I worked on weekends for Ed Lyons, at Roosevelt Field; He was an instructor and operated Lyons Flying Service at Hanger 7.  Ed owned a six-passenger Curtis Robin with which he flew passengers, a Piper Cub with which he gave flying lessons, and a Waco biplane for aerobatics exhibitions.  After getting my instructor’s license I helped Ed give lessons, and apply the money I earned toward flying time. Ed taught me aerobatics. Early mornings, or when the business was slow, I practiced aerobatics in the Waco over the farmlands near the airport.  When common maneuvers, stalls, spin, and loops were no longer difficult, I practiced challenging aerobatics, like reverse tailspins.  It required concentration and coordination to climb the plane vertically, hold the rudder and elevators straight until the tail first stall started, then cross controlling the ailerons, the plane would begin a tail first spin.  After a few turns, the ailerons were straightened and I had the choice of falling out of the spin, on my back or right side up.  To fall out upside down, I would push the control stick forward until the plane was inverted. and go into an inverted loop and then level off into normal flight.  I could also do a tail first spin, pull the stick back, and fall into a normal loop. I kept practicing other unusual aerobatics.


            One day, after practicing, going from a clockwise tail first spin into a counterclockwise tail first spin, I returned to the airport.  It had become windy, and the windsock indicated crosswind-landing conditions.  I followed a Beech monoplane into the landing pattern, noting that the Beech’s pilot was not compensating for the crosswind.  He made jerky corrections to keep on course.  I slowed almost to a stall speed, to keep more distance from the Beech.  He lined up with the runway, keeping his wings level as he landed.  He should have lowered his windward wing against the wind. The force of the wind raised the windward wing, tilting the plane until the other wing dragged the runway.  The pilot gunned the engine in a misguided attempt to correct the situation.  The plane pivoted a half circle around the dragging wing, then the plane’s nose lowered and the spinning prop shattered when it contacted the runway.  The Beech had made a crippled, but nonfatal landing.  I saw three passengers, two men and a woman scramble out of the plane as I landed ahead of their wrecked plane, and taxied to Hangar 7. After I tied the Waco down, I watched the activities on the field.


            Field personnel ran to the Beech and pulled the tilted up tail down, then rolled it off the runway.  After a brief discussion with one of the Beech passengers, the plane was pushed into a nearby hangar.  After an animated argument occurred between the two male Beech passengers, one of them, his shoulders drooping, walked off the field. The remaining male took the female’s arm and went into the hangar where the Beech had been taken.  A field attendant who helped push the crippled Beech off the runway informed us the pilot had been fired, and the plane’s owner was making arrangements to have the plane repaired. By noon, the wind abated, normal field activities were resumed, and passengers were taken on flights. 




     Ed and other field operators started taking passengers on short flights, usually of ten-minute duration.  Rates were usually $2 for a ride. Rarely would planes be rented for a half hour or more. One operator, Max, had a modified Waco biplane with a Hispano Suiza engine. Max modified and elongated the rear cockpit to carry two passengers in tandem, behind the pilot in the front cockpit.  It was not an approved arrangement, but an open cockpit flight appealed to many. The bright yellow Waco looked impressive and inviting, but I noticed Max would often add engine oil after a few flights.  The engine was noisy and long overdue for an overhaul.  I knew Max was looking to dispose of the plane.


            I was polishing Ed’s Waco when the two Beech passengers approached me and introduced themselves.  William, the Beech’s owner, exuded success and authority.  He was in his thirties, of average height and build, garbed in a fine brown leather-flying jacket with matching leather helmet, and crepe-soled moccasins.  Jane, his wife, was pleasant looking and self-assured. Her slim form, clad in a simple, matching light blue dress and jacket, with rubber-soled shoes which were of a matching blue.  He wanted to be flown back to a small airport near Westerly, Rhode Island, from where he had come with the Beech, and where his car was parked.  Ed had landed with passengers and taxied to the hangar to take on passengers waiting for a flight.  William walked to the Curtis to ask Ed to fly him and his wife back to Rhode Island.  Ed told him he could not because he had booked passengers for the rest of the afternoon, and he had four passengers booked for a night flight around New York City.  The Piper, which was available, and which I could pilot, could only take one passenger.  .


