How it used to be


New Member
I received this from a good friend of mine that has been flying since the 30's. Times back then were much different than they are now. However a lot of the lessons learned were the same as they are today. He went on to fly the Hump in WW II and has had a very long aviation career. Long read, but worth it...

On January 18,1939 I was working for Meinke Aircraft Sales at Chagrin Harbor airport in Willoughby,Ohio
Taylor J-2 Cub with a 40 hp Continental engine had been taken in as a trade for a new J-3 Cub. Its license had almost expired and I was going to take it to the Bureau of Air Commerce office at Cleveland airport to be inspected and relicensed. It was not in too good of condition but passable. The tires were bad so I borrowed the wheels and tires from Doug Young's J-2. His tires were Boeing 247 tailwheel tires from the Akron Goodyear plant where someone had filed off some of the name on them, classed them as 'seconds', and bought them for $2 each. They were six ply tires and really worth about $40 each. More than one Cub, Taylorcraft, or Aeronca
around there used Young's wheels for relicensing. A new J-3 Cub cost $1275 in 1939.
We were out of gas at Chagrin Harbor so I flew over to Lake County airport for gas and then headed for Cleveland airport. It was snowing pretty hard and I could only get up about 500' where the ceiling was. When I got near Cleveland conditions were bad so I continued west to Lorain with the intention of waiting until the snowing stopped. Nobody was at the airport so after a few minutes I flew back toward Cleveland airport and I passed about two miles north of the field ,but because of the snow, I could hardly see it. So I headed for home when the carburetor started to ice up the engine started missing and losing RPM. I was just a short distance from Brooklyn field about four miles east of the Cleveland airport so I landed there. The FBO was there and we sat drinking coffee and telling 'stories' for about an hour while the snow eased up. I fired up the Cub and it sounded good so I took off and headed home. Mission not accomplished!
The next day the inspectors were supposed to be at Akron. It was still snowing, the ceiling was about five hundred feet and the wind was pretty brisk from the southwest but, like the young fool I was, I took off, latched on to Route 91. and crawled with about a thirty five mile an hour ground speed to Akron. Visibility was less than a mile in the snow as I approached the town of Stow. While almost on top of route 91, I happened to glance to my right and there only a couple of hundred feet from my wingtip was one of four radio towers. The towers were about one hundred feet higher than I was. If I had been just a little to the west of the road I would have plowed into them. The snow was falling heavier as I approached the field. I could see the hangar and the administration
building but not the huge Goodyear Zeppelin hangar at the south end of the airport less than a mile from the Ad building. I was making a 'straight in' approach and decided to fly over the cyclone fence and land on the ramp on the side of the hangar. I had almost full power on to make forward progress against the wind. I made a 'wheel' landing with practically no roll and realized I couldn't cut the throttle or let the tail down because I would be blown back over the fence and probably end upside down. The airplane had no brakes so I had to keep nearly half throttle to hold my position. The snow was now falling too heavily to risk taking off again. After about five minutes of wondering what the hell I was going to do four fellows came out of the hangar and grabbed my wing on both sides and walked me a few feet to a "tie down' spot and tied the airplane down. They must have thought
I was an idiot to be flying on a day like that----they were right--I was an idiot!
The inspectors never showed up and it's a good thing because they might have relieved me of my license for a while for flying in conditions that were actually below allowable instrument flying conditions.
I was stuck in Akron about five hours before the snow stopped falling and the wind subsided somewhat.
I finally 'fired up' and headed back to Willoughby. My trip home was a fast one because I still had a good tail wind.
