“First you do it”
There’s a short poem by “Mason Williams” that he published back a long time ago and it goes like this.
“First, you do it
then you do it for fun,
then you seriously do it,
and then you’re done”
I love airplanes. I have always loved airplanes even as a little boy.
I was lucky enough to be invited onto the flight deck of a Northwest Airlines flight when I was 5 or 6 years old flying from Spokane Washington to Kalispell Montana.
My obvious fascination with the cockpit was not overlooked by the captain who graciously came back and took me to the cockpit and let me see what was going on.
I was fascinated by the lights instruments switches and knobs.
The magnificent drone of the engines, and on this clear night it seemed I could see forever.
The snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountain front range loomed out in front of us, the cold crisp winter air made the airplane seem to be riding on silk.
I can’t tell you what airplane it was but I know it was a Northwest Airlines flight so I’m guessing a DC 3 but I do not recall well enough.
I did write a letter to Northwest Airlines and requested information about their airplanes, which they graciously sent some weeks later, and to my surprise, it was a brochure of all of the aircraft in their fleet at the time.
My mother told me later in life that I signed the letter, adding PS, “if you don’t have any of those things, just forget it.” Northwest did send me the brochure much to my great satisfaction.
My uncle Broz appeared in my life about 1965-ish. His name was Lou Broznick who was married to my dad’s sister. A Korean War-era Air Force jet fighter pilot and I was in awe of him.
There was another real pilot in my family! The other pilot was Uncle Frank who owned a Piper Cherokee.
Uncle Broz didn’t speak much about the war but he did give me some ideas about flying and told me some stories but none about combat. This didn’t surprise me because no one I knew from World War Two ever spoke about the war.
My uncle came to visit the next time and brought along a replica of a jet fighter pilot’s helmet with the goggles attached and the oxygen mask just like the real thing. My fantasy world was grateful beyond measure. And I enjoyed hours of pretending to be a pilot.
Who remembers the series “SKY KING” on television in the 1950’s about a wealthy rancher pilot who flew a Beech 18? I wanted a Beech 18 immediately.
In the following years, I flew once in a great while with my uncle Frank and with friends. I was unable to find the money to start my own training until a few years later.
Somewhere about the age of 18 or 19, I flew with Robbie Holman from Kalispell Mt to Great Falls Mt in some pretty nasty weather. We were in a Cessna 310 and I thought to myself then.
“Hell if Robbie can do it I can.” When we returned I talked with Robbie about flying with him and learning but at the time I was finishing my college degree in Helena Mt.
When I got back to Helena at the end of my senior year I started taking flying lessons at the Helena airport with Jeff Morrison of Morrison Flying Service. I absolutely loved flying with the man and I learned to respect him immensely.
I started flying with Jeff on September 7th of 1973 in N61386, a Cessna 150, and on November 30th of 1973 I had a whopping 9.5 hours on the airplane.
Jeff and I took off for touch-and-goes. “Just remain in the pattern and fly the airplane around and land,” he said. On landing, Jeff asked me to go back to the runway and when I got to the hold line he got out of the airplane and said “It’s all up to you now”.
Nervous and scared I knew that it was time and I managed to fly the airplane around the pattern and land without consequence to which Jeff wrote in my logbook ” good solo” and signed Jeff Morrison. and his certificate number.
I had never felt a more pleasing moment in my life. It was the greatest self-confidence builder I ever experienced and an incredible feeling of freedom. I had accomplished something that very few other people had done. It is truly one of the only moments in life where it is all about “you”. My ego was bursting at the seams.
I flew with Jeff until February 12th of 1974 and did my dual cross-country with him from Helena to Bozeman and Butte and back to Helena.
Then life threw me a curve and I didn’t get to finish my private pilot’s license with Jeff.
I was determined however to accomplish getting that private pilot’s license. I just didn’t know how at the time.
I learned later in life the “how am I gonna do it”, didn’t make any difference because once I made the decision the how just came. Now that refers to personal power.
A short history of the Helena airport
We all know the story of the Wright brothers with their first flight on December 17th, 1903.
Seven years later aviation had made some pretty large advances. Louis J Hill of the Great Northern railroad and John Ringling a Montana resident of the Ringling Circus fame and I’m guessing a few other folks put up a $10,000 prize (about $480.000.00 in today’s dollars) to be given to the person who flew across the continental divide for the first time. (In 1888 the city of Helena had more millionaires per capita than any other place in the world). Fifty millionaires were living there at the time so it was a very wealthy city and so it remains.
