Not too long ago, Skip called to see if I wanted to pull the 180 out and join a gaggle of RV-8s flying to Columbus, Indiana, for Sunday breakfast, but I had a test to give that morning. He said he had texted me earlier, but I don’t “do” texting, at least not yet. With everybody’s nose buried in a BlackBerry, iPhone or other electronic device, we’re in danger of forgetting how to communicate face to face. Sometimes, just to enjoy the deliciousness of being unconnected, I turn my basic, bare-bones cell phone off ... for days.
I guess it was 25 years ago when Cub Stewart’s wife, Cathy, introduced me to this guy whose real name isn’t Skip (but then you can’t rat out your friends like you can yourself). He was hanging out at Red Stewart Field (40I) in Waynesville, Ohio, but his Super Cub lived at Lunken. Waynesville, about 30 miles northeast, is taildragger heaven — students making touch-and-goes in Cubs and Champs, aerobatics happening in Citabrias and Stearmans, a bunch of jumpers leaping out of a Beech 18 and gliders listing on their wingtips waiting for a tow. There’s no end of interesting characters and people bringing airplanes from all over to a shop that really knows wood, wire and fabric. On any flyable weekend, the place looks like a Norman Rockwell painting.
Skip had recently emerged from hot air balloon world, embraced real airplanes and bought the Super Cub. He’s one of a kind — a wisecracking, chain-smoking, alternately curmudgeonly and lighthearted guy with probably a genius IQ and, at that time, on the rebound from wife number three or four. That meant he wasn’t exactly rolling in money, but he rarely took life’s ups and downs too seriously. Cathy thought we’d be the perfect pair, but then she’s better at recovering airplanes (boy, is she ever) than at matchmaking. But we soon found that we share addictive and anti-authority personalities, skewed views of the world and a passion for Japanese food as well as all things that fly; we became fast and forever friends.
Along with the Super Cub he acquired a banner tow business with clients hawking everything from cars to cell phones to pleas like “Betty, would you marry me?” In those days there were few security restrictions, and with two large sports stadiums in Cincinnati, several racetracks and the nearby Kings Island park, banner towing was a going enterprise.
I should have realized just how left of center Skip was when something called a Wilga appeared in his hangar. The mists of time and a highly selective memory blur details, but this thing was built in Poland and resembled a giant grasshopper. It had a funny little radial engine with cooling vanes that looked like recycled Venetian blinds. The knobs and levers in the cockpit, obviously not “American,” worked in weird directions, and the instruments were calibrated in things like hectopascals. Since the POH and the placards were literal translations from Polish (or maybe Chinese), they were, well, inscrutable. Besides, the Wilga was innately, incredibly and irredeemably ugly.