Curiously, in about 10-year cycles, Ebby would alternately immerse himself in sports cars, driving on Jim Kimberley’s Ferrari team at places like Watkins Glen, Elkhart Lake and Sebring, and then get lost in airplane world again. These were the glory years of the cross-country Bendix, and he debuted in 1947 racing Paul Mantz, Joe DeBona, Jesse Stallings and Jackie Cochran and placing third in a highly modified ’51 named “Miss Buttonpuss.”
I don’t know the precise timeline or how many airplanes he owned, but it was in the Cincinnati Aircraft hangar at Lunken Airport that Ebby, Willis Stuckey, Charlie Petrou and others designed and fashioned a radical flush, streamlined cockpit and converted the fuel system from individual wing tanks to “wet wings” — wings filled with fuel. When he left California headed for Cleveland, Ohio, high-octane fuel was leaking from the wings so badly the Long Beach Fire Department foamed the airplane down on the runway before he took off.
He sold one of his airplanes that year and planned (I think) to fly the ’48 race on Texas oilman Glenn McCarthy’s team. But Ebby said he couldn’t resist the urge to take the airplane up “just one more time” before the new owner picked it up. On that flight a line on the Merlin engine let go, spraying high-pressure coolant just as he lifted off the runway. So he chopped the power knowing the engine would seize if he tried to get it around the field and stuffed it onto what was left of Runway 24. Much like Paul almost 65 years later, he slid through the perimeter fence into a parking lot. Nothing was hurt except the airplane and Ebby’s wallet; the buyer wasn’t interested in scrap metal.
Many times I heard his admonition: “Never, ever fly an airplane once you’ve sold it.”
It was the late ’60s when Mike Devanney heard of an F8 Bearcat sitting somewhere in the middle of Texas. The owner, after flying it once, was terrified at the thought of ever climbing into it again. Mike had flown T-6s, B-25s and DC-3s in the Air Force and owned a Texan, N45F, when I first met him. Fact is, he could and did own and fly just about anything from Cubs to Beech 18s, Lodestars, DC-6s and an Aeronca Chief on floats, which he sometimes operated off grass. 45F, like every car, airplane, tractor or boat he ever owned, was, well, a disgrace. Oh, his stuff usually ran pretty well, but cosmetics, conformity and cleanliness weren’t high on Mike’s list of priorities. He’d pretend innocence when I’d point out that he’d had far more mishaps than I, with absolutely nothing on his record, while my rap sheet was disgustingly complete — well, mostly. Michael’s projects were inevitably an exercise in frustration. Any tool, tow bar, battery charger or air compressor you needed first had to be located and then repaired. Torpedo heaters were out of kerosene; the socket wrench you needed was missing from the set; safety wire was the wrong gauge and oil the wrong weight. At one point we talked about getting married, but I recovered my wits in time, realizing we’d quickly kill each other.