J.C. “Bud” Mars attempted the flight on Sept. 30, 1910, but crashed in the Scratch gravel Hills and luckily survived.
Cromwell Dixon from Ohio nationally acclaimed as “the youngest aeronaut of the world” took the challenge. He had received his pilot’s license #43 from Curtiss Aero plane Company’s aviation school on July 9th, 1911 at age 17.
On Sept. 30, 1911, Dixon an employee of “Curtiss Exhibition Company” successfully flew his Curtis “Pusher” biplane provided by Aviator Glen Curtiss across McDonald pass to Blossburg Montana, hiked to the railroad station, and telegraphed Helena.
Dixon returned to Helena a hero and Governor Edwin Norris proclaimed him “The World’s Greatest Aviator” and presented him with the $10,000.00 prize.
Cromwell died two days later while doing flying exhibitions in Spokane Washington. A tragedy but the same type of accident still happens today when pilots stall the aircraft too close to the ground.
Terah Thomas (T.T.) Maroney arrived in Helena in 1911 in his Curtiss biplane and impressed the legislature so much that they made him an honorary member of the Montana National Guard. He is also credited as being the first pilot to ever land in Butte.
He is also given the distinction of having given William Boeing and his partner George Westervelt their first airplane rides which influenced these gentlemen enough to start the Boeing aircraft company.
In my opinion, Boeing is still the greatest aircraft ever built. ” if it ain’t Boeing I ain’t going” You can read more about Boeing here.
Amazing and courageous women.
In 1913 Katherine Stinson (sister to Edward Stenson, founder of Stinson Aircraft) arrived in Helena and put on a spectacular airshow. Katherine was the 4th US woman to acquire a pilot’s license at age 19 and was a very skilled and daring pilot.
She flew mail from the fairgrounds and dropped it over the Helena postal office and was named as a “postal employee”
She and her mother, Marjorie formed a flying business in San Antonia Texas as well as a flight school and taught her younger brothers how to fly as well as some of the local kids. The flight school became one of the most famous in that area.
Catherine was a true pioneer of aviation and was the first female US airmail pilot inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Another big plus for women in aviation was when Katherine went to China and Japan in 1917 to introduce the people of those countries to the marvels of modern aviation at the time. She was obviously a very astounding and courageous woman.
I look forward to seeing more women becoming pilots. Start your training here. Ladies, please challenge yourself to learn how to fly an airplane, I will be talking about women in aviation in a forthcoming article. T
One of the late greats to visit the Helena airport was Charles Lindbergh. On September 6th, 1927 he came to the first-ever Montana Air Meet and participated and attended a parade in his honor.
Amelia Earhart stopped in Helena in 1933 in a Ford trimotor on a contract for Northwest Airlines to develop new airline routes in the West. Northwest began passenger service operations in Helena in 1936.
There are many inspiring stories about women in the early days of aviation. You can read about Amy Johnson and her record-setting flight to Australia and of her death in 1941.
Then the record-setting flight from Australia to England that Lores Bonney completed in 1933. I would have loved to have spent an hour with each of these inspiring women.
My instructor in Helena, Jeff Morrison, and his family had a distinctive influence on Helena Airport.
His father Ralph “Red” Morrison came to Helena Mt. In 1931 and opened Morrison Flying Service. He was also the airport manager.
Lieutenant “Red” Morrison was the personal pilot for William Randolph Hearst who also had close ties to Montana as a business associate of Marcus Daly known as one of the Copper Kings in Butte Mt.
Lieutenant “Red” Morrison was killed in a flying accident in Tampa FL on December 23rd, 1942 where he was serving as a flight instructor for the United States Air Force. His wife continued to operate the business until his son Jeff took over.
I must include the most remarkable woman aviator that I met in Helena Mt at the airport while waiting to fly with Jeff. I do not recall the aircraft she was flying but it was to the best of my memory a Stinson Station Wagon or possibly a Taylorcraft. In those days Montana Aviation was still a very very small town and since Jeff had the only FBO in Helena he knew everybody that came and went pretty much.
When the lady was on the ramp I walked out with Jeff to greet her and was introduced to Jane Hibbard.
I knew the Hibbard name well since her husband Hank was a friend of my father’s, Willard Bennett. I also knew that the Hibbard family owned the largest cattle ranch in Montana.
