The smell of bird's nests from the J-5's heater, cold weather, packed snow and mud on the all turf runway — but at least the price was right!
April 26, 1998
training began in the summer of 1964. I became
fascinated with aviation
when a college friend took me for a ride as
his first passenger after
recieving his ticket from the U of Ill
Institute of Aviation. The private
pilots course at U of Ill at that
time cost about $430. At the time that
might as well have been all
the money in the world since a semesters
tuition was $100 &
room/board was about $450 per semester.
waited until after graduation when I had my first engineering
job as a
source of the needed cash. I called every flight school
within a 30 mile
radius of Chicago and found Bohl's Flying Service at
airport, Lansing Illinois to be the lowest cost at
$8.00/hr solo &
The airplanes where Piper J5A cubs with 90 hp
electrical system; tachometer, compass, oil pressure,
gauge & coordination ball were the only instruments.
There was no
starter so swinging the prop was one of the lessons for
There was a heater of sorts, but all it seemed to do was smell
cockpit with the odor of old bird's nests.
I was in
heaven. Chicago-Hammond (now Lansing Municipal) was an
all turf airfield
with several airstrips in various directions to
suit the winds. I flew
every weekend that I could, weather
permitting. The entire project took
me 18 months & 47 hours of
total flying time.
I recall a
great deal of sweating even when the weather was cold.
One would be
bundled up heavily at the beginning of the lesson
smelling old bird's
nest from the "heater" and seeing your breath. As
the lesson progressed
you loosened your coat and mopped your forehead
with your sleeve. In some
ways, summer flying was better since you
started out with light clothes
and were hot to begin with.
Perhaps due to the gentle nature of
the J5A, things went swiftly.
Take offs and landings were done in the
second or third hour and I
was solo in 6.5 hours. I recall what seemed
like endless hours of
shooting landings. Solo crosscountry was done by
reckoning, etc. since there was no radio gear in the
I recall seeing road traffic passing me on one of these
You had to swing the prop yourself when away from home base
all line personnel knew how to do this.
recollection: Wilbur Bohl would not allow anyone other
than himself to
check the oil. Apparently he had some bad experiences
leaving the oil cap off and had lost several
18 month span of my training I got to fly in all kinds
of weather from
hot and dry to cold and snowy. Deep snow was handled
by packing it down
with a large tractor drawn roller. I have a few
log entries of this "deep
snow" flying. A full stall, stick all the
way back landing was needed to
prevent a "nose over".
I also had an experience with some mud. I
was flying dual with an
instructor one day when conditions were a bit
muddy. I had landed and
was rolling out prior to adding power for a touch
and go when we
rolled into a giant mud puddle at an intersection of two
mud hauled us to a complete halt with the plane nosing up
of going over and then settling back down on the tail wheel.
stuck tight and had to abandon the plane to walk back to the
office and face the jeers of the contingent of airport bums.
In preparation for the checkride, radio work was practiced in a
Colt which had an electrical system & the requisite radio
recall this machine as having a "brick like" glide in
comparison to the
Cub. The tricycle gear was a revelation after
learning on the
conventional gear Cub.
The checkride had to be done in two
machines (Colt & Cub) to
cover all areas. On the day of my checkride
the field was so muddy
that we had to take off and land on the gravel
apron in front of the
hangers. I was really sweating that day though it
was cold (March
After receiving my ticket I asked Wilbur
how I could be checked
out for night flying (there were no lights on the
field). One of the
instructors told me to meet him at the field on an
appointed night. I
was puzzled by this, but showed up anyway. When I
arrived I was told
to join the instructor in his car. I assumed we were
going to another
lighted airfield. He drove out onto the turf pointing to
a pile of
battery lanterns on the back seat and saying "get out and set
at the edge of the runway where ever I stop". We set about 20 of these along each side of the runway.
Back at the hanger the Colt
was rolled out (it had landing lights)
and I fired it up to taxi out into
the inky blackness. It was a
moonless night and pitch dark. The landing
lights gave about 200 feet
of illumination. The lanterns showed where the
"weeds" were located.
I lined up and took off into the unknown. I was
told to fly away from
the field for a bit & then return.
Flying over the field the battery lanterns could just be made out
pinholes in a blanket. Using these and the landing light (which
light the ground till it was awful close) I shot a few
instructor signed my logbook and said I was now legal
to fly at night. I
never did fly from that field again at night
although about 1/3 of my
total time to date is at night.