StoriesFrom Dave Bowen,
Long ago in a distant land.....
Well really, it was only in Michigan and the year was 1956. I am a little hesitant to relate this “adventure' of mine from my very early flying days but here goes. This took place well before my Navy flying and my career at good old NWA.
I was a student at Western Michigan College, soon to become a university, and admittedly struggling with academics. Western had an Air Transportation Program which offered flight training up to your private pilot’s license. The cost was $275 as I recall, for the ground school and approximately 40 hours of flight time. Fortunately for me I signed up and finally got my hands on a real airplane. No more model airplanes for me, just the real thing. The school had 3 or 4 Piper J5s which they used for flight instruction and they operated out of Plainwell-Otsego Airport, a small two runway grass field, a few miles north of Kalamazoo.
I had progressed enough to solo and my instructor, the only instructor by the way, turned me loose. It was winter in Michigan and cold. As snow accumulated on the grass strips we changed the J5s over from wheels to skies. For those of you who have no idea what a J5 is, it is a Piper Cub tail dragger, usually yellow, with an 85 HP engine. Just a little “hotter” than a J3 or J4. Anyhow, ours had no electrical system so therefore no starters. They had to be propped by an outsider in order to go flying.
On this particular day I was off on my own far away from the field doing practice this and practice that when I grimly realized that I had misjudges my bladder capacity. Things did not look good. I decided to find a remote farmer's field and make a pit stop. There was snow covering the fields and I was on skis so no big deal. WRONG! The approach and landing were well done if I do say so myself. As I came to a halt I really needed to get out and relieve myself. An 85 HP engine at idle still puts out quite a prop wash. Out I go into the slip stream, on to the right ski and prepare to get some relief. Did I mention that it was COLD? Really COLD! The wind chill factor was, well, really really cold. And, let me tell you that all of the slip stream does NOT go aft, but all things considered, things got done.
Now, back into the airplane, strap in and apply power. I'm pretty new at this game but I soon realize that the skis are now frozen to the snow. After several tries to break loose I come to the conclusion that I have to get out again and rock the plane free from its frozen position. Meanwhile I keep looking all around for some irate farmer on a tractor with a shotgun. None in sight. Too COLD! Out I go again, into the slip stream, grab the hand hold (it is bitter COLD) on the aft fuselage and pull and push. After three or four twists the plane breaks free and starts to move forward but I get it stopped by wedging myself against the horizontal stabilizer. Back into the cockpit, strap in and add power. No go! Frozen in place again. Back outside I go again. Did I mention that it was really COLD. This time I put a little more throttle on to help. Once again I break it loose and now she wants to fly. With me hanging on the strut, standing on the ski, trying to get back into the cockpit we wander across the pasture. How am I going to explain this to my instructor, if and when I ever get back to the field. And where exactly is the airplane? Somehow I did managed to get back in and somehow got airborne. After regaining my composure I buckled in and headed back to the field, no one any the wiser, except for me. Plan ahead!