LOCK HAVEN-The buttery, salted aroma of popcorn mixed with the buzzing drone of Piper Cubs flying overhead, as yellow planes came soaring in from a golden era at the Piper Airport yesterday.
To celebrate the 75th anniversary of Piper Aircraft and the J-3 Cub at the Sentimental Journey to Cub Haven Fly-In, nine pilots flew their J-3 Cubs in formation yesterday afternoon.
Three planes in tight formation led the group, the rest following in two groups of three, reminders of the days when Piper produced these famous Cubs.
Three of nine Piper Cubs
that participated in a fly-over of Lock Haven yesterday are shown over Grant Street.
The airport thronged with those, young and old, who stared at the sky as the J-3 Cubs effortlessly buzzed by, over 1,000 feet in the air at the 27th anniversary of the fly-in.
The Piper Aircraft Corporation produced 74,188 planes from 1937 to 1984 in Lock Haven, and closed its doors for the last time in 1984.
According to lockhavencity.org, "Piper Aircraft Corporation grew to become the world's leading producer of general aviation aircraft."
The day was a roasting heat, temperatures soaring like the planes well over 90 degrees. People sought shade under the pavilions, crunching ice while others slurped dripping ice cream cones.
But the heat didn't deter the celebratory atmosphere or the pilots doing what they love best: flying.
For several of those pilots, flying a plane started as a childhood dream-and the wonder of it has never left.
Randy Navarre of Ortonville, Mich., flew his J-3 in this week for his first time at the fly-in.
He's known he's wanted to fly since he was a toddler, watching the planes at the airport.
"At two years old, I lived by an airport and I saw the planes fly in. I've known I've wanted to fly since I was young. It (flying) just feels like home. There's nothing like it. It's the freedom," Navarre explained.
He bought his Cub in Indiana and has loved every minute of it since.
As a fly-in first-timer, he was pleasantly surprised by the warm, celebratory reception held Tuesday night by the president of the fly-in, Cal Arter.
"Cal had a wonderful reception for us last night," Navarre said.
George Wade of Huntsville, Ala. flew his 1947 PA-11 Cub Special yesterday, hovering near the nine-plane formation to help our photographer get photos.
He was looking for a PA-11 and found one in 2006 in Broken Bow, Neb. His best friend had one and they started flying in formation together.
Like Navarre, his passion for planes started as a wide-eyed kid at an airport.
"When I was a kid, I loved to go out to airports. It was my dream to fly," he said.
He made that dream into reality when he got his private pilot and instrument rating. Though he's able to fly far more complex airplanes than the Cub, it's that Pa-11 he loves.
"They're more simple compared to other planes," he said. "Even though I have my private pilot and instrument rating, now I just fly the Cub."
Another benefit of the Cub is it's relatively inexpensive to "own and fly," he said.
When asked what he really loves about flying, he thought for several moments. Then he slowly nodded.
In flying, there is a "magic moment" that every pilot experiences, he said.
"The magic moment is that moment you break from the ground," Wade said. "When the airplane is in the air, then you're a pilot."
He described what that moment feels like.
"When you break from the ground, you feel the air," he said, doing his best to describe it. "And you have a respect for the air. The aircraft has to operate with it. No matter how many times you've done it, that moment you break from the ground, there's nothing like it."
As he spoke, his eyes held a far-away look, feeling air, seeing sky...flying.
Before Wade flew the Cub, his favorite moment was the opposite end of the flight, breaking through the clouds and seeing the landing strip ahead of him.
The Piper Cub changed that for him.
But no matter how many times a pilot has flown, he cautioned, one maintain a hyper-awareness of the plane while flying.
"You can't take anything for granted. You always have to be aware of what the airplane is doing," he said.
Fortunately, "The Cub is the most forgiving airplane made. It flies beautifully at low speed. It stops flying at 38 mph, whereas a larger aircraft might stop flying at 50 mph," Wade explained.
For other pilots there, flying is a dream inherited from their fathers.
Mike Pulaski of Houston, Pa., has had J-3 for 26 years. His father was a World War II pilot and owns a Piper Cub, he said. At 92, he doesn't think he'll see the Cub fly again, so Pulaski wanted to continue the dream.
"He's now 92 and I don't think I'll see it fly, so I bought it to share the experience with him," he said. He "rescued" the Cub from a blimp hangar in Tillamook, Ore.
Eventually, Pulaski will pass it on to his son, Andy, who's now 18. Andy likes flying as much as his dad, he said-"Except he's better," Pulaski interjected.
Like many there, Andy likes "the freedom of it."
Ray Spec's J-3 has been in the family for 28 years. Spec, of Crescent, Pa., bought his Cub from his brother who had it for years.
Their dad was a pilot, too.
"It's almost in your genes," Spec commented before flying yesterday.
Bob Hospodar, another pilot who flew in the formation yesterday, has owned his Piper J-3 Cub since 1998.
Flying, for him, means family, camaraderie, and fun. "Plus we help with the economy," he laughed.
But another pilot there had yet another reason for flying.
"Chics dig pilots," he said.