It Was a Very Good Logbook

Ebby sold me the Pietenpol Air Camper in pieces; he always refused to fly or ride in it. Courtesy Martha Lunken

Somewhere among all your stuff, there’s undoubtedly a stash of old logbooks. Mine are on a bookcase in the den—except the most recent of six, which is sitting open on the dining-room table, patiently waiting to be updated. It’s been several years since that’s happened, but I keep stickers for flight reviews and jot down details for currency (times, day, night, VFR, IFR, approaches, etc.) after each flight in a little daily planner for eventual transfer into the logbook…supposedly.

Check with a knowledgeable CFI or go online for the intricacies and legalities of recording flight time; the FAA requires only that you log training and aeronautical experience to meet certificate and rating requirements plus flight reviews and proof of recent experience. Entries can be in conventional logbooks, on old McDonald’s hamburger bags or in something like my “dinosaur” day planner. For those of you who don’t know or have forgotten how to write, there are all kinds of electronic apps to digitally record time.

I doubt that many of us—especially those who started way back—have made consistently, pristinely accurate logbook entries. Mine sure as hell aren’t, and I’m both appalled and amused when I look back at some of them. One page in my first logbook from the 1960s has entries as PIC for day and night flights in an Ercoupe, a Navion, Cessna 120, Cessna 195, Aeronca 7AC, Piper Aztec, Lockheed 10A and Twin Beech. No, I didn’t yet have a multiengine rating. The single-engine entries were at least semilegal because single-control Ercoupes—my first airplane—carried no restriction, tailwheel endorsements didn’t exist, and there was no night-training requirement. While this generic little black logbook—you probably own one—has columns for “dual” and “solo,” there’s nothing for “PIC” and “SIC.” So upon becoming a full-fledged private pilot, I scratched out “solo” and wrote “PIC.” In my mind, if not the FAA’s, I was pilot in command of anything I flew. (Actually, you can log “fun” time in any airplane or kind of operation for which you aren’t qualified, it just doesn’t count for anything.)

Intrepid aviator ­preparing for harrowing cross-country flight in the Pietenpol. Courtesy Martha Lunken

I got a little more serious after FAA inspector “Red Fred” Martin signed off my instructor’s rating in November 1967. And I’m grateful those entries are so detailed; what a joy to page through those old logbooks now, remembering faces and names and even the circumstances of some of those dual flights.

For no particular reason, this past week, I pulled out logbook No. 3 and read the entries for the year 1968. Seems odd I have only hazy memories of the political and social turmoil of that time. Oh, I remember Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, Boeing’s rollout of the magnificent 747, that unforgettable “Earthrise” picture from Apollo 8, and yeah, something about Vietnam. But the horror of that war, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, riots in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention, Richard Nixon’s presidential victory, the Berrigan brothers burning draft files, and O.J. Simpson winning the Heisman Trophy? Not a clue.

Leafing through the 57 pages logged in 1968, I see why: I was at the airport.

Much of the time was in Cessna 150s—the trainer of choice when people were smaller in the 1960s—but also Cessna 172s, 177s, 140s and 170s; Piper Cubs, Comanches and Aztecs; Beech 18s; Lockheed 10s (got a multiengine rating that summer); Aeroncas; Taylorcrafts; Ercoupes; and a Pietenpol Air Camper.

Instructing a student pilot at what would later become “Miss Martha’s Flying School.” Courtesy Martha Lunken

Ebby Lunken’s Midwest Airways had ended its scheduled service attempt and was doing charter in a Lockheed 10 and a DC-3. Ebby and I were midway through the 10-year hiatus between getting engaged and married. I was working for Midwest at Ohio’s Lunken Airport in the mornings and instructing across the ramp at Cincinnati Aircraft in the afternoons.

Cincinnati Aircraft suddenly shed their part-time instructors, but Johnny Lane invited me to instruct for him at the Lebanon-Warren County Airport about 40 miles northeast. I owned a Pietenpol Air Camper I’d bought (in pieces) from Ebby and, with friends, reassembled the previous winter. How well I remember the maiden flight on a cold February 6, 1968. With no idea of its handling characteristics and some angst about the quality of our work, I said a quick prayer and launched, too scared to shiver.

Read More from Martha Lunken: Unusual Attitudes

After leaving the office every morning, I’d fly the Pietenpol to Lebanon and instruct until heading back home “before the streetlights came on.” By the end of 1968, I had 1,700 hours—740 logged that year with 600-plus hours as a CFI. I soloed 23 students and recommended 26.

The multiengine thing happened rather curiously. A lifelong pal, Mike Devanney, was sales manager for a large dry-cleaning chain and flew an Aztec, owned by his dealer in Memphis, to Cincinnati for a long weekend. Mike called and said: “Hey, I have George’s Aztec until Sunday. Why don’t you get a multiengine rating?”

So Johnny Lane squeezed in five hours of dual, and I talked Art Hogan at nearby Hamilton Airport into a check ride.

“Where’s the paperwork?” Art asked.

Reassembling the Pietenpol with some tools ­borrowed from a dentist and a P&G. Courtesy Martha Lunken

Unfortunately, the owner (not a pilot) didn’t keep things such as operating limitations, weight and balance, airworthiness and registration certificates, or maintenance logs in the airplane.

“Well, uh, Mr. Hogan, I guess, well, we can’t find the paperwork.”

Art (bless him) scratched his head, gave the airplane a good looking over and said, “Well, I guess it’ll fly without paper.”

The only real excitement in all the flying that year was with that damned Pietenpol. When it got hot, the engine would miss—badly. So I’d climb as vigorously as possible northbound from Lunken to Blue Ash Airport, knowing there were good farm fields from there to Lebanon. Coming home, if I could reach 4,000 feet by Blue Ash—where it got “pissy”—I could glide into Lunken. Reinstalling the original Case “tractor” mags on the 75 hp Continental solved the problem.

Wish we’d replaced the carburetor. The bowl cracked one afternoon, and I made a forced landing in a field near Maude, Ohio, just east of Hamilton Airport. Ebby was furious and refused to bail me out—“Damn it, I told you not to fly that thing”—but Mike arrived with Art’s brother, Bill Hogan, to replace the part. I flew it home with no cowling. Yeah, it flew a little “funny,” but as they say, God protects children, drunks and fools.

I think about Mike, Bill and Art Hogan, Johnny Lane, Bob Logsdon, Chris Millard, Whitey Dale, Lytle Creager, Dave Keithler—and I miss you. I even miss that damned Pietenpol.

Martha Lunken is a lifelong pilot, former FAA inspector and defrocked pilot examiner. She flies a Cessna 180 and anything with a tailwheel, from Cubs to DC-3s.

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