The Liberty Gazette
April 20, 2010
April 20, 2010
The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely
Linda: From the rear seat I shot video while Mike flew right seat and my 13-year old nephew, Levi, sat in the left following Uncle Mike through on the controls. Levi has ridden in small planes before but to fly it himself was a first. We circled over his house and he was amazed with the view from up there. After landing and engine shut-down he exclaimed, “Wow! I need to get my license!” We had flown to the Hendricks County airport near Indianapolis the afternoon before and now hurried back to my sister’s house to get ready for my niece’s wedding.
The wedding was beautiful and we stayed longer than we probably should have, but it’s hard to leave family and fun. A couple of turns over my sister’s house and on we flew southwest-bound. A few uneventful hours later the airplane was ready for a refill and I was ready for an emptying, so we stopped at Grider Field in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Grider Field opened in April, 1941 as a U.S. Army Air Corps primary pilot training field. The terminal building looked really nice from outside but unfortunately the good folks in charge in Pine Bluff have overlooked a really important thing that fortunately most airports do not overlook: access to a restroom after normal business hours. I had Shane’s number in my cell phone; he’s been Pine Bluff’s Airport Support Network Volunteer for a few years. The Network is a great thing, personally and professionally; I like having like-minded contacts at airports all over the country. Shane suggested we go to the north end of the field where we’d find the EAA hangar. “It’s an old World War Two hangar, next to an avionics shop. Tell them you know me and you need their restroom.”
Mike: Erich was relaxing, nursing a can of Sprite. He greeted us and led us through the 69-year old building, toward the restroom on the opposite side. Stepping into the dark hangar we came face-to-face with a rebuild project, a Fairchild PT-19. Carefully walking around the PT-19 we continued between two rows of airplanes: a Ryan Navion next to a camo-green tailwheel L-3 to our right; a few steps further a blue and yellow EAA biplane on our left and a red high-winged Stinson on our right. At the end of the rows sat a BT-13 Vultee on our left and a T-6 “Texan” on our right. Surely great stories are hangared here.
The PT-19 was one of the planes at Grider Field during training for WWII. The local EAA Chapter discovered some forgotten PT-19 wings and center section in a barn in the Midwest. The parts being in poor condition a new center section was fabricated from scratch using the old one as a template. Erich told us one member of their chapter was at Grider Field when that very airplane was used as a trainer. He’s a valuable resource for the younger guys restoring this bird to flying condition.
The Navion is undergoing repairs, and Erich and his Navion partner Rick promised us a ride when they get finished in a couple of months. Since Pine Bluff is on our route to Indy, I think we’ll be stopping by to check on their progress.
Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.