Arnold Ebneter Inducted to Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame

Saturday evening, October 26, 2013, Arnold was one of five honorees inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF).

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The ceremony was at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Museum in Oshkosh. In addition to me, other family members that attended included my sister Kate, Arnold’s cousin Carl, his sister Tere and her husband Si, and their daughter and son-in-law Cindy and Derek. Many friends showed up, including six of Arnold’s Portage High School classmates and three of his lightning strike research colleagues from New Mexico in the 1990s (I haven’t blogged that part of the story yet, but it’s coming up soon).

Prior to the event, several of us toured the EAA Museum, which holds dozens of aircraft that have made history in the world of homebuilts and and general aviation — mail carriers, racers, aerobatic airplanes and a replica of Voyager, the aircraft that Burt Rutan designed and that his brother Dick and partner Jeanna Yeager flew around the world non-stop in 1986. A section of the museum is devoted to the Rutan brothers, honoring Burt for his prolific homebuilt and commercial designs and Dick for his piloting achievements.

After viewing the Rutan display, I entered another room and discovered an F-100 cockpit trainer with steps beckoning me to climb in. There was no one around, so I accepted the invitation and immersed myself in what had been Arnold’s “office” 45 years ago. Many of the instruments were similar to those in the F–4s I flew in as a fight test engineer in the mid-80s at Edwards AFB. That shouldn’t be a big surprise — the F-4 was designed only a decade after the F-100. However, the throttle baffled me — I couldn’t figure out how to select the afterburner.

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Once I satisfied my own curiosity, I found the others and insisted they share my treasure. Arnold settled in the cockpit and showed me how to work the afterburner — you just push the throttle to the left and get the amount of afterburner corresponding to the throttle setting. He spent about fifteen minutes in the trainer, pointing out various features as the rest of us peered inside and took pictures. Arnold probably could have stayed all day reminiscing, but we had to go to the hotel and get ready for the event, plus a Boy Scout troop had arrived for their turn in the trainer.

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The induction began at 6:00 pm, with a family-style Wisconsin dinner of beef stew, roasted chicken and Thanksgiving side dishes. After dinner, a member of the WAHF introduced each honoree, and Arnold’s presenter was Tom Thomas, a retired Air Force pilot inducted to the Hall in 2007. Other inductees included Walter Kohler (posthumous), Bill Adams (posthumous), Ronald Scott, and Jeff Baum. Some previous famous inductees include Brigadier General Billy Mitchell, Paul and Tom Poberezny, Steve Wittman, Major Richard Bong, Deke Slayton, Generals Nathan Twining and Hoyt Vandenberg, James Lovell, Art Scholl, and Captain Lance Sijan. Arnold is in good company!

The Pilot’s Rock

Today we visited the farm where Arnold lived for about seven years when he was growing up. The land surrounding the prominent rock on the farm is now a county park. However, you can hardly see the rock any more! See the picture below. The rock is behind the barn and is almost completely hidden by trees.

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It’s almost hard to believe that this is the rock that pilots used for navigation in the 1930s. It’s barely recognizable as a rock formation. When the farm was there, all the farm animals and other farm activities kept the trees at bay, so the rock was very prominent, as shown in the previous post.

Here’s one more picture from the county park. This is a bench in the park that is dedicated to Arnold’s parents, Emil and Bertha. Arnold and his siblings donated the funds to install the bench several years ago. The bench is located in an area that overlooks one of the farm fields and also has a view of Donald Rock.

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I’m heading back to Seattle Monday and will post some information on Thursday night about the propeller that Arnold acquired in 1970 as he tried to begin working on the E-1.

Wisconsin Aviation from the 1940s

I’ve been on hiatus for about a week with preparing for and traveling to Wisconsin for AirVenture at Oshkosh. I’m having a great time so far and will be giving the Propeller presentation on Saturday (tomorrow) at 1130. Arnold will be there to answer questions as well.