That was the second attempt to get the bird relicensed and still "mission not accomplished"
Considering my foolhardy weather judgement it's fortunate the airplane and I still existed
I would try again!
I might add at this time that I was working for eight dollars a week and flying time. Six days a week !
I think the experience I got while working for Meinke was invaluable. I was still living with my parents, had no car, and did no girl dating so the eight dollars was a token for my flying 'education'.
On the 20th I headed for Cleveland again with only a light snow falling , a thousand foot ceiling , and about
a mile and a half miles of visibility. Still not legal 'Contact' weather condition. I landed on the grass at the north end of the airport and taxied to the hangar line. I didn't see any other airplanes and all the hangar doors were closed. I pulled up to the hangar where the Bureau of Air Commerce had their office upstairs and found some chocks to hold the airplane in place. There was no wind.
I went up to the office and Inspector W.W.Jarrel (second in command) was at his desk in his small inner office.
He told me to "Come in" and I entered and stood in front of his desk. He was writing and finally looked up at me then swung around and looked out the window. It was snowing hard again. He turned and asked " How did you get here?" I said . "I flew in to have an airplane licensed" He blew up about the weather and me flying in to Cleveland" He was a southern 'boy' but sure 'read me off' with an accent. I landed there about 10 am and expected to get back to Chagrin Harbor airport by mid afternoon. Jarrel said I could not fly out of there any time that day because the weather would not improve. I walked to the Ad building and up to the control tower to find out what the weather was going to be like the rest of the day. They painted a dismal picture for the rest of the day. I knew I had a bad problem. I only had fifteen cents which would take me to the east end of the streetcar route out to Euclid Beach if I couldn't fly home that day. But then I would have to call someone to pick me up to go the next eight miles to home. After car fare I would have a nickel left that I could use for the call. No money for lunch !
At some time during the day, while I was wandering around the 'line', Jarrel gave a half assed inspection and relicensed the flying machine.
At about three o'clock I went back to the B.A.C. office and sat in the waiting room and was looking at old aviation magazines when 'Big Bill' Robertson ( Senior Inspector) came in and said "hello" as he walked by me.
He went in the office and asked Jarrel, "What's Cooke doing here?" Jarrel told him in uncomplementary words why and how I got there. 'Robby' told him to call the tower and find if there was any incoming traffic and if it was clear to get me out of there before dark. Then Jarrel came to the door of the office and told me there was a United DC-3 due in fifteen minutes and as soon as he cleared the snow plowed strip I should haul ass out of there or otherwise I'd be stuck for the night. I went down and got a broom from the hangar to beat the ice off the wing that had formed by water dripping off the hangar roof and freezing on the wing. I fired her up and waited for the DC-3. It arrived and taxied to the terminal and I scooted out westward in the snow cleared strip and turned eastward. The tower gave a green light with the 'biscuit gun' and I poured on the 'coal'.
Just as I passed the tower at about 400 feet a PCA Boeing 247 in a steep bank passed about 500 feet ahead of me at the same altitude. The PCA airliner probably came from Detroit but had no communication with the Cleveland tower or they would have told me of it's expected arrival. If I would have arrived at that position about three or four seconds earlier we would have collided. I went through violent turbulent air from the 'wash' of the Boeing. I chalked that incident up as just another near miss.
I continued east at 500 feet to the Cuyahoga river then followed it to the lake shore staying east of ninth street to be sure I was avoiding the Terminal tower and on the Chagrin Harbor airport,
Another day and my pay of a dollar and fifteen cents but the mission was finally accomplished.

