The Liberty Gazette
December 16, 2008
December 16, 2008
The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely
Linda: We tempted you last week by dangling the tip of a story about Charles Wiggins finding a 1940 PT-22 disassembled in a widow’s garage in Vidor. The lady wanted $500 for anything in the garage that was aviation related, so Charles grabbed a friend to help gather it all up. “We pulled the car around to this old shed and we had to kick the trash out of the way to get to it.” He gets a little animated relating the story. “We get inside and there are airplane parts everywhere, and a Ranger engine suspended from a hoist. Half the crate was sitting below the engine, and the other half we’d already kicked aside! There were almost enough parts for two airplanes, but only one engine, and it was hanging in the air,” he laughs. Must’ve been hanging there along time.
Three trips with a huge trailer emptied out the lady’s garage. Thinking he would part out the plane, his plans changed the next month when he saw an article in an aviation magazine about John Gotchoff, who specialized in rebuilding PT-22s. Charles called and explained his acquisition and John replied, “Just so happens I’m delivering a PT-22 to Galveston, I’ll stop and take a look.”
John made his delivery, got a truck, and came to Liberty. Upon careful inspection he offered to build Charles a PT-22 from all the parts, in exchange for the Ranger engine and $5,000. They agreed on the deal and spent the next day cramming parts in every little space of that truck. It would take about a year to rebuild the airplane.
Meanwhile, Charles broke his foot. So when the plane was ready, John brought it to him and showed him how to fly it.
Mike: The PT-22 held the speed record for snap rolls until the modern jet fighter era when the wings were engineered to increase the roll rate. Charles calls it a “neck-snapping experience.”
“The wings,” he tells us, “were built like a bridge – solid. Some of the same people who had worked on the Spirit of St. Louis were still working for Ryan on the PT-22 project.”
That airplane, which he admits reminds him of a warthog, was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Corp December 1, 1941 for a summer flight training program. Once we went to war the PT-22 was found to be unsuitable for primary training so the Army used the PT-19 and Stearman, and the PT-22s became surplus.
The cylinder arrangement caused an irregular beat sound. Friends were often concerned because it sounded like engine trouble when listening from the ground. “Compared to the Citabria,” says Charles, “the PT-22 flew like a brick. You couldn’t stall it and expect to recover in less than 1500’.” He laughs when he thinks of the first time he rolled the PT-22. “I had stuff in my shirt pockets that I forgot to take out. This is an open-cockpit airplane, and suddenly I see stuff just falling out everywhere as I go into the roll.”
If he didn’t return a call back then, it was probably because the number was on one of those pieces of paper.
Obviously Charles enjoyed his flying days; we enjoy his entertaining stories.
Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.