While in Wisconsin, I’ve had the chance to go to the Wisconsin Historical Society and comb through old newspaper microfilms. I’ve also visited various places where Arnold did his early flying. From both of those, I’ve gotten some great tidbits to add to my early chapters and some wonderful photos, some of which will be in this post.

First up is a photo of a painting of Donald Rock by John Steuart Curry. Those of you who have been following this for a while know Arnold spent about six years of his early childhood on the farm depicted in the painting below. The rock made an attractive landmark that pilots used for navigation in the 1930s, so Arnold saw lots of airplanes flying over all the time. The painting was done in the 1940s and it now hangs in the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin, which I visited on Tuesday. The farm is now a county park, and I plan to visit that on Sunday.

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The next two pictures are from the Portage Airport, Mael Field. I took these pictures on our visit to Portage today (more on that later). The first picture is of an old Mael Field sign and the current runway. The runway didn’t exist when Arnold flew there in the 1940s, but the picture gives you a feel for what the old airport must have looked like; just imagine all the concrete covered with grass instead. The second picture is of the hangar that Arnold helped to build in the 1940s — he figures he pounded about one-third of the nails in the hangar and it still stands today.

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Next up is a corn field. Not just any corn field, but the field near Poynette where Curtis Airpark used to be. We drove to this field after we left Portage, using the same roads Arnold trundled along in Forrest Sommers’s Model A pickup truck as they traveled to work on airplanes and go fly PT-23s. The Curtis family still owns the property and a relative we spoke to said the airfield continued to exist until about 30 years ago.

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The next picture is of Arnold in Vietnam with his brother Frank. Their tours overlapped briefly in 1968, and this picture was taken during one of Frank’s visits to Tuy Hoa. Frank was a forward air controller flying O-1Es, so he was happy to get to a real Air Force Base every once in a while! This picture came out of a short article in the Portage Daily Register that Arnold’s mother had saved in a scrapbook and that my Aunt Tere has now. Arnold is on the left and Frank is on the right.

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I took the last picture today at a lunch with some of Arnold’s high school classmates in Portage. Fifteen people showed up — that’s pretty amazing after all these years. What’s even more amazing is that they all get together for lunch once a month! The other gentleman in the picture (on the left) is Laverne Griffin, a distinguished aviator who also had a career in the US Air Force. He flew RF-101s and RF-4s, so I know he has some great stories that I need to get at some point! Laverne was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame last year, and this year Arnold is being inducted into the same place. What do you suppose the odds are that two guys from a small high school class would both get inducted into a state Aviation Hall of Fame?

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The Tuy Hoa Sandhopper and More

I’ve been digging out old slides for my Oshkosh presentation, so I wanted to post a few. I promised a picture of the Tuy Hoa Sandhopper, so here are two pictures, along with the other members of its squadron.

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The Tuy Hoa Sandhopper
Arnold Ebneter personal collection

Tuy Hoa Models

The Tuy Hua Model Squadron — Sandhopper in the Middle
Arnold Ebneter personal collection

This next picture is one I found of the 452 Fighter Day Squadron at Foster AFB in the mid-1950s. The emblem for the squadron is still the same and is now used by the 452 Test Squadron at Edwards AFB.

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The 452 Fighter Day Squadron
Arnold Ebneter personal collection

This last picture must have been taken at an amusement park in Louisiana or Ohio. This is one of my younger sisters — I love the machine gun! I don’t imagine too many of those rides exist any more.

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Amusement Park Ride, 1960s Style
Arnold Ebneter personal collection

Heading Back to Vietnam

The Ebneter family landed in Phoenix in late July, 1967. Besides relearning to fly the F-100, Arnold’s highest priority was finding suitable housing for his family while he was gone. The obvious solution would have been to live at Luke AFB, but in those days families weren’t allowed on-base quarters if the military member was deployed. Luke was on the outskirts of Phoenix, and except for a retirement community, there wasn’t any suitable housing close to the base. Arnold found a three-bedroom rental house 30 minutes from the base in a quiet neighborhood. The house was just a few blocks away from Sajuaro Elementary School. He also took a trip to the local pound to get the family’s first dog, Princess, to act as a first line of defense while he was gone and couldn’t resist picking up a black-and-white kitten the girls dubbed Patrick.

