Perusing Some Old Logbooks

Memories from the past elicit lots of laughter and plenty of tears.

On a whim, FLYING contributor Martha Luniken dug into some old logbooks, as well as some diaries from the years between the mid-1960s and mid-’70s. [Courtesy: Martha Lunken]

Grounded too often this winter by weather and a head cold that morphed into pneumonia, I was stuck in the house, casting around for stories to tell you.

On a whim, I dug into some old logbooks, as well as some diaries from the years between the mid-1960s and mid-’70s, and have been alternately convulsed with laughter, drowned in tears, and flat-out amazed at the number of people I taught (or tried to teach) to fly. As far as I know, none have hurt themselves, their passengers, or their airplanes (well, except me).

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By 1964, I’d graduated from college, flown briefly for TWA as a hostess, met Ebby Lunken, and worked for his Midwest Airways commuter airline through its good days and bad, accepting a marriage proposal from Ebby and then backing off. He was “the moon and the stars,” but there was an age difference of 30 years. So, we remained close and, 10 years later, finally got married. I guess I knew it couldn’t work since I backed out on a trip to Las Vegas and then let two marriage licenses expire here at home.

Well, it didn’t—the marriage ended after eight years. I had cut way back working at my flying school—depending more and more on part-time instructors—and put all my energy into playing society lady, trying to be accepted by Ebby’s friends who were 20 years or more older and the cream of Cincinnati society.

Anyway, before all that, I’d begun as a 250-hour pilot, instructing for a large flying school at the airport for several years at $5 per flying hour. Two years later, I agreed to a part-time job instructing for Johnny Lane at Lebanon Airport (I68) in Ohio, while still acting as a sort-of secretary in the mornings for Ebby at what remained of the doomed Midwest Airways.

In those years, if I could earn $100 a week and pay no more than $100 a month for an apartment, life was good—not lavish, but good.

For seven months, I commuted back and forth between Lunken (KLUK) and Lebanon, mostly in my Pietenpol Air Camper, and then came back to Lunken for the winter. I loved the characters at Lebanon—doctors, pig farmers, a radio personality, and lots of “flying farmers,” many with “interesting” airplanes.

After instructing in a leased Cherokee 140 for a couple years, I bought a Cessna 150 for $6,000 from “Moose” at (now defunct) Blue Ash Airport and opened “Miss Martha’s Flying School” (really called Midwest Flight Training to take advantage of the name on a big hangar Ebby owned). Eventually, I added a few leasebacks, and some students had their own airplanes. In those 10 years, I logged nearly 6,000 hours of dual instruction and became an examiner for my (now) Part 141 school.

Browsing through these old logbooks resurrected so many emotions—laughter, frustration, tears, and truly beautiful memories. Of course, now I’m a defrocked CFI, but nobody will ever erase those years of hard work—sweating and freezing on airport ramps and in little trainers—and loving it (well, mostly).

My school prospered initially, I think, because most members of the Harrison Social Flyers, a flying club at the (now) Cincinnati West Airport (I67), had been flying permanently on student permits. You could do that in those days without all the required signoffs from a CFI. One hot summer day, I was at Cincinnati West in my Cub, sitting on a bench and drinking a Coke. Around the corner was a gaggle of club members who were mightily ticked off because one of the members “got himself a private license.” Well, the rules were changing, and they all were soon going to take the private written exam and get certificated.

Coincidently, I was teaching a free evening ground school at the old Cincinnati Tech High School. A large part of the class were Harrison Social Flyers who then took the written and came to my flight school to get their certificates.

Here are a few vignettes (among so many):

• Glenda was a beautiful, polite, and very Southern lady living in Cincinnati while her husband finished his medical training. My trainers had speakers and hand-held mics—no headsets. One afternoon after we landed, the tower told us to turn left at the next intersection with another runway, but Glenda turned right, and the controller was not happy.

She was quite flustered and, before I could grab the mic, she said, “Now, listen, y’all. Just shut up.” I grabbed the mic and later escorted Glenda to the tower to deliver an apology. She charmed them.

• Another student—a 40-something businessman—always scheduled his dual sessions in the early afternoon. He was a nice guy and doing fairly well when I asked why this time suited him. The air would be smoother in the morning.

“Oh, that wouldn’t work,” he said. I thought he meant it would interfere with work until he explained: “I have lunch with some buddies around 11:30 [a.m.], and I can have a couple martinis to relax myself before flying.”

My reply? “Uh, we need to talk today instead of flying. That martini thing isn’t going to work.”

• Then there was Connie, who was flying with another instructor, my friend Bill Anderson. He was getting nowhere because, when he pulled the throttle on simulated power failures, Connie would throw up her hands and scream (and/or cry). I said I would take her on, so we talked about the exercise on the ground (even though instructors at that school got paid only when the engine was running).

Off we went and, sure enough, I pulled on carb heat and closed the throttle at 3,000 feet, and she went into Sarah Bernhardt mode. I folded my arms and, eventually, said, “Gee, it looks like we’re gonna crash.” Connie got her wits about her and, at maybe 1,000 feet above a bunch of farm fields, she set up a glide and checked fuel and mixture.

I gave her back to Bill and, later on, I guess she freaked out on a solo flight in the traffic pattern. Gene Buckley, a handsome and accomplished air traffic controller, calmed her down and she landed safely. I don’t know if she ever got a private certificate.

• The ATCs, mostly ex-military, were lots of fun. My student landed with a “thunk” one summer day on the runway in front of the tower, and the left wheel pant flew off into the adjacent grass. The tower closed the runway, announcing it would reopen “when Martha found her pants.”

This column first appeared in the May 2024/Issue 948 of FLYING’s print edition.

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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