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My Dad's Flight Log, Piper Cubs, and Pogo Sticks

The first entry is June 14, 1940

Questions multiply like Catholic rabbits when I try to puzzle some of my family history out. I’ve always wondered why and when my father first got interested in flying. He didn’t have one ancestor, living relative, or friend that had flown or showed any interest in flying. His five brothers and one sister were a tight earthbound family that seemed apprehensive about wandering too far from home and family traditions.

The question of when my father started flying was answered recently when my nephew Michael Ackley, loaned me my father’s log book. Michael is a Captain who flies commercial jets to Europe and South America. Years ago, my mother, proud that Michael had earned his wings, gave him the logbook, knowing he would treasure it.

When it was delivered by FedEx I was very surprised to see how good a condition it was in. For a logbook older than I am it is very well preserved. I doubt it’s been opened more than a few times in the seven decades since my father’s accident. My father must have been very careful with the book, having opened it hundreds of times to log his flight entries. (Any paperwork or books in my possession for a nanosecond end up dog eared with telltale coffee stains and jelly thumb prints. I will try hard to treat this logbook like it’s from the Library of Congress.)

The one I wore had no ear protector

My mother, a wise woman, did not entrust me with the logbook. I did end up however with my father’s fleece lined leather flying helmet at the young age of seven or eight. It’s likely that I appropriated it from the cedar chest in the attic. I wore it, and the silk Japanese jacket my brother Dale sent me from Tokyo at the same time. I wore them as if they were a matched set. In all kinds of weather. If my memory serves me, the gray blue jacket was covered with embroidered multi-colored dragons. The leather helmet and the dragon jacket were worn day after day after day. It was an odd fashion statement, and an even stranger political statement so close to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The leather helmet survived battles with Indians and the rich Cernech brothers up the street much better than the jacket. With so much climbing over, through, and under neighborhood fences the jacket began to fray and unravel into its original silkworm threads. Eventually even the leather helmet started to flake off lichen like brown chips. Ultimately they were declared unfit as apparel and both the helmet and the jacket were clandestinely disposed of by my mother. It is fortunate that I did not see the flight logbook in the cedar chest when I discovered the leather helmet.

My mother made the right choice in giving the logbook to Michael. Neither of her sons, Dale nor myself, showed any true interest in flying. Any interest my brother Dale had might have been extinguished the day of our father’s accident. Dale was leery of high places. Water was his element. Navy all the way! My interest in aerial events ended the day I jumped off the garage with my feet firmly mounted on the treads of a Pogo stick.

Forgive my drifting mind; I’ll get back to the log book. I was impressed at the good condition of the log book, but the real surprise was that my father didn’t start flying until he was 32 years old, with three children. Dale was eight, Judy was five, and Sherry was three.

According to the flight book my father begins taking lessons from Charles Toth, a Frenchman who ran a flying school out of the old Municipal Airport in Kansas City. I can’t find much information on the man or the school. The airport was located within a looping bend of the Missouri River in the West Bottoms, a busy industrial district. It was very close to the rising buildings above it that made the city’s skyline. It was dedicated in 1927 by Charles Lindbergh. Its main client was a fledgling airline called Trans World Airlines. Because of its location so close to the city it was considered one of the most dangerous airports in the country.

My father was working at the Wyandotte Furniture Factory very close to the airport. He was close enough to watch the continuous panorama of ascending and descending planes and hear the prop noise from even the smallest single engine planes. His father and several brothers had worked at the furniture factory also; possibly they were all working there at the same time. I presume the job must have paid decent since no one was starving at home and there was enough extra money for flying lessons at the flying school.

I’m going to speculate here on the how my father’s interest in flying started. I could grasp at a number of straws but I’ll just pick one. Maybe he enjoyed watching the planes take off and land as he took a lunch break on a bench outside the furniture factory, away from the pounding and sawing inside the building. Who wouldn’t want to soar in the clouds above all the racket? So one day curiosity caused him to cross over the Hannibal Bridge to the airport, and one thing led to another.

His first lesson is in June of 1940 in a Piper Cub. While most aviation companies crashed in the Great Depression, William Piper’s company soared. Piper sold hundreds of his tiny, yellow airplanes. Yellow was the only color they came in. They were as cheap as a good car, and not much faster. They flew about sixty miles an hour but were easy to fly and reliable.