At the end of December, Arnold received his orders to Vietnam. He was to report to Travis AFB in Northern California on January 24 and then head to the Philippines, where he would complete jungle survival school.

During the Christmas holiday, he tried to get his fill of Charlie before he left. He flew the airplane six times, including Christmas and New Year’s Eve. He also took the family for a ride on New Year’s Day, a family tradition. Charlie’s new home was at a tiny airport named Litchfield Park, located just south of Luke. The airport owner had a crop dusting business, and most of the airplanes on the field belonged to him. However, he must have had a soft spot for military pilots, because he allowed Arnold to hangar Charlie at the airport and even conducted a required inspection on the airplane at no cost to Arnold while he was in Vietnam. Although Colleen had her pilot’s license, she had not kept up her flying skills after the arrival of their third daughter, so Charlie was relegated to sit in a hangar for the duration, waiting patiently for his pilot to return.

Despite the flurry of flights in Charlie, the training to deploy to Vietnam was relentless and left little time for saying goodbye. After finishing his F-100 training on January 11, Arnold headed to Homestead AFB near Miami for a one-week sea survival school, which consisted largely of lounging around in a raft and trying not to drown while being dragged behind a boat.

Back in Phoenix, on January 23, Arnold and Colleen took their daughters out of school for a day. The family first headed to Litchfield Park for what would be their last flight together until October, and then to Sky Harbor airport, where Arnold boarded a commercial flight to San Francisco. He arrived at Clark AFB in the Philippines three days later.

On January 30, as he wrapped up his jungle training, the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive, a major ground operation that turned the well-tuned Air Force rotation schedule into chaos.

Flight to the Yankees

During the spring of 1966 when we lived in Dayton, I became enchanted with baseball. My father sometimes watched sports on our black-and-white TV, and one afternoon he had tuned in a baseball game. I started paying attention and became transfixed by the action – the game was slow enough and the rules simple enough for a child to follow, but still exciting whenever someone managed to hit the ball. The Yankees were playing that day, so by default they became my favorite team.

The day before my birthday that summer was a Sunday, and the whole family would normally have gone to the airport to fly. However, instead my father took just my older sister and me. We both groused about it and wanted to stay home and play with our friends or watch TV. After flying for about two hours, we landed and my father said we were in Cleveland. My sister and I both protested this apparent change of plans and asked why.

“You’ll see,” my father said, as he hailed a taxi.

Five minutes later, we stood in front of the baseball stadium in Cleveland, and my father said, “We’re going to a baseball game.”

“We are? Who’s playing?”

“The Indians and the Yankees.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A live baseball game, with the Yankees no less. It would be impossible to ever top such a birthday. Our seats were in the nosebleed section but it didn’t matter – I was at a real baseball game.

The Yankees won, and although such stars as Mickey Mantle were on the team, the hero of the day was Clete Boyer, a journeyman third-baseman who hit a home run to drive in the winning runs. I was disappointed that Boyer’s homerun didn’t receive the booming torches set off when Cleveland hit a home run. I still had a lot to learn about baseball.

I flew so much when I was a kid that this is one of the few flights I actually remember!

Back to Engineering School as an Aggie

After returning from Mobile Zebra, Arnold found that the Air Force had accepted him to finish his degree, but like most things in the military, there was bad news along with the good. He had hoped to finish the degree at the University of Minnesota, but instead the Air Force had selected him to attend Texas A&M University in College Station. That wasn’t so bad, because College Station was only a short 3-hour move to the north, but the Air Force had also decided his major would be industrial engineering. Arnold had no idea what industrial engineering was, but it didn’t sound like it had anything to do with airplanes.

