The tiny Ercoupe caught my father’s eye in 1950. In 2017, that seventy-one-year-old airplane reminded me of the goodness in others. Of hope.
He was twenty-three and an Army Air Corps veteran, but WWII ended before he learned to fly. Although my father had to pay for his lessons, a number of veterans used the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 for flight training1 and were afforded a previously unattainable hobby or career. They congregated at local air fields, watching and talking planes, and dreaming.
Hope is integral to any dream. It got that young man to the skies, and it landed the kindness of a stranger at our feet 67 years later.
My father, fueled by youthful enthusiasm and unfettered by family obligations, became co-owner of that Ercoupe in the summer of 1950. And then he took flying lessons. He earned his pilot’s license in July 1951, and days later flew off on a two-week cross-country journey with a non-pilot friend, heading south and landing wherever suited them, navigating with outdated charts, sans radio.2
Priorities changed. In 1954, my father sold his plane3 and married. A few photographs and fewer stories of the plane peppered my childhood. He was a quiet and practical man. The idea of him with a plane was more novelty than reality.
A recent conversation led to a different adventure. Nearing his 91st birthday, memory still sharp, he rattled off the plane’s registration number.
On whim, I Googled the make and registration number, lest I forget. Might that plane be out there? What had become of one young man’s dream?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) website4 indicated that a 1946 Ercoupe, same N-number, is registered. The owner’s name and address were listed.
I phoned the owner, explained that this was an unusual call, and told my story. My father’s story, really. A boy and a plane. An aged man and a memory.
He listened, asked my father’s name, and where he kept the plane. The location, documented in paperwork, was familiar. We agreed to exchange pictures of the plane, which was recently restored.
The modern photographs arrived via email. I showed them to my father, who welcomed a positive distraction. Amazed that his little plane was still out there, he pronounced the restoration work very nice, and was thankful for the images.
The original control wheel and paperwork specifying repairs and alterations completed under his ownership arrived later. My father opened the package and held that control wheel in both hands, moving it this way and that. What memories did that control wheel bring? He smiled so widely he began to laugh. It was incredible that a conversation led to something so tangible. It was a gift from a man who understands hope.
I ordered the aircraft’s records from the FAA.5 Just over a week later, 176 pages of airworthiness reports and aircraft registrations arrived. It was $10 well spent. I created a list of owners from factory to present day. I wonder about their stories, their dreams, and if photographs remain. It is a genealogist’s wonderful historical rabbit hole.
The current owner sent pictures of the prior owner’s initial restoration efforts. My father, the present owner, and the prior owner now have photographs of the plane from three owners and from three points in time.
The last gift was received on Christmas Eve. My father watched a cockpit video of his little plane taking off and in flight. He wondered that so much had come from one conversation.
A short-lived dream, brought back to reality for a young man between his 91st birthday and Christmas.
1 Interview with my father about the popularity of post-WWII flight lessons. He had not earned enough credits to use GI Bill funds for his lessons, due to the end of the war and his service. Commonly known as the GI Bill of Rights. “Education and Training,” U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs website, https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/history.asp. “Using the GI Bill for Flight Training,” Military.com, https://www.military.com/education/gi-bill/gi-bill-flight-training.html.
2 Bill of Sale, 30 June 1950, CAA Registration Number N[xxxxx], Civil Aeronautics Administration [now Federal Aviation Administration]. The plane’s N-number has been withheld to protect the owner’s privacy. Pilot’s logbook, 26 July 1950, privately held by author. Interview with my father.
3 Bill of Sale, 2 February 1954, CAA Registration Number N[xxxxx], Civil Aeronautics Administration [now Federal Aviation Administration].