The musem is very pleased to have received the donation of a 1956 Piper Vagabond PA-15 from William J. Ihm of Anisworth Nebraska. The plane was flown from Nebraska to Lock Haven by Alex Minium of Energy Aviation in Montoursville, PA (Story of his Flight Below). Museum Board Member Clyde Smith said that previous owners had made modifications to the plane. The original yellow color was changed to Gray and the original Lycoming Engine was replaced with a Continential Engine. The registration indicates the plane is a PA-15 but with modifications such as a stick in the back it appears to be a trainer and resembles a PA-17 Smith however thought we should identify it as a PA-15 in spite of the modifications.
Once and a while high and fast needs a bit of low and slow. Call it a change of pace, but looking down and being able to count the number of cattle in a field as opposed to just seeing a patch of green lets you what you’ve been missing.
When the Piper Museum of Lock Haven, PA contacted me about flying a recently donated PA-15 to Lock Haven, PA from Bassett, NE I jumped at the opportunity to “step back a few years” in the world of aviation. Plans were made and soon I found myself in Grand Island, NE (which is not very grand and the farthest thing from an island I can imagine) introducing myself to a gentleman by the name of Bill Ihm, the owner of N4355H. I wasn’t sure what I expected Nebraska to be like, having only flown over a few times, but it was certainly unique. Nebraska is laid back compared to the East Coast, and refreshingly so. I’d definitely go back, especially with the hospitality of Bill and his horses (he lives on a farm and they came right up to his car to greet us upon arrival).
Believe it or not, the trip from Nebraska to Pennsylvania only took two days of flying even with weather delays along the way. The first day started at the Rock County Airport in Bassett, and after pulling the plane out and topping the tank (singular!) I was on my way. I’m very familiar with making long cross country flights from having ferried many planes and flying corporately for a living, but this one was unusual to say the least. Apart from the obvious lack of instrumentation and autopilot, the most difficult part of flying this plane was that tiny little 12 gallon fuel tank. I didn’t mind flying via pilotage because that’s is just a good skill for any pilot to maintain, but having to land every hour and a half made it tough to get into a groove. I did have a 5 gallon can of gas in the back just in case I landed somewhere that unexpectedly didn’t have fuel, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to get that gas from the can and into the plane’s tank without landing…seeing as its fuel filler is just outside the front windscreen. So close, yet so far.
Rather than write about every single stop along the way (there were 11), I think I’ll spare the reader and mention a few of the highlights. In case you want to map out the route, it went something like this; KRBE-KLCG-KEFW-KAWG-C75-KRZL-KIWH-KMNN-4G4-KDUJ-KIPT-KLHV.
In Wayne, NE (my first stop) I met the manager of the airport who had quite the story to tell. After he had established that I had just come from the Middle of Nowhere (no kidding, that’s really what the locals call it), he proceeded to tell me about how a tornado that had devastated the very airport I was then standing on. A year prior, a twister had come through the town leveling all of the hangars, his house, and many other local properties. Despite the devastation, the man stood proudly on a brand new tarmac with all new facilities and a new house that he and his wife had moved into only a week prior to my arrival. Talk about a rough year! I can’t imagine. If you ever get the chance and are flying around the Middle of Nowhere, make sure to stop by and hear for yourself. What a neat first stop…except for the steep learning curve and sore shoulder from figuring out how to hand prop a hot C-65, but that’s another story…
I spent the first night in WaBash, IN and, thanks to a willing medivac helicopter medic, I was able to hitch a ride to a hotel since the FBO had closed before I arrived. The same medic also willingly took me back to the airport in the morning (luckily his work schedule matched mine!) and I ended up spending most of the morning of day two in their medivac crew quarters waiting for a thunderstorm to pass. We had a great time sharing stories and talking about our families and I am very grateful for their hospitality.
Day two was great for tailwinds! I ended up following the same storm that delayed my departure all the way to Pennsylvania. Following behind the weather made for (no surprise) a rough ride but it was a willing exchange for ground speeds over 100 kts!
I had a little help in Marion, OH from a nice lady who helped me with getting some fuel and getting the plane started. By this point I had nearly mastered hot starts and had also gotten into the habit of tying the tail down prior to hand propping the little plane. Marion had winds of over 30kts and I had a hard time finding something to tie the tail to, so she offered to sit inside and hold the brakes while I got it started. She owned an Aeronca Champ so she knew the process well.
I finally made it home, flying just a bit past Lock Haven to my home airport of Williamsport, PA. It was almost dark and I didn’t have a ride from Lock Haven to Williamsport so I opted to take the Vagabond “home” the following day. Overall it was a great trip and I enjoyed flying a once “modern day” training aircraft. I don’t think I ever went much over 1000’ AGL and the window was open the whole way home. It just goes to show that low and slow is sometimes the way to go.