Minnesota Flyer - Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

As I Recall: Part II


From the April, 1960 issue of AOPA Pilot — provided by Minnesota Flyer Iowa reader Phillip Carson.

I’ll try to introduce readers to the old printed pages — and make my own snark-filled commentary on them as well. DISCLAIMER: These ads do not depict current products or services available for purchase today. The material referenced is only for discussion and commentary. Nothing in this article should be construed as being applicable to the product or services as sold today.

It was the last gasp for converted WW II bombers as executive aircraft. On Mark Engineering was marketing a converted B-26 bomber as an executive aircraft. L.B. Smith Aircraft was also converting B-26s — but this version offered a fuselage stretched to give 6’2” inches of headroom and 26 feet of walkthrough cabin space. Both conversions offered pressurization, and both replaced the pass-through spar with a ring spar to create the cabin. It advertised that the aircraft carried up to 10 people from 1200 to 2500 miles, at altitudes to 25,000’, and cruise speeds up to 365 statute miles per hour. The price was $257-$361,000 ($2,027,000 to $2,848,000 in today’s dollars), depending on options—still only 40% of the cost of the new Gulfstream I.

The issue was filled with letters to the editor and even advertisements for recalling the first FAA Administrator, “Pete” Quesada. Pilots were unhappy about the new rules pushed through the FAA without pilot input, and Congress held hearings. The word “Dictator” was used a lot — and writers praised AOPA for standing up for pilot’s rights. AOPA suggested 11 changes, and most were later adopted, burnishing AOPAs reputation as a pilot’s advocate. Little has changed in the intervening 50-some years — FAA still proposes more and more rules, and it is a constant push-back to retain freedom to fly.

One of the items that so angered pilots was the FAA medical “hearings” held in February 1960. Not only were medical certificates required, but they would have to be administered by designated doctors. During WW II, this requirement was abolished due to a shortage of doctors, but mandated again by the head of the newly created FAA, Gen. Quesada, who thought it was a good idea to make private pilots hold to the same standards as military pilots.

Despite testimony (including that of the very doctor that was in charge of dismissal of the medical program for private pilots) that the medical requirement or the requirement to use only designated doctors produced no demonstrated safety benefit, the FAA implemented the requirement anyway “in the interest of safety.” Some things never change -- Over half a century later, pilots are still asking the FAA to repeal the third-class medical. History also seems to be repeating itself today, when the government mandates specific health care “for the public good” despite almost universal disapproval.

Motorola bought out the Lear autopilot — yes, Bill Lear built one of the early General Aviation autopilots. Lear also made a General Aviation ADF — and Motorola bought that, too.

Cessna introduced the new Model 150 in their two-page spread — and advertised it along with the 172, 175, 180, 182 210, and 310. The ad also started the Madison Avenue-created advertisements for Cessna — introducing the “Flight-Sweep” swept tail, “Land-O-Matic” landing gear, “Para-Lift Flaps”, and “Conical Cambered Wing Tips.” “Omni-Vision” (a window in the top rear of the cabin on most models — complete with rear-view mirror) would have to wait until 1962.

Stits Aircraft had a tiny ad for plans for the Fly Baby, Flu-R-Bug, and Sky Coupe home-builts. They hadn’t gotten into the aircraft covering products business yet.

The Beechcraft Super G18 ruled the skies as the ultimate piston powered NEW aircraft. New this year — factory-installed JATO bottles installed in the rear of the engine nacelles — to be used in the event of an engine failure or failure to accelerate on a “normal” takeoff. Though the ad didn’t specify it, the auxiliary rockets could also be installed on Twin Bonanza’s and Queen Airs. They were popular for a while — but the expense (and sometimes danger) caused most operators to remove them — though I did see one on an Australian Twin Bonanza four years ago.

AOPA did a pilot report on the new Piper Aztec. The reviewer was obviously impressed, as he described the takeoff — “You make sure your seat is locked in position, and your feet are firmly on the rudder pedals, because once you ease both throttles full forward, you’re all but bracing yourself in the seat as the Aztec rockets down the runway ... After takeoff, the airspeed starts building up so fast you instinctively reach for the throttles in sort of a subconscious move to keep the ship from running away!”

WHEW! You would think that it was a fighter launch! The price tag for this eye-watering performance was $49,500 for the stripped-down aircraft, up to $69,378 fully loaded. That’s $390,558 to $547,397 in today’s dollars. The “loaded” version included a Narco Superhomer (“coffee grinder”) and a MK. V radio, as well as a Lear/Motorola ADF (but not a transponder or DME — those were still in the future).

Here’s an item I’ve been looking to find for a long time — the 7JC Champ, produced by Champion Aircraft of Osceola, Wisconsin. It was named the Tri-Con (presumably because it was both “Tricycle” and “Conventional” gear). Champion said “the concept is the first real improvement in landing gear design since the introduction of the tricycle gear to lightplanes. It combines the advantages of tricycle and conventional landing gear with the disadvantages of neither. It ensures the over-the-nose visibility and ease of landing of the tricycle gear and retains the advantages of the conventional gear for rough or soft field operation. There is no tip-over problem when taxiing in a high wind, and owing to the anti-castering action of the rear wheel, there is no tendency to ground-loop.” The airplane had a 95 hp Continental engine, and sold for $6,695 ($52,824 today) — but landing and nav lights were standard, as were the nifty speed fairings. I saw one once at Albert Lea — but have not been able to find an advertisement for one since. A check of the FAA database shows seven still remaining — most of them were converted to either conventional or tricycle landing gears.

