The thrill of piloting over Warren

I logged my first flight instruction on May 15, 1946. My dad and his friend had partnered to purchase a tired old high time1940 Luscombe 8B. It was a silver two-place high-winged aircraft with fabric-covered wings and an aluminum fuselage. It had a little 65 horsepower Lycoming engine which could propel the little plane to nearly 100 mph. It was hangared at Vienna airport and I got to fly it.

As a 10-year-old, I was too short to reach the controls or see out properly. In order to boost my position, a parachute pack was placed under me, and another was placed behind me.

After receiving a few hours of dual instruction from a licensed instructor as I sat in the right seat, I graduated to the left seat of the aircraft. The plane could be controlled from either seat, but only the left side had the brakes which were tiny pedals below the rudder pedals.

What a thrill it was to fly over Warren! I could see my house, my school, City Hospital, the Children’s Home, the fire and smoke of Republic Steel, the green copper roof of the court house, the tall twin smokestacks at the waterworks near the Summit Street bridge and the muddy brown Mahoning River winding its way through town on its way to join the Shenango.

One evening, after an hour-long instructional flight at sunset, I had landed the Luscombe. It was dusk. I was at the controls in the left seat, and taxiing onto the apron in front of the hangar to the plane’s designated parking spot. Since this plane was a tail-wheeled aircraft, it sat nose high, and forward visibility was limited. I could see pretty well to the left front, and my instructor could see about the same out of the right front.

At my left in the waning light, I spotted a woman walking right across my intended path. I hit the brakes and stopped. My instructor told me to keep going. In direct disobedience, I reached up to the magneto switch and shut down the engine. I explained that I had seen a woman walk right across in front of us. He had not seen her.

A few days later, I was told that the woman was the airport manager’s wife. I would have to submit to a check ride to see if I was competent to continue flying from the left seat. My check ride instructor had me take off and head to the usual practice area over Mosquito Lake. He then ordered me to go through a series of maneuvers that I had never experienced or even heard of before. I flunked the check ride. I was not permitted to continue flying from the left side.

After that, sympathetic pilots would put me in the right seat and taxi out to the end of the runway. We would then crawl over and under each other so that I wound up in the left seat. The line boy was always puzzled as to how I left the airport gas pumps in the right seat and came back in the left seat.

I was again officially allowed to fly from the left seat some time later. I had lost a bit of enthusiasm for flying, because I felt that my instructors had let me down.

Finally, in a flight from Vienna to Pittsburgh that I had just barely missed joining, a young friend of mine and another passenger were killed when their Bonanza aircraft experienced engine failure and crash landed on a golf course and burst into flame.

After that, my dad and I took the plane up for what would become the last time. We knew our flying days were over. The plane was sold and Mom was hugely relieved.

It was 1951. I was just a few months shy of turning 16, which was the minimum age for soloing (17 for acquiring a pilot’s license).

About three years ago I took some flight instruction to see if I could get back to flying. It just seemed too expensive and too late in life for me.

Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at columns@tribtoday.com