A trip to pick up a new plane results in a true GA experience


This past January, I purchased a 1941 Piper J-5A Cub Cruiser from a friend in Port Angeles, Wash. I thought that flying the airplane home to Lenhardt’s AirHaven in Oregon would be an easy task. After all, it’s only a couple hundred miles away and, even though the Pacific Northwest is not known for its hospitable winter VFR weather, I knew it was doable with patience and flexibility. In the end, however, bringing the J-5 back to Hubbard, Ore., proved to be more than just a trip to pick up an airplane.

After a few months of planning trips to pick up the plane, only to have them cancelled by weather, I sent an email out on my airport website asking for help. An answer soon arrived. It was from a friend of a friend, someone I had never met. The email simply said, “Sure, I’ll get you there — Jerry.”

Jerry Cochran and I emailed back and forth and talked on the phone a few times. Now retired, he owns an RV-6A, and loves to fly.

Even then, trying to find the right time to have Jerry take me to pick up my new J-5 proved troublesome. But finally a beautiful VFR morning dawned. A quick call to Jerry confirmed we were a go.

Waiting at Lenhardt’s AirHaven I watched as Jerry’s RV-6A slipped into the pattern and landed. He taxied up and I did the old, “Jerry Cochran I presume” — after all I had never met him in person. We stood by the airplane and chatted about the plan for the day. As we talked, a flock of geese flew over at about 300 feet. Moments later, we were assailed by what could only be described as a soft, green intestinal hailstorm that splatted all over Jerry’s beautiful airplane. Thankfully, nothing hit inside the open canopy or us! “This isn’t a very auspicious beginning to a busy day,” I thought. I grabbed a nearby water hose and washed off the offending material. At least we were starting with a really clean airplane.

We were soon climbing out and at 10,000 feet we were doing 200 mph across the ground. Soon we entered a quiet pattern at Port Angeles and landed. We taxied to the hangar where the J-5 was parked. We had made it in under an hour and a half.

After introductions, we opened the hangar door to look at the J-5. Ken Hansen, who sold the Cub to me, was joined at the hangar by his wife, Marge, and daughters Cheryl and Kristi. It was going to be a family farewell. We took a few pictures as the Hansen family reminisced about the J-5.

(L-R) David Nixon, Marge Hansen, Sheryl Slack (daughter), Ken Hansen, and Kristi Meek (daughter). Sadly, Ken Hansen passed away in October after a brief battle with cancer. He and his family founded the FBO Rite Bros. Aviation in Port Angeles.

It was then Jerry decided to get a start on the trip back. I thanked him again for the ride and he made his departure. With that prod, so did I. On departure I did a goodbye pass to salute the Hansen family.

I settled down and looked out my new airplane. The eyebrow baffles set the corners of my view and the header fuel gauge centered it. I decided to drop down and stay low for the trip back to Oregon. The near calm winds on the surface would be to my advantage. It was as if the Cub was saying to me, “Sit back and relax, enjoy the view, this is Cub flying.” So I did.

Flying east, I passed over a deceased friend’s home airstrip, low and slow. The float pond alongside the grass runway was empty of his T-craft and C-180. I dipped my wing in a solitary salute to Cliff. He would appreciate the Cub Cruiser and this kind of flying.

I noticed that the wind was picking up by the streaks on the surface of the Hood Canal. I could see my ground speed slow down to 55 mph on the GPS. Cars were passing me on I-5. Near Centralia I listened the ATIS and it was windy. Thinking I may have calmer wind further south, I tried to tune in the Kelso ATIS but could not pick it up on my handheld. It was too far away or my radio was too weak. Flight watch wouldn’t answer my calls either, probably for the same reason. I then pulled out my iPhone and punched up the airport on one of the apps. It revealed it was windy there as well, so it was going to be Centralia. I needed a break after flying for two hours.

I angled into the wind and the rollout on the wide runway was surprisingly smooth. I didn’t use more than a couple hundred feet. I taxied to the gas pit. Some men filling holes on the asphalt apron gave a friendly wave as I topped off my tanks.

I ate some snacks and drank some water, stretched my legs with a walk, and watched the windsock dance on the end of the pole with the wind.

I then noticed a man looking at the J-5 with some degree of curiosity. He kept looking at it, turning his head one way, then another. Finally he walked up and asked, “What is it?” “A 1941 Piper J-5A, a Cub Cruiser,” I replied.

“Oh, okay. I thought it was some kind of Cub. I learned how to fly in a J-3,” he said.

We chatted about it being like a J-3, but not quite.

The man introduced himself as “Dale Statler, like the country western group,” then asked, “Do you want to see my airplane?”

Although I was thinking I should be moving along, maybe the wind would calm down a bit if I waited a little longer.

“Sure,” I replied. Besides, I love to talk airplanes.