After doing some research, he found that industrial engineering involves optimizing manufacturing and repair processes. The Air Force had selected him for the program because of his background as a mechanic. He decided the degree would be okay – it was still a degree and maybe he could take some aeronautical engineering courses as electives.

The growing family moved to College Station in July 1958 – a pregnant-again Colleen, a toddler and an infant, a cat, and a Stinson 108, the family airplane. They found an apartment near the school, and Arnold began brushing the cobwebs off the differential equations, physics, and aerodynamics courses he had last taken eight years earlier. Fortunately, the Air Force program paid for two years of college, so he was essentially repeating his junior year.

He first had to figure out his class schedule, so he went to see his academic adviser, a military officer. When Arnold said he wanted to take some aeronautical engineering classes, the adviser said, “Take anything you want. Just take one industrial engineering class to make it look good.”

“You mean I can change my major?”

“Sure,” said the adviser, “but you will still be listed as a maintenance officer, not as an engineer. Are you okay with that?”

Of course. Engineer, pilot, mechanic – it was his dream come true.

Arnold’s new routine included classes during the week and flying on the weekends. To maintain his military proficiency and flight pay, on Saturdays he flew T-33s at Bergstrom AFB near Austin, about two hours north of College Station. On Sundays, he took the family flying in the Stinson.When his third daughter was born, he sold the Stinson and bought  a Cessna 170. He had planned to buy a different airplane from a dealer in San Antonio, but when they arrived to look at the airplane, Colleen spotted the Cessna 170 and decided she had to have it instead. The photo below was actually taken in 1961.

Colleen and Girls Plane 1961 July

The Family Cessna 170 with Colleen and Daughters (Kathleen, Eileen, Maureen)
(Arnold Ebneter Personal Collection)

Next week, I’ll start talking about the design of the E-1!

The University of Minnesota Flight School: From the Ground Up

After running through all his summer earnings, Arnold did what many college students do when they are broke – he asked his parents for help. They agreed and sent him $100, advising him to use the money to pre-pay for his flying so the funds didn’t slip through his fingers again. Following their advice, he pre-paid for flying time in a J-3 Cub at Hinck Flying Service at Wold Chamberlain Airport, which is now the Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport.

He also finally found a use for women. For the instructor certificate, he needed to practice flying the Cub from the front seat where the instructor sits. However, a pilot can’t fly the Cub sitting alone in the front seat – the center of gravity is too far forward and the airplane won’t fly. To solve the problem, Arnold found a pretty, female student named Mary Ellen to fly in the back seat so he could practice being an instructor. In addition to being an “attractive weight,” he found her good for polishing his instruction techniques, as she was a journalism student and knew nothing about airplanes. He told his parents, “If I can explain a maneuver to her I can explain it to anybody.” In what must have been a major relief for his parents, he finished his commercial pilot certificate on February 13, 1949 and then added the flight instructor certificate on April 4. At 21, he was finally on his way.

By March, Arnold was already using his commercial certificate to further his pilot career. The University of Minnesota was interested in starting a flight program, and they recruited the perfect chief pilot, Jim Magnus, a US Marine Corps veteran who had flown C-47 cargo aircraft during World War II. Although Jim had left active duty when the war ended, he continued his service by flying as a Marine reservist. In addition, the Minneapolis native had been a star hockey player in both high school and at Minnesota, so he performed double-duty as the UM assistant hockey coach.

Jim had to build a flight school from the ground up, and the university expected him to do it on a shoestring, which was easy given the plentiful surplus military airplanes available at no cost to public universities. The only problem was, the airplanes Jim wanted were five J-3 Cubs located in San Marcos, Texas, and he had no pilots or money to retrieve them.