After the Cub my dad has numerous lessons and flights logged in his book. He flies many different kinds of planes for the next three years, up until March of 1943. Many days he would take a local flight above the city after his work shift at the furniture factory and then drive the ten miles down Independence Avenue through the Italian district to our home in Fairmount, Missouri.

Porterfield like this one was flown often

In July of 1943, the month I was born, my father was in the air 24 of the 31 days. He was in the cockpit of a Porterfield the day I was born on the 18th. Out of very strange curiosity I go back in the flight book to the month I was conceived. It had to be November of 1942 since I was a full term baby weighing in at over ten pounds. My father was only in the air six times that month, always in the Porterfield. I’m surprised I’m not named Daniel Porterfield instead of Daniel Winfield. I was just surprised at the number of hours he spent in the air. He spun the propeller of a Porterfield again the day after I was born on the 19th of July, my first day of not breathing through an umbilical tube, and o f f he f l e w.

Before you conclude that my father wasn’t giving his wife and his new son the time of day, that’s not the case! He had recently switched airports and had enrolled in a “War Training Induction Course” that was being offered at the Ong Airport at Blue Ridge and 50 Highway east of the Municipal Airport. The airport was also known as the Old Richards Airport or Richards Flying Field. The airport was sold years ago to contractors and an aerial view today shows only the rooftops of hundreds of homes where runways used to be. There was bad blood between the downtown Municipal Airport and the Ong Airport because they both wanted to name their airports after John Richards, a World War 1 airman. Someone pried the bronze plaque bearing Richard’s name off the entrance of the “Ong” airport and fastened it at the entry of the Municipal Airport.

The “War Training Course” at the “Ong Airport” was basically a screening program for potential pilot candidates to serve in the military. It was paid for by the government. The catch was that all the graduates were required to sign a contract agreeing to enter the military following graduation. The reason my father signed the contract was partially patriotic but I think he was beginning to think of flying as a career.

The owner of the airport was William Armitage Ong, a captain in the Army Air Corps Reserves. He was a charismatic character, seven years older than my dad, and winner of several International Air Races. On completing the course my father was inducted into the Army Air Corps and both he and Captain Ong served at the military airport in Manhattan, Kansas. It lasted only for a short four months, from March of 1944 to June of 1944. The program trained civilian pilots for military support roles. Many of the graduates who were trained by my father and inducted in Manhattan served by shuttling planes from base to base and searching from the sky for German U-boats along coastal waters.. Captain Ong was put in charge of the program in Manhattan and he made my father the Chief Flight Instructor, with extra duties running the airport itself.

Entries in the logbook are missing for this military time period. I assume there was another military logbook for training flights my father made in the four months in Manhattan. Personnel are re-assigned from Manhattan because the Allied Forces were making headway and my father leaves active duty.

Entries resume again in July of 1944 at the “Ong Airport.” He makes 24 flights out of the airport between the 15th of July and the last day of August, 1944. He’s in the air 42 days out of 47 between the two dates. It appears he is delivering planes and possibly giving lessons at the airport.

This is where I think he borrows against our family home, his life insurance policy, and any other money he can get his hands on. He buys a used Aeronca Champ, and invests heavily in the Blue Valley Flying Service. It is based at a small airport at 40 Highway and Blue River Road, not that far from the “Ong Airport.” The airport went by various names; Heart of America Airport, 31st Street Airport, or simply Heart Airport. A relatively recent aerial view shows what looks like a junkyard. One large silver hangar is still intact and you can see the fuselage of a wingless Stinson sitting near the hangar.

Wingless Stinson Fuselage at Heart of America Airport

I don’t know how much my father invested, who his partners were, or if the Blue Valley Flying Service was making money. The unsubstantiated rumor was spread that my father’s partners cheated him out of his share after the accident. I’m looking into this but not finding much evidence other than the airport safe was rifled following the accident and no records of my father’s ownership was found. He was the president of the Blue Valley Flying Service and vice-president of the “Heart of America Airport” where the service was based.

The news reporters made a number of errors in their reporting following the plane crash July 6th, 1943. Megan Kunze, my great niece, has retrieved several Kansas City Star articles that I had never seen. They seem more credible than the ones I had in “The Box.” The next blog will cover the day of the accident.

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