"I have one rule for everyone who flies with me," quips pilot Charlie Huff over the headphones. "You can't have more fun than me!"
His passion for flying comes through loud and clear. The retired commercial pilot now living in Crawford, who has logged more than 25,000 hours of flight time, is filled with wonderful stories. But it is the brightly colored plane that is star.
The Piper J-3 Grasshopper, in its bright yellow trainer colors and U.S. Navy markings, is one of two Warbirds based with the Commemorative Air Force Rocky Mountain Wing in Grand Junction. The other, a TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, will be on display Saturday, July 21, as part of Deltarado Days.
Folks will get their first look of these vintage World War II aircraft during the parade at 10 a.m. The Avenger will lead off the parade with a flyover of Main Street. Then both the Grasshopper and the Avenger will be on display at Westwinds Airport for therest of day. The CAF Rocky Mountain Wing will also offer rides in either of these warbirds.
Huff recently took the Piper J-3 up for a quick aerial tour of Delta. As we taxied down the runway, he explained why the Grasshopper was great primary trainer for the military as it entered into World War II. "They had a lot of pilots to train, and very few men had every flown before they climbed into the Piper," said Huff. The recruits would wedge themselves into the small back seat of the cloth-covered two-seater and the instructor would try to have them solo with four to five hours of instruction. "It was fairly easy for the instructor to find out if the recruits had the talent, the skill, to become a pilot."
The first lesson came with the first takeoff. From the backseat, the recruit could not see over the front of the airplane — the J-3 is a "tail dragger" just like all of the front line warplanes of the day. They had to be comfortable taxiing in small "S" turns to check out what is in front and developing their peripheral vision. Once in the air, their "aviator reflects" were put to the test as they grabbed the control stick and moved the controls. The landing also required the pilot to be comfortable in three-dimensions and able to take cues from below and the sides.
"They either had to demonstrate their ability to move up to a bigger plane," said Huff, "or they were moved out, back to the infantry."
If they showed the right skills, after a few hours in the Grasshopper, they would graduate to more powerful trainers and after a couple of 100 hours in the air would earn their wings and be shipped out to fly combat missions.
The J-3, designated the L-4 in the Army Air Corps and the NE-1 in the U.S. Navy, was perfect in its role as a primary trainer. Huff explained the cloth-covered, welded steel frame made for an inexpensive plane to build, the high wing gave it great stability, and its four-cylinder 65-hp. Continental engine was cheap to operate. It would cruise around 65 miles per hour.
The J-3 was also used for military liason scouting, coastal patrol and medevac.
Folks will get their first glimpse of the TBM Avenger as it does a flyover along Delta's Main Street to kick of the Deltarado Days parade. From the deep, throaty growl of its Wright "Twin Cyclone" engine to its distinctive blue and grey color scheme, the Avenger is an impressive sight in the air.
On the ground, people will be able to climb stairs to its wing to get a close look of its cockpit and distinctive rear turret and see where the three-member crew were positioned. They can stand in front of the plane and peer up at the Twin Cyclone radial engine with its 14 cylinders, capable of producing 1,900 horsepower and propelling the bomber along at 267 milesan hour while carrying 2,000 pounds of bombs or a torpedo.
The TBM Avenger of the CAF Rocky Mountain Wing was delivered to the U.S. Navy in 1945 and was in service for several years in California before being sold to the Royal Canadian Navy in 1950 where it was converted to an anti-submarine patrol plane and served in this role until it was "struck off" in 1958.
It then continued flying as a civilian aircraft as an aerial insecticide applicator from 1963 to 1970. It was acquired by the CAF in 1970 and restored to its TBM configuration. It was featured in the opening scene of the movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
Commemorative Air Force
Rocky Mountain Wing
These airplanes are maintained by the Rocky Mountain Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, and are hangared in Grand Junction. The wing also has a museum in its hangar, located at 7810 Heritage Way.
The CAF, originally known as the Confederate Air Force, began with a single P-51 Mustang in 1957. It soon added a couple of F8F Bearcats, and the organization soon dedicated itself to preserving World War II-era combat aircraft and restoring them to flight status. Their aircraft are seen at airshows around the country, and in recent years the Rocky Mountain Wing has brought B-17 and B-25 bombers to the Montrose Airport and participated in air shows around the Western Slope. For more on the CAF and the Rocky Mountain Wing, visit www.rockymountainwingcaf.orgblog comments powered by Disqus