He solved the first part of the problem by recruiting Arnold and four other pilots eager to get the flight school going. Jim couldn’t pay them for their time flying the airplanes, but he could pay for their expenses – fuel, hotels, and food. However, the ferry pilots still had to get to the airplanes. Jim solved that problem by getting permission from his Marine reserve unit for Arnold and the others to ride as passengers on a PV-2 patrol aircraft during a training mission from Minneapolis to Dallas. That left 240 more miles to San Marcos, but someone arranged for a car to pick the pilots up and drive them the rest of the way.

Arriving in San Marcos, the pilots discovered the Cubs were in poor condition, but good enough to fly to Minneapolis. Arnold and the others piled into them and headed back north the next day. With excellent weather, they cruised all the way to Des Moines that day, stopping in Waco, Texas and Sherman, Oklahoma to refuel the tiny tanks in the Cubs. After an overnight stay in Des Moines, they made their way to Albert Lea, Minnesota for one last fuel stop before landing back at University Airport. The total time to cover the one thousand-mile distance was sixteen hours flying time for an average ground speed of about sixty-five miles per hour, no faster than a car, but certainly more fun for the young pilots.

Once the Cubs were safely in Minneapolis, the next order of business was to make them suitable to fly by students. All five Cubs had poor fabric and needed recovering, so Arnold led a total overhaul of the airplanes. Jim Magnus paid him $1.00 per hour, and he worked with several assistants to completely take apart the Cubs, clean up rust and corrosion, replace parts, and then reassemble and recover them. Two of the engines also needed rebuilding, so Jim found a high school aviation maintenance program willing to do the job in exchange for one of the Cubs. The whole process took about one year and in the end, the university wound up with four shiny yellow Cubs at practically no cost.

Porterfield and Beech Bonanza Aircraft in 1947

I think I finally have my subscription software sorted out. I’m using something called Mailchimp now — please let me know if there are any problems.

Back to Arnold at Rennselaer during his first semester in 1947 and his money woes. By the end of April, he had saved $105 from his pin-setting duties, which was enough money to take care of living expenses for the rest of the semester. He quit working so he could focus on his studies, and the strategy worked — he got all As and Bs.

However, he discovered at the end of May that he had forgotten to save enough money for his return trip home by train. Rather than head back to the bowling alley to earn some more money, he convinced his cousin Carl, who now had his own shiny new pilot’s license, to fly his Porterfield airplane to New York and pick him up.

Click Here to view a photo of a Porterfield

A description of the upcoming trip to his parents provides some insight into the state of small aircraft navigation in 1947: “I also told [Carl] that, since this is country where they have no section lines, he should be sure to get a good compass.”

After spending the summer flying BT-13s in Poynette, Arnold still didn’t have his commercial or flight instructor ratings. He headed back to Rennselear that fall, but decided to drop out after the fall semester when Rennselear raised the tuition to $350. He discovered that the University of Minnesota had a good aeronautical engineering program, so he deicded to go there instead.

During his last semester at Rensselear, Arnold also saw his first Beech Bonanza, a speedy single-engine airplane that could carry four people. He thought it was a “swell” airplane, but noted that it should be, since it cost $9,000. The Bonanza he saw would have been the same model that Buddy Holley was riding in when he died on February 3, 1959.

Click here for a picture of a 1947 Beech Bonanza

 

Making Model Airplanes in World War II

Last week, I read an interesting article in the April issue of Flight Journal (http://www.flightjournal.com) about how high school kids built model airplanes in 1942 and 1943. The models were used for aircraft recognition training for pilots and others during WWII.

I had never heard of this before, so I asked my dad (Arnold) if he had participated in this and he said that he did during his sophomore year of high school. He built two models, and one was good enough to be accepted.

I don’t want to give away the whole story, because it isn’t on Flight Journal’s website yet — the magazine just came out on the newsstands. It’s a great magazine, so run out and buy one! And no, they aren’t paying me to say that.

I’ll start posting more of Chapter 2 next week, including the story of how my parents met. In an airplane, of course.