The Places You'll Go
Kill Cats, Don't They?
Baron - 4
Baron - 3
Baron - 2
Baron - 1
the Cassutt - 2
Up in WV
Rico - 2
on the Roof
Mack eased the throttle forward, the 450 horses living in the
Pratt and Whitney came awake with a thundering roar that echoed
from the surrounding mountains and the Staggerwing started
moving. Seconds later the tail came up, but as it did the Beech
started a slow but inexorable swing to the left. Mack's view out
the windshield of the powerful classic changed from one of
smooth, green runway stretching away a half mile in ahead, to a
startlingly close up view of the tennis court and the pond
located on the west side of the runway. Copious amounts of right
rudder, then panic induced pressure on the right brake did
little to stop the swing, and it seemed to Mack that Mr. Toad's
wild ride was about to be duplicated in an airplane.
was a successful businessman who had entered aviation at mid
life and embraced it with fervor. I had met him a few years
before in the late sixties, when he flew in to our grass field
at Buckhannon. Over the intervening years we'd become good
friends and I knew that he had a passion for flying and for
airplanes. He soon gained an instrument and multiengine rating
and had collected several aircraft. When we moved our FBO to
Morgantown, Mack became a frequent visitor and I got to hear
about his aviation life as it unfolded.
He built a
beautiful sod runway on a scenic 200 acre mountain top farm that
he owned, and then built a large hangar to hold his ever
expanding flock of airplanes. As his experience piled up, he
bought a new Seneca from our Piper dealership and it took its
place beside the other airplanes at his strip.
where the airport was located was a working cattle operation
where Mack raised Hereford cattle that he sold each year. Of
course he also harvested the hay from the farm that fed the
cattle through the winter, and next to flying he loved working
the farm, taking care of the cattle and operating the many farm
Of course the farm and the cattle and the
flying were only hobbies. The heavy truck dealership he owned
turned a handsome profit and brought in the funds necessary to
keep all of this happily functioning. Life was good for Mack.
built the airport as a place to keep his growing collection of
airplanes, but it was also built as a place to bring his
friends. He loved to entertain and if you were a friend of
Mack's, you looked forward with great anticipation to his next
party, because he was the consummate host.
He moved a
large mobile home next to the runway; its only function was for
use in entertaining. He had a regulation sized tennis court
built down by a large pond where his guests could fish.
steaks he served to his friends on the deck at the mobile home
were special cuts, measuring two inches thick that could be cut
with a fork. Your drink never got below halfway down in your
glass before being refreshed by Mack and after a visit to a
party at his airport you felt as if you had been on vacation at
One day when he had flown down for a visit he
told me over lunch at the terminal, that he had decided to get
checked out in tail wheel aircraft and that he planned to
purchase one. In those days there was no tail wheel endorsement
on one's license and aircraft with the little wheel on the back
were referred to as having a 'conventional gear'. In spite of a
healthy accumulation of hours in his log, it had all been in
tricycle gear aircraft and he wanted to master the mighty tail
dragger and become a real pilot.
The next time I saw
him he was getting dual in a yellow Super Cub that he had
purchased. After a few flight hours of touch and goes on our
five thousand foot runway, I watched as the instructor climbed
out and Mack disappeared over the mountain to the east, on his
way home with his new airplane.
A few days later I
called to ask how he was getting along in the Super Cub.
'Weaver', he said. 'It's all over rated. Tail draggers are a
piece of cake'. Uh oh, I thought, and then he laid it on me. He
had purchased a Beech Stagerwing. He would pick it up next week
and when he got it home he would come over and take me a ride in
A week passed and I hadn't heard from my friend so
I called. When would I get my ride, I asked? 'Weaver' he said,
'I put the Beech in the pond'. He went on to explain that he
hadn't put it over by the pond, or put the wing in the pond, but
had put the whole airplane perfectly, right in the middle of the
It turned out he had lifted the tail a trifle too
early, just at that awkward point where the elevators are
capable of lifting it, but just before the rudder has the
authority to steer, and Mr Torque took Mack for his last
Staggerwing ride for a while.
Mack wasn't hurt and as
it turned out the Beech suffered amazingly little damage. A two
year restoration by a craftsman specializing in such aircraft
resulted in a beautiful airplane that Mack later spent many
enjoyable years flying.
A post script about the
aftermath of the pond incident however, will live forever in
West Virginia aviation lore.
After Mack swum ashore,
he decided that he needed a drink and a change of clothes, so he
went home, leaving the scene of the accident just as it was.
It was a short time later when Carl, a good friend who
hangared his airplane there arrived.
As he drove in it
was hard not to notice the large airplane sticking out of the
pond. Panic stricken, Carl rushed to the water and saw Mack's
cowboy boots floating where he had pulled them off to swim
ashore, but no Mack. Hesitating only to pull off his own shoes
Carl dove in and started searching the bottom for Mack.
hour later, now with the flashing lights of multiple emergency
vehicles adding drama, and divers combing the bottom of the pond
for Mack's body, Carl called Mack's house to break the news to
Mary, Mack's wife. A now well oiled Mack answered the phone and
slurred to Carl that he wasn't dead, but might wish he was.