My name is Jack — I am 82 years old. My friend Gary is 83 years old, and my 1947 Aeronca Super Chief (N3900E) is 65 years old.
In 1960, I went to work for Alaska Airlines for 25 years. Before and during that time, I worked on a lot of different airplanes, and for the last 12 years I was co-pilot on the Boeing 727 one year and served as Captain for the next 11 years. Sadly, I had to leave Alaska Airlines due to a heart attack, which forced me to retire. Between 1985 and 2012, I flew very little — about two to three hours a year, mostly on floats.
So why did I buy a Super Chief and fly across the country? It goes back to when I was six and my mom, sister and I took a scenic ride in a Ford Tri-Motor for about 12 minutes. That first flight was a lasting thrill I’ve never forgotten. I remember looking down on the little town below and deciding to become a pilot and someday have my own plane — that’s why. Besides, now I had the time, the money and a friend to fly with.
I bought the Super Chief from a fellow pilot who owned the airplane and sold it three different times, the third time to me. In September 2012, my friend Gary Yost and I took a train to Reedsburg, Wisconsin, to pick up my new purchase, which I named Daisy, in memory of my late wife’s favorite flower. Having been away from small airplanes for too long, I decided on some assistance from Britt, an instructor who helped me with the basics until I could manage by myself.
Now, Gary, he’s a different story. His only flying experience was 35 years ago when he logged four to five hours of solo time. His main occupation now is a house-builder. No matter. I had total trust in my friend. Since he was going to be my navigator, he needed a little more instruction for our cross-country experience. By the end of the second day, he was able to locate various landmarks from the sectional maps, such as towers, rivers, lakes, towns and airports. I was pleased when I watched him make a couple of circles around the airport with the instructor. It was important he be able to land in case something happened to me.
Before we left Reedsburg on September 24, 2012, Gary put positive thoughts into the universe — I call it “prayer” — hoping that we’d have perfect flying weather. We did that every night. Every morning before takeoff, Gary mentally put a white light of protection around the airplane and us. Whatever he did, it worked! We had perfect weather the whole trip and Daisy flew like an angel.
Here’s how our flight went:
Reedsburg to Austin, MI — 185 miles
Austin to Luverne, MI — 145 miles
Luverne to Chamberland, SD — 170 miles
Chamberland to Wall, SD — 163 miles
Wall to Gillette, WY — 270 miles
Our flight went well until we landed at this airport. When we taxied up to the gas pump and started to get out of the airplane, the fire chief wheeled up in his red pickup and demanded to know what we were doing there.
“You know you landed here without a radio,” he said. (A radio is required due to the airport having a control tower.)
“I didn’t think we needed one here at Sheridan,” I said.
“Well you’re not in Sheridan, you’re in Gillette, Wyoming.”
We all had a good laugh when we discovered we’d landed in the wrong place. We really hadn’t meant to land in Gillette. Gary just got a little ahead of the map is all. They were good guys at that airport. Later I thought we were lucky the CIA or worse hadn’t greeted us.
The other problem we encountered was the length of time it took Gary and me to get out of the plane when we landed. After sitting cramped up for three to four hours, our legs took a lot longer to move. We laughed while helping our lower limbs remember to get going. We’re in our 80s, after all.
Back on course we flew from:
Gillette to Sheridan, WY — 120 miles
Sheridan to Laurel, MT — 114 miles
Laurel to Three Forks, MT — 152 miles
Three Forks to Missoula, MT — 181 miles
Missoula to Post Falls, ID — 145 miles
Post Falls to Ellensburg, WA — 190 miles
When we flew into Ellensburg there was a lot of smoke in the area due to forest fires. We were worried about zero visibility and considered flying to Yakima the next morning. That night, once again, we put into the universe (well, Gary did) — we wanted perfect weather for the 95-mile morning flight to Auburn, Washington.
The next morning, with a light wind that cleared the air, we flew over Snoqualmie Pass with a view of the magnificent Mt. Rainer (14,410 ft.).
Finally, on September 28, we arrived in Auburn at 8:05 a.m. to a very unexpected surprise. While landing we flew over the top of a black and white “Welcome Home” sign accompanied by 10 members of our friends and family.
What more could two antique men and one antique airplane possibly ask for at the end of 19 hours, 43 minutes, 5 days and an 1830-mile flight across country than a welcome home greeting? It just doesn’t get much better than that.
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