            William returned to where I was standing by the Waco.  He asked if that was the plane he had seen doing aerobatics while he was flying to Roosevelt Field, and wanted to know if the Waco was for sale. I told him that Ed would not sell it, and that I had been doing the aerobatics. William said he was a student pilot and had been taking lessons in the Beech.  His instructor, whom he fired, had piloted the Beech from Rhode Island. William expressed his ambition to become a pilot and learn aerobatics.  He informed me that cost was not a problem, he had plants that manufactured manila and hemp rope, and his wife’s family owned a fishing fleet in Stonington, Connecticut. He wanted the Beech repaired, and also to purchase an aerobatics biplane, to be kept in a hangar he was having built on the airport near Westerly, Rhode Island.


            William watched Max’s Waco taking off with passengers, and asked if it was an aerobatics plane.  I told him that Wacos were designed for stunt flying, but I avoided telling him that Max’s modified Waco with its laboring engine could not be trusted in stressful maneuvers.  They left me and walked toward Max’s hangar. 



            Later in the afternoon, Ed and I were chatting while the Curtis Robin was being refueled.  A smiling William approached us and said, “I just bought that yellow Waco and I need a pilot to fly us to Rhode Island.  I’ll pay him twenty dollars, and his railroad fare back to New York.”


            “Let Max fly you back,” Ed said, and then asked, “Did you pay by check?”


            “Max told me that he had an appointment.  He filled the fuel tank and added engine oil. He left the field. I paid him cash, four hundred dollars.  Why do you ask?”  Ed merely shrugged and with obvious annoyance, William said, “I’ll pay cash to the pilot who takes me back.”


            I understood Ed’s questioning. A check could be stopped. Ed recently turned down Max’s offer to sell the plane for two hundred dollars. Max’s Waco was originally designed with two single seat cockpits, and Max modified and elongated the rear cockpit to seat two passengers in tandem. The engine needed an overhaul. The plane had been used for short flights. Ed turned away and returned to flying passengers.  I was tempted to offer my services.  I earned fifteen dollars a week at E. W. Bliss. Twenty dollars for an hour’s flight, and paid train transportation back to New York.  I had nothing to do for the rest of the day.  I could fly them to Rhode Island and be home by midnight. 


            I was mulling over the situation when William’s offer convinced me to pilot them to Rhode Island, “I have to be back this evening.  I will pay you fifty dollars and drop you off at the railroad station.”  He peeled money from a healthy roll of bills. Before I could change my mind he said, “And ten dollars for dinner and train fare.”


            I told one of the attendants to tell Ed that I would pilot a plane to Westerly, Rhode Island.  We walked to the yellow Waco near the takeoff runway.  I checked the engine.  The wiring was good but the engine was dirty and the valve cover gasket had been leaking. The oil level was full.  Max used castor oil, as many pilots and racecar drivers did in those days. Jane was seated in front of William, and I checked their safety belts, then I seated myself in the front cockpit. The Hispano engine started immediately, then I checked the magnetos and controls before I taxied to the end of the runway and took off.  I started toward Westerly but I was concerned about the engine and changed for a northerly course that would shorten crossing Long Island Sound.  I could smell castor oil fumes and I wanted to be over land in case there was engine trouble. Once over the Sound, I flew east keeping aware of possible airports if an emergency occurred.  Castor oil fumes were increasing and I climbed to a higher altitude in order to have a longer glide angle to make it to a safe landing.




            The windshield was getting an oil film and I used my scarf to wipe it.  I kept looking over and side the windshield for better visibility. I was breathing the castor oil fumes and I started to feel very uncomfortable.  I looked behind and noticed the rear windshield was oily and Jane was white with a sickly pallor. I could only see the top of William’s shining helmet and forehead. As I neared New London and Groton, the engine’s oil fumes were increasing and I could hear increased valve chatter.  Climbing to a two- thousand-foot altitude I could see Stonington.  By then my bowels were acting up and I had a sudden bowel movement.  The castor oil fumes had acted as a laxative.  The warm mess I was sitting on was slowly oozing down my pants legs. 


            The engine was clattering loudly, smoking, and overheating. Stretching to see over the cowling, I could see Westerly, and north of it, the airport.  I throttled back to stave off engine failure and started a gliding descent toward the airport.  


            Involuntary spasms continued and my bowels were emptying themselves despite every effort to control them.  I felt the discharge seeping into my shoes as the plane was nearing the airport runway.  Smoke was billowing from the engine as I landed and taxied to the hangar where bystanders were watching.  I shut off the engine and with great discomfort I unbuckled and stepped out of the cockpit onto the wing to assist my passengers.  I could smell my own stink over the smell of burnt castor oil fumes. Jane teetered and almost collapsed as I helped her dismount.  Her face and hair and her blue blouse was dirty and shining with a film of oil.  When she walked with staggering steps away from the plane, I saw the seat of her skirt and the back of her stockings had a dark stain.  William’s angry face and helmet was dirty as he stepped down from the plane. The seat of his pants had a dark brown stain.  He hesitated for a moment, reached into his pants, and withdrew a dirty wallet.  He opened it, withdrew a twenty-dollar bill, and shoved it into my hand.  With a forced smile he said, “Thanks for bringing us safely home.”   