More of the saga of NC-17269 soon to follow. Dick
Everything was a run on back then.

Ok, I'm lazy. Cut and paste.
Arrrrgh!!! PARAGRAPHS!!!!!!

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Those paragraphs are over rated these days, R2F!!!!!
This reminds me of the days back when you could buy a bushel of onions for ten cents. Of course, back then we didn't call them onions. They were called 'kaiser-fruit', you see, because of the war and their generally pungent odor. Which was not unlike the scent of my great uncle Asa's work clothes after a typical hard day out in the rows, which was also home to the county's most powerful steam-powered thresher of the time. In the fall, families from miles around would come to a farm and operate the machinery to help out in the harvesting of corn and oats and beans and hay. Say, do you know the difference between straw and hay? Let me tell you about it, the difference is in the plant...

Reminds me of my grandfather's stories about riding around on a bench in a Ford Tri-Motor. Now that would be fun. There is something about old planes that makes me wish I could have flown before it got all high tech.
Great stuff!
My dad actually grew up in that area, so I recognize alot of the names. He actually grew up in Kent right along the banks of the Cuyahoga river which was mentioned in your story. Keep posting more stories, it is great reading things like that from times past.
"...sat in the waiting room and was looking at old aviation magazines..."

How could there be old aviation magazines in 1939? Aviation wasn't that old then...
I had the same thought about the "old aviation" magazines...

Here is a little more that Captain Cooke sent.

"Glad you enjoyed the little piece of the Cub's history. I only had 182 hours and a Private license at the time this episode started.

The Bureau of Air Commerce was not to rough on us guys who spent a lot of time 'scud running'. The big airport's towers didn't mind if we came in during IFR conditions as long as we kept clear of the low freq. range approach and stayed near the deck.

Most of our airplanes had tail skids so we landed on the grass instead of the runways. The single bolt holding the shoe on the spring leaf would wear down and we would lose the shoe. A new one cost $1.00 (big money then) We also had no radios

Looking back at those times we didn't care much about warm or cold fronts. We did keep clear of squall lines and thunderstorms. Some times we would get caught short and have to land in a hayfield and pull up behind a barn to let a squall line pass. Most of our airplanes carried rope to tie them to a fence so they wouldn't blow away if storm winds was coming.

The airplanes at our 'boon dock' fields were mostly what were classed as Class 1 or Class 2S ,which included three place biplanes, the five place Standard biplane was also in the 2S category, early four place Stinson (SM and SR series), four place cabin Waco, Bellanca, Barling, Travel-Air, Monocoach,Verville, and the light one or two place ships. The lowest HP (26) was on the C-2 Aeronca. About the highest HP was the 225 Wright J-5 or 220 HP Lycoming. On the light airplanes the 45 HP salmson was occasionally found, It was a French radial with nine cylinders. The Curtiss Junior (pusher) I first flew had a Salmson to replace the three cylinder Szekely which had a habit of blowing cylinders off.

If we got caught buzzing, dog fighting, flying unlicensed airplanes, or doing aerobatics too low or with passengers. The local Inspectors would determine the punishment which was the loss of your license for a week, a chewing out, and a $25 fine which was suspended.

I started instructing as soon as I got my Private license and signed student's log books with my boss's (Phil Meinke) signature and license number. Robertson and Jarrel pretty well knew what I was doing. One time, when I took a student over for a license test, Jarrel asked me,"Another one of your students Cooke?" Then said," Keep your skirts clean!" In other words don't foul up or 'lose' a student. Of course I said,"No" Instructors were not very plentiful then. I think there were only 1900+ licensed instructors in the U.S.

You can always pass on or tell anybody anything I write. If anybody questions anything I have 27 log books to back up my military and civilian time, place, aircraft number, make and type of aircraft, and unusual WX or incidents. I also have the student's name except prior to 1939 and then I just listed the entry as 'local flight'.

In the military if I received instruction it was listed as (QD) qualified dual. Overseas I gave a lot of QD time to new co-pilots in C-46s and C-47s but on the 'Form one they were (CP) co-pilots.
Reminds me of my grandfather's stories about riding around on a bench in a Ford Tri-Motor. Now that would be fun. There is something about old planes that makes me wish I could have flown before it got all high tech.

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I remember as a kid going to Kelly's Island and seeing the Ford Trimotor every few summers it was there. I always was suprized by how dark it was inside even with all the small windows.
I remember as a kid going to Kelly's Island and seeing the Ford Trimotor every few summers it was there. I always was suprized by how dark it was inside even with all the small windows.

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I see it every so often while flying. It's based out of Fullerton airport which is a jump, hop, skip away from SNA! That thing is always flying low and slow! A combination thats deadly in the southern california basin. It's not losing the engine I"m worried about, its when you land in the back yard of the crips or bloods, and they pull out their mack 9's and are about the put the smack down on you and your crew!

OK, so I'm bored at 5:30am waiting for this DAMN student to show up so we can leave!