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Tom Cagan 
West Hills, CA
Tuesday, 31. August 2004 14:06 Host: Write a comment Send E-mail

Some Squadron 3 memories from 1959 and 1960

I started flying in October 1958. I joined the Air Explorer Scouts in North Hollywood, CA. They were an extension of the same scouting family sponsored by the North Hollywood Optimist Club.

When I joined the "Kitty Hawks" we had a 1946 Aeronca with a 65 hp Continental. I got about 5 hours in it before we took it on a trip out to Quartz Hill. Back then Quartz Hill was out in the middle of the desert and was uninhabited. Today there are hundreds of thousands of homes. Anyway we went out to the old WW-II training airfield and camped out in the old concrete dome structures that were all that there was left of the airfield. Of course the runways were still there, but nothing else… I digress… While out there the second night, it got extremely cold, and the fabric on the old Airnocker split over one wing and along the bottom of the fuselage right where the flat "chine" area was near the bottom of the Aeronca's belly. We used duct tape to hold it together until we got it back to Whiteman Airpark (Pacoima). About a week later one of the members of our sponsoring group, the North Hollywood Optimist Club, donated the use of a WWII vintage butler building that was to be torn down when the Golden State Freeway cut across Lankersheim Blvd. We towed the plane over there in the dark of night (LAPD helped since one of our scout masters (John Becker) was the Jailer at the North Hollywood Police Station). The next weekend we had a fabric stripping party. We took every piece of linen off of that plane in about 3 hours. Over the next 8 months, we sanded all of the varnish off of the wood pieces, sanded and re zinc chromated the steel, and reworked all of the control cables and pulleys. Then came the new linen "Sock" for the fuselage and wings. A guy named "Shorty" who was one of the originators of the group with Max Mahan and Fred Maw, had sewn the sock and taught us how to stitch it to the wooden structure of the plane. 25 boy scouts swarming over this thing was a sight to behold, all with needle and thread and Shorty checking every stitch. We then began to shrink the fabric with dope being applied with paint brushes. We got higher than a kite… There was one Friday night when we were still doping the plane, when a liquor store across the street was robbed. LAPD responded with guns drawn to the noise we were creating, thinking it was the robbers splitting the loot. They busted in and saw a bunch of very high Air Explorers with their Jailer helping to paint this airplane. They started laughing so hard they couldn’t see straight. Some of them came back after their shift to help us. We finally got the silver coats put on the plane, and then the color coat. It looked just like it came out of the factory 13 years before. We used linen since Seconite was so new that no one had any experience with it. The plane was re assembled with it's wings 9 months after the fabric split out at Quartz Hill.

We flew it about 6 months more before we figured that we needed an all metal airplane. We had a couple of pancake breakfasts, sold the Aeronca to a good home, and bought a Ercoup 415c. It already had the rudder kit in it, so it flew like a real airplane. It had an 85 hp Continental in it with a new engine. That's the plane I soloed in March 19, 1960. I later that summer flew it to the Porterville Bean Dinner/Bar-B-Que the 1st week in June and won the youngest pilot trophy… Interesting flight. I had two forced landings going from Whiteman to Porterville. Some A&E had put the mechanical fuel pump in with the actuating arm on the wrong side of the cam, and I only had the 5 gallon tank in the fuselage. The first time I set down in an alfalfa field in Delano . We weren’t sure what the problem was, except the fuselage tank was all that would work. My father was following about a half an hour behind me in a 172, and landed behind me. A few minutes later the farmer came up to see what was going on. He said that it was “ the first time I’d seen one of those Aeroplanes up close b’fer”. We determined that we weren’t getting fuel transfer from the wing tanks to the main tank, so we asked the farmer if he had something that we could use to transfer the fuel in. He said that he had a Coke Syrup gallon bottle that he used for diesel and he would go get it for us. We transferred enough to fill the tank and took off. The second time I landed on a paved farm road near Pixley. After pushing the plane off the roadway, my dad picked me up and flew me to Porterville. That was Friday night. The next morning Fred Maw drove me back to the plane and I flew in myself. Pretty exciting stuff for a 16 year old.

Tom Cagan
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