In addition to converting Cessna 140s, Stinsons, Pipers, and Ercoupes to all-metal covering, Met-Co-Aire also offered tri-gear conversions for Cessna 120/140s, 170s, 180s, and Stinsons. Skycraft Design also did conversions — metalizing Tri-Pacers.

Molt Taylor had flown his first “flying car” and was now offering a 4-place version that did NOT convert to an automobile. By taking out the “roadable” components, he saved 300 pounds, making room for the two additional seats. Wings, tail, powerplant, and propeller were identical to the “roadable” version — and the folding wing concept was retained. Cost was $12,500 ($98,625 today). This model didn’t sell, either.

King Radio was getting into the aircraft radio business—taking pot-shots at “Simplex” systems. Instead, the King radios were crystal-controlled. They offered the KY-90 (90 channel com only) and the KX-100 Nav-Com. The cost of the KX-100 was $1,095 ($8,639 today). No glideslope was yet available. The GPS system was not even a dream yet.

As they do today, AOPA made products and services available to members. Their “Pilot’s Life Insurance Plan” was through Minnesota Mutual. AVEMCO would become associated with AOPA in 1962.

BELLANCA Aircraft were being advertised for sale by the builder, Downer Aircraft Industries, Alexandria, Minn. The Bellanca had been converted to tri-gear, and the engine beefed up to a 260 horsepower Continental fuel-injected engine. It still sported the triple-tail, and was constructed of wood wings and fabric fuselage. I flew both the Franklin-powered taildraggers and the modern Vikings — they are great-flying airplanes.

Lake Aircraft wasn’t calling its airplane a “Lake” yet — it still called it a “Skimmer” — a derivative of the Colonial Aircraft product of the same name. It still had the short nose, the nose gear retracted forward to serve as a dock bumper. The change from the 180 hp engine to 200 and the elimination of the “batwings” were also changes yet to come.

Combs Aircraft in Denver announce a sale on 37 airplanes in inventory — Twin Bonanza’s, Travel Airs, 310s, Twin Navions, Twin Beeches, Apaches, and a number of single-engine aircraft.

Less than 15 years after the end of WW II, the U.S. Government ran a full-page ad for surplus aircraft at the storage center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. They advertised 8 F-51s, 28 T-28s, 9 AT-6s, 6 B-17s, 20 B-25s, 23 B-26s, 5 B-29s, 1 YC-131, 6 helicopters — but only 1 C-47. (Apparently, C-47s were not “surplus” as they were still widely used. Note that the Mustang in the photo has 11 Japanese flags below the cockpit. Can you imagine what those aircraft are worth today?

A measure of what the aircraft above might have sold for at retail is found in the classified section — a T-28 with radios and full instrumentation and a 600 hour engine was being sold for $4,450 ($35,110 today). A B-25 with “modern radios” was advertised for $9,500 ($94,955 today).

In an era when many GA aircraft didn’t have vacuum pumps, venturi tubes provided the suction to operate gyros. They didn’t provide enough suction to spin up the gyros reliably prior to takeoff or at low airspeed. A “Super Venturi” was advertised that “pulls 8” (normal vacuum is about 4.6 to 5.4 inches) of vacuum at 70 mph airspeed.....also can be used with pneumatic autopilots”.

Mooney advertised the Mark 20A for $15,450 ($121,901 today). Though the ad doesn’t state it, Mooney change from a wooden wing and tail to replacing the tail with metal in 1960 — they were built both ways. The ad does tout a special “maintenance warranty”, and “AD Warranty”. The efficient Mooney’s were made even more so in the advertisements — claiming a top speed of 190 mph and a cruise speed of 180 — all on 180 horsepower. Ads in subsequent years became more realistic — those speeds were not seen even with the 200 horsepower Mooney’s until the advent of the Model 201.

You could still buy a Super Widgeon amphibian. The aircraft were listed for sale by Gannet Aircraft of Sun Valley, California. The aircraft were listed as NEW, but Grumman produced its last Widgeon in 1949. An additional 41 were produced in France under license — perhaps this is one of those aircraft. No price was given.

Some planes can fly without a pilot — others can’t. In the accident recaps, a pilot hand-propped a Champ — and it took off. It came down 5 miles away. In the same column, the pilot of a Piper Vagabond was doing aerial photography. The airplane crashed — but his body was found some distance away. The seat belt was unfastened and unbroken. Photos in the camera showed an area near where his body was found — he apparently fell out of the airplane while stretching to take a photo. These accidents give new meaning to UNMANNED Airborne Vehicles.

There was an advertisement for Otis Lodge, Grand Rapids, MN. Older readers of Minnesota Flyer will likely remember the lodge — it had its own airstrip and seaplane base, with fuel. The old lodge burned down in 1987—today, the property is known as Sugar Lake Lodge.

In looking at these ads, it is interesting that there is no Zip Code in the ads — simply the name of the city and state. Some ads have phone numbers—no area codes, but a name as a preface (“call Davenport 6-8970”) Some bigger companies had toll-free numbers. Instead of “800 numbers”, caller were to use the “Enterprise” numbers—(“Enterprise 6789”). For some reason, Minneapolis and a few other cities were exceptions — the number in the Minneapolis area was “Zenith 6789”.

In the Classified section, you could buy a 1949 Luscombe for $2,800 ($22,092 today) complete with “unused spray equipment” — OR, for the same money, a North American AT 6, which the owner lamented was being “phased out by stork.”

Jim Hanson is the long-term FBO at Albert Lea, Minn. Having no Grandchildren to tell “The way things used to be...” Jim inflicts the pain upon his readers instead. If you would like to bring him back to the reality of TODAY, you can contact him at his airport office at (507) 373 0608, or jimhanson@deskmedia.com


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