Dale and I walked down the hangar rows and there was his ship. It was an Avid Flyer that this octogenarian had built. It was neat as a pin and he was proud of his airplane. He told me much fun it was to fly. Even his wife enjoyed flying in it. Then Dale told me that his wife is confined to a wheelchair and they now live in an assisted living facility, but they get out and fly the airplane.

“You see that engine hoist there?” Dale asked. “I rigged a kind of bosun’s chair that slips around my wife when she is in her wheelchair. Then I jack her up out of the chair and push her over to the airplane. She scoots in and away we go. In fact, she made a Christmas card out of a picture I took of her sitting in the plane. The caption read, ‘I might not have legs, but I have wings!’”

This is what flying a small airplane around the countryside is all about. It is about dropping in and meeting the most interesting people.

I told Dale about the coffee and donut Fridays at my home airport and said he should drop in some time. He would be welcome. “It’s hard to be away from my wife,” he said. I told him I understood.

A glance at my watch revealed I had been here an hour and should be making my way home. Dale walked with me back to the J-5 and offered to flip the propeller. I thought that I should do it. The Cub Cruiser started right up. Dale gave me a nodding approval that he was impressed by my starting prowess.

“See you around the patch sometime,” I said to my new friend.

I hopped in and taxied out. I stayed low and headed toward the Columbia River where the ceiling was a bit ragged. Rain spattered on the windshield as I slowly winged south.

Ahead was Portland and the site of the old Swan Island Airport. It was where my J-5 was delivered new in September 1941. The Swan Island Airport is now long gone, but the J-5 is still here, going strong.

Dodging the controlled airspace I stayed to the west, which put me over flat farm fields. The early spring greening in the afternoon sunlight gave the fields a quilt-like look.

Soon Lenhardt’s AirHaven came into sight. I heard someone announce a departure. I called in and my friend Tom asked, “Is that you Dave?”

“Yep,” I replied.

“Hey, you made it in good time,” Tom said.

“It’s been a great day,” I responded.

After landing, I taxied back to the hangar and got out. My log showed that the trip was a bit over four hours flying time, which took two months to accomplish.

Later, I thought about the day. It had been a true general aviation experience. I waited patiently for the right weather like all pilots have since Kitty Hawk. I was flown in a modern homebuilt that sets the standard for experimental aircraft. I returned in an antique, non-electric airplane that flew as reliably as it had since it had left the factory 70 years ago. I used a handheld computer to access the latest weather information from the ether when I needed it most. But encompassing all of these facets of general aviation were the people I met along the way. They were generous and friendly. My only regret was that the trip went by too quickly.


  1. Penstone says

    Fantastic story. This aspect of general aviation is what life’s about. Puttin around rural areas and airports meeting great people.

  2. Wayne Mann says

    I started my “aviation career” 45 years ago going to the airport with my father. He and our next door neighbor had bought a Piper Super Cruiser together. The neighbor was a rancher that had a large spread on the Red River north of Bonham, Texas. His wife refused to live on the isolated ranch, and this forced our neighbor to drive back and forth about 30 miles each way from Paris, Texas.

    He would fly the plane to the ranch during the week, and land in one of the pastures. This process often involved buzzing the field to scare of the cows away. All though he could clear the field of the cows, he often encountered their droppings when landing.  By the time my Dad and I got out to the airport on Saturday, the plane was covered in dried cow manure. My job was to help my Dad clean it off.

    Well with that work experience on my resume, I was able to convince the local crop duster that my prowess as a “crap buster” would make me an ideal employee for him. Our deal was that I would handle many of his ground chores in exchange for flying lessons.

    These lessons were initially in a J-3 Cub. N77521fills the column of the earliest entries of my log book. His flight training syllabus was not the typical FAA approved process, and included flying under telephone lines to land on dirt roads next fields he needed to inspect before spraying, as well as landing on sand bars in the Red River to scout for remote swimming spots for him and his girlfriend.

    Reading your story made me think back about 19,000 hours of flight time ago, and realize I still land a Boeing 737 in gusty crosswinds at DCA the same way I learned to land that J-3 on dirt roads.

    I have written a novel that is featured in the Products, Books section in the Blue Banner at the top of this page. Perhaps you will enjoy reading the “historical fiction” compiled in my book Flight 243 Is Down as much as I enjoyed reading your story.


    Captain Wayne A. Mann
    Culpeper, VA

  3. David_wurfel says

    Great story and sounds like all the resons I love to putter aroind from airport to airport. An adventure every time.

  4. Dean says

    David, glad to hear your still flying around out there.  We miss you over here in the Big Empty.  Wonderful story.

  5. says

    Great story. Reminded me of why I’m working so hard to get that pilot license, so I can get out and enjoy some of these activities, and meet some more of these people.

  6. Markgweller says

    it sounds like a wonderful flight. Some of my best times flying were in a clipped wing J3 with an 85HP Continental.

  7. Ddouglas says

    Great story.  We would all benefit from more ‘grass-patch’ nostalgia stories, reminding us from whence we came.

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