(November 2011) In November 1954, having accumulated a bit more than 26 solo hours flying 65 hp Cubs and Aeroncas, and having become an aircraft owner several months before, I was supremely confident in my flying abilities. Nevertheless I deferred to my medical school classmate, Ed, a veteran, older by 10 years than most others in the class and, most impressively, a former B-29 pilot; this latter accomplishment was gained in the last year of the war but did not require dangerous duty, that is until his last mission as a civilian pilot.
The airplane of which I was part owner was a 1939 Taylorcraft, having 40 rather tentative horsepower, miraculously achieved with a single magneto and carried aloft on fabric wings of uncertain lineage. Though I was proud of this purchase, the siren call of more horsepower (65), all metal construction and greater speed led my airplane partner (another classmate and student pilot) and me to a 1946 Luscombe 8A obtained with a cash outlay of $475 each.
Now for the mission: We needed to fly the Luscombe from its home at a West Memphis, Arkansas, airport to our home base at Wilson Field just east of Memphis Municipal Airport. I would fly Ed, the legal pilot in command, in the Taylorcraft to West Memphis and check him out in the Luscombe so he could bring the newly purchased machine back to Wilson Field in Tennessee. Harry Wilson, dealing in cash only in his half-completed concrete-block airport office — stray cats crawling under and over glass display cases filled with dusty World War II instruments — presided over his two grass runways, carved from surrounding pastureland, hidden behind hedgerows and home to several derelict T-50 Bamboo Bombers shading high grass growing wild underneath. This airport was his pre-Depression dream, now his post-Depression albatross.
Harry, one of those unforgettable characters who enrich our aviation memories, added fuel to the Taylorcraft, put the few dollars I paid for the 25-cent-per-gallon gas in his pocket and helped us push the airplane back from the single fuel pump. As Ed climbed into the right seat of the Taylorcraft, I had a twinge of anxiety because of his size. Although short, he was rather obese, and I could swear the airplane leaned more to the right as we taxied to the far end of the longer of the two grass runways, spun around, added full power, such as it was, and accelerated ever so slowly toward the southwest. I was flying this leg and didn’t know enough to worry. Finally the wings generated just enough lift to leave the turf behind. Ahead, that bordering hedgerow sure was close and we sure were low. We did clear the hedge as I held my breath and Ed squirmed in the seat beside me. Across fields, which years later would give way to urban sprawl, we skirted Memphis Municipal by five miles, crossed the Mississippi River, located Bowen Field on the outskirts of West Memphis and glided to a landing on the south end of the single north-south grass strip.