My love of flying got another opportunity when I was able to use my GI Bill to pick up flying lessons again. This was the first time I had and opportunity to fly since I first flew in 1939. I was flying off a grass runway at a little airfield on the north side of Austin. I was flying an Aeronca Champ solo cross country. In this plane, the windshield continued up over the pilots head and you flew from the front seat, which gave you much better visibility. The Cub’s windshield stopped at the wing and you flew from the back seat. Both planes were tandem seating with two occupants one behind the other.
I soloed pretty quick and started flying solo cross-country. One hot August afternoon I flew down to New Braunfels, landed there, had a cold coke, then took off for Temple. New Braunfels also had a grass landing strip right next to the Austin-San Antonio highway. Well I enjoyed the flight to Temple flying along, enjoying the scenery, and a robin blue sky with white puffy clouds. I prided myself on my smooth landings and approached the Temple airport. I could see four or five “hanger flyers” sitting in front of the office.
I thought,” I am going to really show those guys how to grease this plane in and touch down like a feather. Well, I came in perfect and flared out to touch down, only the darn plane kept floating. I pulled back on the stick until it was against my belt. I continued to float, trying to figure what the deuce was going on. I kept pulling back on that stick to force the plane down, and I finally did a perfect three-point landing except I was still about ten feet in the air. I banged down on the PAVED runway with quite a jolt. The landing gear complained as it adsorbed a real smash into the ground, but it did survive. I had never landed on pavement before and the heat radiated off that runway gave the little plane a lot of lift. I didn’t want to face those guys who were watching me but they were sitting right next to the gas pump and I was too low on gas to fly back to Austin. I taxied up to the pump, shut the engine down and crawled out. I had positioned the plane so it was between the audience, and me but to no avail. Three of them came over grinning from ear to ear and said, “First time on pavement?” They were good sports though. One helped me gas and the other spun the prop when I was ready to leave. We did not have self-starters then and had to prime the prop and then spin it to start the engine. I flew back to Austin absorbing a big dose of humility.
Another evening I was returning solo to Austin just before dark. We all had a mandatory procedure for landing. You entered the pattern on a downwind leg that was parallel to the runway, going the opposite way you were going to land, at a point opposite where you were going to touch down you cut the power .You then would turn on to the base leg then you turned again on to the final approach, At that point you advanced power to clear the engine and touched down opposite the point you had cut power on the downwind leg. I came in that evening and followed the above procedure even though there were no other planes in sight. As I cleared the engine on final approach, I looked up through the windshield that continued up over my head and almost fainted. Just about a foot above my plane was the wheel of another plane on final approach. This other pilot had not followed procedure and came straight in to final. He almost landed on me. I dropped down and went into a 360-degree circle and came in behind him. He taxied over to the gas pumps and I almost had my plane with its tail up racing over to the pumps. I jumped out cussing this guy and I grabbed him by the shirt, He was apologizing and saying he was so sorry. He was a Chinese guy and I had trouble understanding him, I finally cooled off but I don’t think he or I will ever forget our close call.
Photo of Temple Airport found here.