First solo (60 years ago) celebrated in flight in same airplane
Ray Thomas age 80 celebrates the 60th anniversary of his first solo in the very same airplane he used in 1947. The first solo occurred in Michigan on April 7, 1947. Ray celebrated this anniversary by flying the Piper Cub on April 7, 2007 at Dunn Airpark, Titusville, Florida.
Ray told me he first soloed in Hillman, Michigan. The J3 Cub he owns was owned and used by his uncle who kept the plane on his 30 acre farm in Michigan. Ray and his uncle made a runway on that farm using a horse drawn grader. They carved out a 900 foot long runway and crowned it just enough so that the water drained off of it rather quickly and was almost always useable. His uncle flew in and out of there year round, on wheels in the summer and skis in the winter. The Cub was kept in an open Quonset hut type of structure until 1970 when Ray reacquired it.
When Ray climbed into the Cub to fly I asked him how it felt and he replied and he replied, “exactly the same as 60 years ago except for the damn radio”. If you’ve ever flown a Cub you know just getting in and out of it is somewhat of a feat. Ray gets in and out of it at 80 years old very easily!
He checked the winds at Dunn and found that it was 310 at 6kts and said, “piece of cake!” We hand propped the engine which is the only way you can start a Cub and he taxied out to runway 33, went through all of the checks, and took the runway. In less than 300’ he was airborne climbing away from the ground. He made a short pattern and a low pass over the runway for old times sake then made another pattern and approach to the runway where he executed a beautiful wheel landing. The cub rolled out tail high for a 100 feet or so and settled on all three wheels. A beautiful landing, after all he’s the master!
After the flight a lot of his friends were there to congratulate him for this milestone.
After Ray’s first solo in 1947 he said he went on to earn his private license there in Hillman, Michigan. He said in those days, there was usually an examiner on most airports to give you the flight test. He said it was usually the person on that field who had the most hours. The medical he said was issued by any local doctor and if you could walk into the office under your own power and you were able to see the wall, you passed.
He went to an A&E school in Galesburg, Illinois and got his A&E license. He said that the school operator would buy an airplane and the students would completely restore it and then the operator would sell it for a profit. After this Ray went back to Michigan to build time so that he could earn his commercial license. He joined the CAP so that he could fly the plane they had. It was an L4 and cost $3.50 per hr (wet) to rent. He flew the required 200 hours and took his test in a Luscombe. He got his instructor certificate in the Luscombe also. Then he went to Down River airport in Detroit where he took instrument training in a Piper Clipper. Then it was off to Purdue University to complete a two year aviation technical degree.
While at Purdue Lake Central hired him to fly co pilot in a DC3. He said ground school for that job was a book that they gave you and told you to go home and read it. Lake Central then aquired some Nord 262 which was a 22 seat commuter type that he captained on. Lake merged with Allegheny airlines and he was flying co pilot on DC9s. Allegheny and Mohawk merged and they became U S Air he flew the BAC 111 for them and then back to the DC9 as Captain, then on to co pilot on the 727, and then back to the DC9 as Captain again, and then on to the 727 as captain. He had to retire at the ripe old age of 60 yrs in 1987. Two days later he went back to flying as flight engineer on 727s for one and a half years. Ray said that at this point he graduated to the J3 Cub with 28,000+ hrs logged.
His said his most memorable airline flight was when he was hi jacked to Cuba.
Ray owned an airplane before he ever owned a car!
Ray told me when he was in grade school most of his friends wanted to be cowboys and firemen and he always dreamed of being an airline pilot. He doesn’t know how many of his friends made cowboy or fireman but, he made airline pilot!
Ray with copy of original logbook entry for his first solo, April 7, 1947
Ray on short final for 33
Wind 310@7,“piece of cake” as Ray performs a beautiful wheel landing on rway 33 at Dunn Airpark (X21) Titusville, Fl