I really had an itch to fly. My friend Bob Cox, who lived in the country south of McKinney, was a Braniff Airways Captain and he had an airstrip he called the “Weed Patch” at his house. He had a J-3 Cub that we flew from his strip. Bob and I had cattle together east of Blue Ridge and we would fly over and check the cows every once in awhile.
Bob told me of an Aeronca Chief over in Southlake that another retired Airline Captain had for sale. After some negotiation I was able to buy the plane and Bob and I went over and flew it back to McKinney. It was a really cool plane; a Delta aircraft and engine mechanic had rebuilt it from the airframe out. It was a tail dragger and looked like new. I kept the plane at Bob’s airstrip and every once in awhile, I would slip over and fly my plane a little. Bob was also an instructor and would give me lessons on the finer points of flying. The little plane was quieter and more comfortable than the others I had flown and I enjoyed it very much.
I was a Lieutenant in the Naval Reserve and was the Supply Officer of the Reserve Unit. As an active reservist, I could join the Navy Flying Club at Hensley Field in Grand Prairie. With the exception of my time in our Aeronca Chief, I had not flown much since 1948 but was able to solo after just three hours of dual instruction.
I was flying Cessna 150’s. These were tricycle landing gear planes with a control wheel instead of a stick. They also had self-starters and radios. I had to learn radio procedures and a new way to land and take off. The new way was to come straight in for your landing with radio contact and instructions from the tower all the way. Hensley Field was an active training base for Navy Pilots. Flying a little Cessna in between those jets was a little hairy to say the least. One day I was landing (at about 50 miles an hour) and the tower came in on my radio and said, “Cessna 2N take the first exit off the runway, you have a jet coming in behind you.” I did as I was told, and as I whipped onto the exit the jet whizzed by at about 200 MPH. After that, I always flew over to the Arlington airport to practice touch and go landings.
One day I was flying with my instructor learning some new techniques and we were taking off from the Arlington airport. Pointing out toward the window to my left, he said “look over there.” We were climbing out of the airport about 500 feet off the ground. As I looked to my left I lost the engine. It just went completely dead all at once, no warning. In that situation the worst thing you can do is pull the nose up trying to gain altitude. I instinctively slammed the wheel to the instrument panel lowering the nose so I could keep from stalling. I started looking for a place to set us down because at 400 feet all you can do is go straight in and hope for the best. The instructor reached over and started the engine again. We then continued our climb and everything was okay. I looked at him and he was grinning and said, “You did everything exactly right. Nine out of ten students will pull back on the wheel trying to gain altitude.” That sounded good but he had almost given me a heart attack. He had me fly solo after that.