Arnold Ebneter Commemorates 70th Anniversary of First Solo

Arnold’s first solo flight was in a Piper Cub at Mael Field in Portage, Wisconsin, on April 2, 1944, about six weeks after his sixteenth birthday. On April 2, 2014, the 70th anniversary of that event, he took to the skies again in his current Cub, this time at Harvey Field in Snohomish, Washington. He flew with my older sister Maureen, so I guess it technically wasn’t a solo flight, but it was still the anniversary! Here is a picture of him after the flight:

70th Anniversary Solo

Arnold Ebneter on the 70th Anniversary of His First Solo Flight
(Eileen Bjorkman personal collection)

The Cub in the photo is the one that he rebuilt for my mother back in the late 1980s.

Arnold reminisced about how the 2014 flight was different from his first solo. The Cub he flew in 1944 had no radio and no brakes, and he flew from a grass field. His current Cub also has an 85-hp engine instead of the 65-hp engine of his original solo airplane, so he climbed a lot faster in 2014 than in 1944.

The traffic pattern in 1944 was also quite different from the typical modern pattern. In 1944, after taking off, he flew straight ahead until he reached 400 feet above the ground; at that time, he reduced the throttle a bit, leveled off the airplane momentarily, and turned ninety degrees left to his crosswind leg. After finishing the turn, he added power again and then climbed up to 600 feet above the ground as he turned parallel to the landing area/runway on his downwind leg. He stayed at 600 feet above the ground until he was ready to land.

Most modern patterns for light aircraft are flown at 1,000 feet above the ground (although there are some exceptions). The pilot climbs straight out until reaching 700 feet above the ground and then turns onto the crosswind leg and then downwind leg while still climbing. There is no power reduction, and Arnold isn’t really sure why they ever did that in the Cub in the first place. He thinks it might have had to do with making sure the airplane had enough airspeed so the pilot wouldn’t stall., but if anyone knows the answer, please let me know!

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.

DR_Painting

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.

MaelField

PortageHangar

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.

CurtisAirPark

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.

ArnoldFrank

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?

GriffinEbneter

Foster Air Force Base and Jets: The T-33 and F-86

Congratulations to Bryan Stinekens for correctly answering the question about the balloon registration number N7927A! It is the same registration number used on the E-1, Arnold’s world record setting airplane. And now, back to pilot training.

After finishing primary flight training at Goodfellow in early September 1953, Arnold was assigned to Foster AFB for advanced training. Foster AFB was located near a small town named Victoria, close to the Gulf Coast. Even in September, the heat and humidity were oppressive.

The cadets were assigned to small “flights” of three students, each led by an instructor. A flight with two Belgian students and a Norwegian student was appropriately named the “Falstaff Flight,” but Arnold’s “riff raff Flight” seems to have been assigned as a whim by the pilot training leadership. Other cadets endured colorful names such as “Yo Yo,” “Odd Ball,” and “Moonshine.”

At Foster, the cadets first flew the 800-horsepower T-28A. Once they were used to flying the more powerful airplane, they switched to a jet trainer, the T-33A. Arnold’s first flight in the T-33 was on the Monday before Thanksgiving, on November 23rd.

Foster_AFB_1953

Arnold flying T-33s at pilot training, Foster AFB 1953
From Arnold Ebneter personal collection

The Air Force commissioned Arnold as a second lieutenant and awarded him his silver pilot’s wings on March 15, 1954. After graduating, Arnold took two weeks of leave before reporting for his next assignment at Nellis Air Force Base, just north of Las Vegas for additional training. With no time to spare, he made a mad dash to St Paul and married Colleen on March 18, ending her patient two-year wait as he romped around the United States flying airplanes.

After the wedding, the furious pace continued unabated; Arnold and Colleen drove west to Las Vegas, arriving in time for a short honeymoon before beginning the next phase of his training.

At Nellis, Arnold learned to fly the F-86, which was then the Air Force’s frontline fighter. After F-86 training, he returned to Foster, along with five of the other top cadets in his class for his first real assignment, this time with Colleen in tow. Although Foster had been a training base when Arnold left, by the time he returned it was an operational fighter base assigned to the Tactical Air Command, which was responsible for most of the fighter aircraft in the Air Force.

The F-86 could fly faster than the speed of sound in a dive, and the pilots started “booming” Foster AFB every afternoon at 4:30 to announce the beginning of the retreat ceremony that signaled the end of the official day. One pilot would climb to a high altitude directly over the base, and then point the nose of his airplane at the ground. As the airplane accelerated through Mach 1, a loud cracking noise shook the ground below, rattling windows and waking babies. Although the nearby Victoria residents loved the daily air show, senior Air Force officials weren’t amused and soon told the pilots to knock it off.