            I watched as he followed Jane to a luxurious Minerva sedan parked between the cars next to the hangar.  Jane was crying as she opened the car door and gingerly settled herself on the immaculate brocade upholstered seat.  William took off his helmet and leather jacket and dropped it on the ground as he stood by the car and motioned to someone, who came running to him.  After a brief exchange, William entered the Minerva and sped away.   The man he spoke to came to me and showed me where I could wash and clean myself.  With short steps, to avoid dropping a trail, I followed him into the hangar and to the bathroom.




            First I took off all my clothes, and turned on the water in the shower.  I soaped and washed myself and turned my pants and socks inside out to wash away the debris. It took time to remove all visible evidence of the results of the castor oil enema. As well as I could, I wrung out my clothes and wiped the inside and outside of my messy shoes. Then I cleaned the stall shower and the stains I left on the bathroom floor, before I dried myself with paper towels.  After I emptied my wallet, I washed it and all the soiled bills in the sink as I realized that the harrowing flight had its compensation.  William had paid me sixty dollars before we started our enlightening flight, and twenty dollars more after landing, a total of eighty dollars earned for a few hour’s work. That was more than I earned in a month.  .


            Opening the bathroom door a few inches, I saw a mechanic examining the Hispano motor of the Waco, and motioned to him. Shaking his head and smiling, he knew of the unfortunate flight I had, he asked what I wanted.  After I explained my naked dilemma, he gave me worn, oversized overalls and denim jacket.  At first he refused, but then took two dollars for the clothes.  While I dressed in the baggy clothes, he gave me a canvas bag for my wet clothes, and told me that William, they called him Mr.R, was a very wealthy man, a manufacturer and vice president of a bank in Westerly.  Mr.R had been interested in aviation, a part owner of the airport, and was taking flying lessons from a local instructor.  Mr.R purchased the four-passenger Beech a few weeks earlier and had taken a few hours instruction in it before he went on the cross-country flight to Roosevelt Field.  The mechanic told me that the Waco’s engine was in very bad condition, and structurally, the plane should not be flown until extensive structural repair was done.  The elongated rear cockpit was accomplished by cutting through some vital longhorns and ribs.  He would recommend that the plane be junked.  When I asked him how I could get to the railroad station, he offered to take me in a few hours, after he finished his day’s work.


            Walking around the hangar, I looked at the cars in the parking area near the hangar.  They varied in contrast considerably: Model T, Model A, Chevrolet, Graham, Terraplane, Ruxton, Auburn, and a Bentley were parked amidst a few pickup trucks and station wagons.  It was a busy little airport.  A Piper and Luscombe were taking off, flying the landing pattern, landing and taking off repeatedly, indicating that flying instruction was taking place. Other planes were in the air near the airport. Then a plane approaching the landing pattern seemed familiar, it was a familiar Curtis Robin. It came down at the end of the runway but did not land.  It flew a few feet over the runway and took off again while I ran toward the runway waving my hands.  It circled the field and landed, then taxied toward me, and stopped.









            Ed had been taking up passengers on short hops and noticed that I was flying Max’s former Waco crossing the Sound in the wrong course for Westerly, Rhode Island.  He surmised that I knew better and that something was wrong in order to alter my flight plan. He abandoned taking up any more passengers, gassed up and flew along the course he had seen me taking.  He was worried as he flew over the Sound, looking for signs of a crashed plane or swimming survivors.  He saw none and thought that if I had trouble, I would find a safe landing place or airport.  He flew over Trumbul Airport, Bridgeport, Milford, Groton, and other airport sites to Westerly.  As he flew, he searched the fields and roads where I could possibly land in an emergency.  At Westerly, he did not see the Waco on the ground.  As he passed low over the runway, he saw the Waco through the open doors of the hangar and the frantic waving of an ill clad individual.  He was relieved and circled the airport and then landed, 


            He chastised me for flying Max’s abused Waco as I hugged and thanked him for his concern.  Ed roared with laughter as I told him of the effects of the castor oil enema that my passengers and I had been subjected to. Then I thanked the mechanic for his help and told him that I did not have to use the railroad but I had a flight back to Roosevelt Field.  I put the canvas bag with my wet clothes in the storage compartment and we took off to fly back to Roosevelt Field and home.










Edited   December 2007