Jiminy Cricket!

The fuselage is together, the panel in place, the primer on the airframe. Now comes the daunting task of choosing the final color for that airplane you built yourself. Sometimes, the airplane will tell you what color to paint it, notes Mark Swalley of Gig Harbor, Wash.

Swalley has a green Zenith CH 701 SP that bears a distinct resemblance to a grasshopper or cricket — so much so that there is an image of Disney’s Jiminy Cricket on the fuselage.

It wasn’t just the color that inspired the application of the famous cartoon insect, says Swalley.

“When we got done with the paint, we thought it kind of looked like a grasshopper and then Jiminy Cricket came to mind,” he says, adding, “Jiminy Cricket! is what you said in the 1940s instead of ‘freakin’.”

The expression was first introduced to Americans in 1937 in the movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” when one of the dwarfs exclaims “Jiminy Christmas!” “Jiminy Crickets!” was also uttered by Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) in the “The Wizard of Oz” when she is frightened by the wizard’s explosive theatrics.

“I looked up the Jiminy Cricket story,” Swalley continued. “Jiminy Cricket is Pinocchio’s conscience, but Pinocchio lies, then hits rock bottom and calls on Jiminy Cricket to save him. Jiminy Cricket helps him to get back to the righteous path and then the Blue Fairy comes and he’s born again as a human boy. I liked the idea of salvation and redemption.”

You can thank Walt Disney for that. In the 1883 children’s novel, The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, Jiminy Cricket is a minor character. In 1940 Disney animator Ward Kimball created the beloved character we know today with top hat, umbrella and spats.

Swalley got interested in the Zenith design after seeing it during a visit to AirVenture in 2003.

“My wife calls it my $25,000 airplane ride because it led to the purchase of the kit,” he says.

Swalley notes that he started building the Zenith in 2003 “before I had my pilot’s license — like the Wright brothers. I had no flying experience while I was building,”

Swalley soon joined the Experimental Aircraft Association, learning the full value of membership as he got help from several members who were willing to share ideas, jigs, and their expertise.

“The plexiglas doors were blown at a skylight company and somebody in our club had the bending jigs for the main gear,” he recalled. “I made a jig for the nose gear. The airplane has some extra things on it, like a Johnson bar for the flaps. It also has a heater in it from a Chevy and the seat belts are from an Oldsmobile or something like that.”

The airplane took three and a half years to build. As of this July, Swalley had approximately 230 hours on the airframe. He adds he especially enjoys the STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) aspects of the design.

“The shortest landing I ever made was when I put it on the numbers and never left them,” he grinned. “With the wing fairings I cruise at about 90 to 95 miles an hour.”

Swalley got his love of aviation from his father, Raymond Swalley, a retired Marine Corps aviator, who flew from 1942 to 1958, retiring from the reserves in 1966.

“He soloed in an Aeronca C2 at 16 in 1938,” Swalley recounted. “He flew a long list of military and civilian aircraft, including SNJ, S2U Kingfisher, F4F Wildcat, SBD, F4 Corsair, F6F Hellcat, F8F Bearcat, AD Skyraider and F9F Panther. He flew combat off of the USS Bunker Hill CV-17 in 1945 as part of the original VMF-451, the Blue Devils. The planes flying off the Bunker Hill were identified by the same arrow on the rudder. He took part in the attack of Tokyo, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. He was credited with three enemy kills and was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses. He had a 4-inch hole blown through one wing, the entire underside of the airplane caved in and perforated by shrapnel from just behind his head to the tail on another occasion, and his napalm bomb was hit by a 16-inch shell just after dropping it. In every instance, the Corsair brought him back to the carrier without a scratch.”

The senior Swalley helped with the construction of the Cricket. In homage to his father, the younger Swalley put an upright arrow on the tail of the Cricket just like the tail insignia off the aircraft aboard the USS Bunker Hill. His father’s name is also painted on one of the doors.

Swalley smiles as he recounts the time his father joined him for the flight to Oshkosh a few years ago.

“When it was Dad’s turn to fly he complained, ‘I can’t see behind me, I can’t see behind me!’ and I answered “It’s OK Dad, we don’t have any Zeros to worry about today.”

The Swalleys camped under the wing during AirVenture. On their way home they stopped in Glenwood Springs, Colo., so his father could visit a squadron buddy, Phil “Pots” Wilmot.

“They hadn’t seen each other since they got off the carrier in 1945,” Swalley notes. “Pots finished building an RV-4 at about age 70 and still flies aerobatics.”


  1. Dennis Reiley says

    Their might not be any Zeros to worry about but I’d still want an hellaciously big rear view mirror mounted. What’s behind you does matter.

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