A (Short?) Story Covering Forty Years In The Life Of My Baby Ace N63499
I have been asked to tell a short story about the building and development of this airplane.
The Corben Baby Ace was chosen by Paul Poberesny in the early 1950's as his example of a small aircraft a person could build without much experience or tool requirement. As most all of you know, the EAA was thereby created.
The Ace had been upgraded to the 'D' Model by the late Stan Dzik, whose version I obtained in the early '60's.
I spent 30 days leave working in California rice fields, earning enough cash to buy the steel tubing, flat sheet, spruce and mahogany plywood.
I was in the U.S. Air Force assigned to the USAF Helicopter Flight Training School, during all this time. I constructed most all of the airframe on station at the Stead AFB Aero Club facility. (Yes, needless to say, call 'attention!' and some things certainly will move rapidly to do your bidding.)
First Flight was 19 May 1964 and required quite a few minor adjustments. I am an amateur you know.
While I was building my fifty hours , unbeknownst to me, Bill Stead, the brother of Croston V. Stead, whom the air base was named after, was busy in Reno, Nevada building the first National Air Races Air show (1964). I learned of it just as they went public and went into town and found a kiosk in a hotel lobby. Lo and behold, who's operating it but Duane Cole one of the renowned aerobatic show pilots of the day. We talked quite awhile before I mentioned the Ace and then talked about it too. Ticket prices were $6.50 per day in the grandstands but Mr Cole offered me the opportunity to enter into their static-display contest for $5.00 for the entire Air show including free run of the flightline during all hours. WOW!! DID THAT MAKE MY DAY!
I had not as yet talked with F.Don Jordan, my FAA representative from WE-GADO-11 Reno Nevada. I still had to add time to get to the fifty hours. So I got busy and made more repairs and painted it yellow with big black numbers on the side. It was getting close to time for the races and I got my fifty hours completed. When I called Don Jordan to tell him I had the hours on file and was ready for his signature, he suggested I wait until I could park the airplane at Sky Ranch Satellite airport which was used the first two years then moved to Stead AFB for permanent installation. We met about two days later on 12 September 1964 on about the first day of activity of the races. I mixed in with the crowd of race pilots and marveled at how nice they were, even shook hands with Bob Hoover.
At the end of September, 1964 I left the US Air Force and set forth to start a new career, but not without a little vacation with my newest toy.
On 9 October 1964 I left Beckwourth Airport, California to where I had moved upon retirement, and flew over to Stead Municipal Airport and parked my Corben Baby Ace on the ramp where it was created but had not yet flown. It had started there more than two and a half years before, on a cold December night.
So at about 0630 hours, 10 October 1964, my Baby Ace and I began a sojourn that ended on 24 February 1965. It took 95 hours, almost all point to point cross country flight and covered 7600 miles and seventeen States. I had many, many wonderful experiences, a couple of the tougher ones I will relate here.
The very first day of my sojourn was on a Friday and I had a wonderful day crossing Nevada, until I reached Elko. It was getting late in the day and so decided to RON at Elko because everything I required at the time was just a short walk to reach. I serviced the airplane and sat down to plan the next leg of the trip, only to realize I'd run out of fuel about twenty miles short of Salt Lake City. They told me that I could not fly through SLC anyway, I had no radio.
So I figured out how to get across the Bonneville Salt Flats and around The Great Salt Lake itself, into Bountiful. I inquired about getting over the Wasatch Mountain Range and was told about Farmington Pass. I took off early the next morning having to fly north along the range in order to make my move to the east. I don't recall the altitude required to get through the pass but made my way up alongside the mountain keeping to one side of the pass in case I had a little trouble and had to escape the situation.
I finally got enough altitude to slip through the pass and as I did, I witnessed one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen. The sun was still low enough to cast shadow over the valley just below my position, the saddle of the cut ahead of me was brightly lit with small trees and as I looked back while flying through the pass I saw below the shadow, the sunlight on the Great Salt Lake Valley floor with the Great Salt Lake itself and the mountain ranges and desert floor beyond to the western horizon. Words cannot describe the sight I saw that October morning in Utah!
A few days later, after landing and taking off from the highest commercial airport in the U.S. and flying across Wyoming and Nebraska, I stopped at a small airport on top of a hill and then had to hold up due to ground fog in Iowa to the east. A fellow pilot came walking past and stopped to talk airplane as we often do. But he mentioned that the original Mechanix Illustrated airplane was just a few miles ahead at a small airport. I told him 'thanks', I'd drop in and check it out. About an hour later I was at Creston, Iowa and looking at the real thing. The FBO and I visited and I determined that I was good enough to make the next stop without the half-hour of fuel I'd used up to then. So I punched off for Mount Pleasant, Iowa.
A couple hours later as I approached Mount Pleasant and got it into focus, I could see the aerodrome, not just the airport, was completely plowed under. I instantly checked my fuel and realized that I had to get on the ground and do it soon if I wanted out in good condition. On my map I found two strips to the north, the first being a private strip. As I approached the strip I could see that it had about a thousand foot strip but a very large corn combine right in the middle. As I passed overhead I could see the owner beside his combine so I wiggled the ailerons to say see ya later and kept on moving towards Columbus Junction, Iowa. I did not bother to gain any more than a safe minimum altitude and pressed on.
Things were now beginning to get tight, the fuel wire in that old J-3 fuel cap was now sitting solid on the bottom, there wasn't enough fuel to float. I had only 300 feet from me to the ground and had to constantly watch for possible places to 'set' it down, and work to get to the airport at Columbus Junction. Right about that time I spotted what I believed to be the airport. I firewalled the throttle and pulled the nose up to grab a little altitude only to have the engine falter and want to quit.
I quickly got the nose back down and headed straight for the runway, lined up and landed, only to hear one of the oddest noises to ever come from a light airplane landing gear. It was a loud growl much like the sound of a Gatling Gun from an Air Force F-104. But it tapered off as the airplane slowed in speed. I taxied my Baby Ace straight to the pump and started to fill that old J-3 tank. It stopped at eleven and three quarters (11.75) gallons into a twelve gallon tank. I had just completed a blunder that I knew should never have happened, "the altitude above you, the runway behind you, and the fuel you left in the pump!"
I enquired as to what made all the noise to greet my arrival. They told me that they had sowed the runway with grass seed in the spring and a wind came along and blew it all up into windrows and that most every stranger was equally startled when they arrived.
I turned to the east after takeoff to see what adventure was in store for me and my new play-toy. I still had about four months of vacation and there were plenty more of those adventures just waiting for me. None were to be dangerous but were of small interest to some.