, I was flying airplanes, “Back Then”.


   “Back Then” things were very different, life was simpler, the pace was slower.  There were no cell phones, iPads, Internet, or GPS, etc. and for some of the time “Back Then”, there were no televisions.


   I started flying when I was 19.  I learned to fly in a 1940 Taylorcraft that you had to hand-prop.  Starting an airplane engine by spinning the propeller by hand was not the norm, but also not that unusual.  Airplanes had minimal instruments, especially radios.  I was there when "Omni" navigation (now called VOR), became available to general aviation.  The first Omni radios had a knob you turned to find the frequency and get the best reception possible and when the signal came in you listened carefully to the Morse code to determine if you had the correct station.  Omni radios with "crystal tuners" came later, but only had four, or five frequencies to select from.


   I remember the almost “casual” attitude I had toward flying an airplane.  There were few formalities, once you got your pilot certificate you were pretty much on your own.  There was no bi-annual flight review, no endorsements for tail wheel, complex, high performance, or complicated air space rules, etc.  If it had a propeller you could fly it, and we did, often without any more than, “it lifts off at 60 and lands at 80”, shouted out as we headed for the flight line to try out a different airplane.


   Flying halfway across the US with no radio's of any kind didn’t seem unusual, nor did flying an airplane whose fuel gauge was a wire sticking out of the center of the gas cap, a 90 degree bend on one end and a cork on the other.  In some of the old planes the fuel tank was located on the nose of the plane directly in front of the pilot and when the bent part of the wire was resting on top of the gas cap you were just about out of fuel.  We learned to navigate using a magnetic compass while matching what we were seeing on the ground with land marks on a paper map, it was called "Dead Reckoning", the saying was "Reckon Right, or You're Dead", and when you were trying to identify a small town below if the water tower said “Seniors”, that probably was NOT the name of the town.

   More than once I flew a new Piper airplane from Lock Haven, Pennsylvania  where the Piper factory was located at that time, to Tulsa Oklahoma with only an airspeed indicator, compass, altimeter, fuel gauge and tachometer.

   I once flew a J3 Cub from northern Oklahoma to deep south Texas. I picked up the plane from under a tree in a cow pasture where it had been setting for awhile and with some help got it started.  The pasture was small and on the takeoff roll I discovered the airspeed indicator didn't work.  The choice was, get it in the air, or plow through a barbwire fence.  I lifted off and turned toward Texas.

   Once airborne I headed to the nearest airport for gas.  When I pulled the power on downwind, the motor quit.  The seat-of-the-pants, dead-stick landing on the runway without airspeed indication was uneventful, but pushing the Cub up to the gas pump was a bit of a job.  I was able to fix the airspeed problem, but had no idea why sometimes at low RPM the engine would quit.  Landings from then on was done carrying some power and as close to the hangar as possible.


   Thanks to Blue Bird, our clubs 1959 Cessna 172, ever so often I get a little bit of a “Back Then” feeling.  I once instructed in a 172 about like Blue Bird, but without the fancy radios and GPS.  Sometimes when I'm around her, “Back Then” crosses my mind and for a few moments I can “feel” the hangars where I worked in Cheyenne, Wyoming and Tulsa, Oklahoma and remember what it was like, “Back Then”.

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