This is a tough one to write. But let’s take it from the fun part and get to bad news later. It’s about Elaine Huf, a lady who contacted me years ago about buying and restoring an Army/Air Force L-16. How it ended up pink is the fun part.
Back when I was hunting L-16s, I traveled to CAP’s Quakertown, Pennsylvania, Squadron 904 on news they had a former CAP Aeronca sitting there in rare CAP 1960s paint (white with blue markings.) I exchanged my usual CAP history lecture for a good look at AF 47-1095 and a frank talk about who would get it.
Turns out, it had been purchased surplus in the ‘70s by a late, lamented squadron member. Now, no one wanted to see it go or decide who (among many suitors) should get it. After much perseverance, our lady (and former CAP’er) Elaine Huf finally got to buy old “095.” I took this as proof Elaine was always everyone’s favorite.
She certainly was a force. What really tickled me: She was a lady cop, a bona fide patrol officer in rough-and-tumble Bristol, Pennsylvania, the northern Philly suburb as gritty as the big U.S. Steel Works that was just upriver. Her career on the beat ended only after she was injured breaking up some street fight. Yikes! After transitioning to easier court duty, she retired in 2002 — the same year she bought the Aeronca.
Her enthusiasm for flying was as fresh as a brand-new pilot. I got to know her (mostly by phone) after she tracked me down for info and advice on L-16 paint and markings. Recently, there was only the occasional “How goes it?” email but we did meet at AOPA’s Expo in Philadelphia one year and she was as driven as ever. I offered continued encouragement, but then…
Blam! There in some Internet photo was Elaine Huf’s 2007-2008 restoration. The rare CAP veteran in blue-and-white was now in PINK, not Air Force Nevada Silver. I couldn’t believe it! I lost my mind! Who would do that, especially with the military markings still on? Over pink! I never got over it.
Now, I have to. Elaine and her husband Tom were lost Labor Day doing what they both loved — flying.
Elaine had happily departed Bristol for a great group of fliers and restorers in rural northeastern Pennsylvania. Husband Tom sold another plane to acquire a rare Cessna T-50 Bobcat, the UC-78 “Bamboo Bomber” that trained many a World War II multi-engine driver. (It was also the first “Songbird” on TV’s Sky King.) Elaine added an L-9 (Stinson 10A) to her fleet, this time maintaining the World WarII Civil Defense white triangle of wartime CAP operations. But she was known for that pink Aeronca. It attracted kids like a magnet at airshows, she said.
Sadly, the Bobcat went down just miles from Tom and Elaine’s farm strip late at night coming back from the Antique Airplane Association fly-in in Blakesburg, Iowa. A witness said she heard a plane circling her farm, low, with thunderstorms in the area. The couple was discovered overdue only that Thursday (!) after missing an appointment. I understand CAP found the wreckage the following Sunday morning. Commiserations poured forth from the antique community and at LadiesLoveTaildraggers.com.
That old L-16A sat for years as an orphan after its original owner left the scene. Now again, it has lost another loving caretaker. A flight school had once approached Elaine about buying the L-16 for taildragger training, offering to capitalize on its pink color in co-promotions for Breast Cancer Awareness and to attract young women to flying. Elaine acknowledged the concept but said she could never part with her baby.
Now, perhaps, Elaine’s L-16 might find a home where that pink color is put to good use for charity or publicizing aviation to women. Some object to the cliche of pink for marketing to women, but marketing is seldom subtle or self-conscious.
And it might be an enduring tribute to Elaine. She lived — and flew — the way she wanted, beyond the conventions of male military correctness or female traditional occupation. Her enthusiasm for flying and zest for living should now not be mourned, but remembered as passions pursued, goals achieved and independence won. God bless.
Another reflection…this one about the women who have joined our “fraternity” recently. They are really having fun at it. Heck, yes, it drives me nuts when they name their planes (and cars.) Elaine’s L-16 was “Rudolph” but I learned the moniker came from CAP pilots decades ago. And I’m all for tradition, if anything. But many of our new lady pilots are doing things their own way, taking their own approach. And that’s a breath of fresh air in our world — one that is otherwise getting “mighty long in the tooth.”
It took losing Elaine for me to appreciate this. More power to you, ladies. Do your thing. Open our minds. Show us new perspectives. Make flying new again. Bring your friends. Reach out to some kids. Enjoy YOUR passion for flying and remind us old codgers again why we committed OUR lives to this.Photo courtesy Bill Scheuerman, Warbird Photographs