I spent a bit of time checking out her airplane and having a visit with her and then she was on her way.
Jeff told me that Jane, one of the few women pilots in Montana, was also the only woman pilot in the United States that had a license to fly with one eye. And fly she did quite well. She used her airplane to travel back and forth from the ranch to Helena and of course, anywhere she wanted to go.
Jane’s husband Hank was tragically killed in his Piper Cub out searching for a stray bull on his sprawling ranch in 1976. Very sad news for the state of Montana. He was a very impressive man and I admired him greatly as well as his wife Jane.
There are still many firsts to be had in aviation so start learning to fly today.
Flying in the Rocky Mountains
I had a rather interesting experience with pilots flying into the Rocky Mountains.
All of my early flying was in the mountains so I didn’t give too much thought about flying around in the mountains. My instructors all had extensive experience flying in the mountains so I already had some excellent training. Learning to fly in the mountains was an integral part of my early experience with aircraft.
I received a phone call one day from a pilot from back east and I don’t recall exactly where but they had flown their aircraft to Montana and landed at Cut Bank Montana. They were in search of somebody that would fly over to Cut Bank and fly their aircraft over the mountains for them.
My first thought of course was that it was a joke. But the truth was these gentlemen were very concerned about flying across the mountains.
I was more than willing to go and assist them but after some discussion, I convinced them that they could easily complete their journey into the Kalispell Mt airport.
If you are intending to fly West across the Rocky Mountain Front Range which can be very intimidating, I recommend taking some lessons before you venture off.
I will be addressing this topic in forthcoming articles.
Historic Aircraft in Montana
There are some pretty cool places in Montana that have some unlikely airplanes in some unlikely places. But they are unique. If you’re flying it’s a lot of fun to visit these places ’cause two of them are located at airports. You can do a virtual tour online of a couple of these places if you don’t have the means to travel and see them.
The Museum of mountain flying in Missoula MT. has a really neat display and they have some really cool airplanes and they have taken time and lots of patients to restore and put on display.
be sure not to miss the smokejumper museum located on the Missoula airport as well.
Another fun place to go is the Stonehenge Air Museum located in Fortine, Montana just north of Kalispell Mt It’s located on the Crystal Lake resort and it is it private airfield but is open to the public. You do have to have a reservation to go visit the museum. It’s all owned by Jim Smith and he is a personable character.
here is a link for the Crystal Lakes airport information.
“Then you do it for fun”
When at College in Helena I met a man named Eugene R Mallette, a man who gave me unbelievable opportunities through my aviation life that I had no idea would occur at the time.
I traveled to Idaho Falls in September 1975 to see Gene and found myself at the Red Baron Flying Service during the day when Gene was busy working. I decided to complete my private pilot’s license while in Idaho Falls.
I met Eddie who was behind the counter at the Red Baron hangar and started exploring. She was in charge and she had no objection to me looking around so I opened the man door to the hangar and inside I found airplane parts and an airplane (A P 51 Mustang). “The Undertaker”, owned by Ed Browning.
My first personal encounter with the P 51, although I had heard about Mustangs many times since it was such an icon of World War Two. The floor of the hangar was literally covered in aircraft parts and pieces. There was a man in the hangar and I spoke to him introduced myself and he said his name was George Roberts.
George and I became friends over the time I was at Red Baron and he introduced me to another gentleman John Muszala who was one of the Chino California boys that had all the fun warbirds. John was the guy that got the honor of taking care of and flying the T6 and the De Havilland Beaver for Ed Browning. John and George, we’re both excellent mechanics and were always on hand at any air show or race in the pits working on airplanes.
George was busy completely rebuilding this aircraft including a huge 12-cylinder engine. I discovered that George was a World War Two P 51 pilot and a Mustang mechanic so he knew his stuff.
It wasn’t long before I learned about the phenomenal aircraft that Mr. Ed Browning owned including the one pictured above, the world-famous RB 51 and Ed’s F104 flown by Darryl Greenamyer, one of the pilot’s of the RB 51 and pilot of the F-104 Starfighter “Red Baron” (N104RB.
I didn’t have a lot of time and money at this point in my life, so I had to figure out how I would pay for all of this.
I didn’t have to worry about a place to stay so food was the only real issue other than paying for an instructor and an airplane,
The Red Baron Flying Service was a Cessna dealership so I bought the Cessna private pilot integrated flight training program. It contained all of the books, including a logbook the E6B, and some charts that I needed to learn how to use.