Arnold Flies His First Air Show

After completing his first quarter at Minnesota, Arnold returned home for the summer, where he worked again as a mechanic for Forrest and Paul in Poynette. On July 4, 1948, he flew in his first air show, which received a short write up in the Portage paper. The air show was part of a carnival sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the paper reported, “Ebneter in the Cub made 30 turn spins and consecutive loops.” Forrest and Paul also flew in their BT-13s, doing slow rolls, loops, and a mock “dogfight.”

Arnold also joined the Wisconsin National Guard that summer to keep at bay the peacetime draft started in 1948, since college students weren’t eligible for draft deferments. Arnold became a private first class after two-weeks of learning to be an infantryman. However, Arnold’s time in the Wisconsin National Guard was short-lived. After he returned to Minnesota in the fall, he transferred to the Minnesota National Guard. Transferring not only made it easier to complete his training obligations, but it came with an even bigger benefit – he was able to work on airplanes and fly in them instead of toting around a rifle.

The Minnesota National Guard unit was a field artillery unit, but it had an aviation section conveniently located at the University of Minnesota airport. The aviation section included the military version of an Aeronca Champ, a small single engine airplane similar to the J-3 Cub. The unit used several of the airplanes for spotting artillery targets. In addition to working on the airplanes as a mechanic, Arnold had opportunities to fly as well, even though he was not officially a National Guard pilot. One of the pilots had flown the P-51, a fast, nimble fighter used by the Army Air Corps during World War II, but he couldn’t seem to get the hang of the slow, underpowered Champ. Rather than ground the pilot, his superiors simply asked Arnold to fly with him in the backseat on every flight. Arnold loved the opportunity, even if it was bootlegged time. Here’s a picture of the airplane:


Aeronca L-16
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons (USAF Image)

Although Arnold had saved some money from the summer of 1948, which he hoped to use to finish his commercial and instructor ratings, the money slipped through his fingers when he returned to Minneapolis in the fall. He did some flight training, but he also bought his first car, a Model A.

By early 1949, Arnold was out of money and ideas, frustrated once again that he had not completed his professional pilot certificates. His sorority job covered his room and board, but little else. In a letter home, he complained to his parents, “Sometimes, I think I must have rocks in my head or something, trying to make a living at flying.” Then, more optimistically, he added, “Oh, well, Swiss stubbornness being what it is, everything will probably turn out all right.”

Arnold Ebneter: Student Engineer and Itinerant Pilot

Sorry I have taken so long to get the next post up! I have been in the middle of moving from California back to Washington State. I’m now somewhat settled in (although still surrounded by boxes). My internet is running and I got my printer working this afternoon. Now all I need to do is find the espresso machine and I’ll be all set! On the other hand, there is a Starbucks within walking distance, so I’m not going to go into latte withdrawal (after all, this is the Seattle area).

Enough about me! When we last left Arnold, he had just received his private pilot certificate and he was eager to start using it. Let’s pick up at the beginning of Chapter 2, currenty titled “The Itinerant Pilot.” You’ll see why over the next several posts.

After earning his private pilot’s license, Arnold worked as a mechanic for Forrest and Paul at their struggling flying service through most of the fall of 1946. Although Arnold loved working with both of them, the partners had apparently not thought about any sort of business plan – they seemed to hope that people would just show up in Poynette to start flying their war-surplus airplanes. However, if people are going to fly airplanes, they need instructors to teach them, and neither Paul nor Forrest seemed in any hurry to get their civilian instructor certificates. Knowing that Arnold was eager to earn a living flying, they instead  pressured him to obtain his flight instructor rating, but he first needed a commercial pilot’s license. Arnold also needed a mechanic’s license so he could work on airplanes unsupervised, and, although he was game for the additional ratings, he soon had to put his flying and mechanic careers on hold to start college at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

After Thanksgiving, Arnold took a train from Portage to Troy, arriving in early December. In his first letter home, he dutifully recounted his “refresher” schedule to his parents – Mechanical Drawing, Physics Lecture, Physics Lab, Trigonometry, and Physics Test – and suggested a briefcase as a Christmas present to help him lug around the load of books and drafting supplies he had just purchased for his classes.

Within a few weeks after arriving in Troy, Arnold already missed flying, but flying in Troy was out of the question due to both time and money. The only decent planes available to rent were located an eight mile bus ride away in Albany, and they were too expensive, especially since he could no longer trade his mechanical skills for flying time. When his parents wrote to him that Forrest and Paul had each bought war-surplus BT-13s, he was green with envy and yearned to be back in Wisconsin flying them. He wrote back, “All I can say is some day I’m going to own one [a BT-13] . . .” Then in February 1947, adding insult to injury, his cousin Carl bought an airplane, a Porterfield, so he could start flying lessons as well. It seemed to Arnold that everyone he knew owned an airplane and was flying but him.

By New Year’s Eve, Arnold was adjusting well to college life and enjoying the freedom of being on his own for the first time. He wrote to his parents that people were already noticing his pleasure at his freedom, which he attributed to the “Swiss independence” of his heritage. In line with his growing maturity, he penned, “I figure that if I can learn to handle my problems alone now while they’re not too big, it will make it a lot easier when I do run into some real problems.”