I took a short flight recently, one not normally worth mentioning around the hangar. But ’twas important to me—an attempt to relive the good old days of flying, that is, the ’60s and ’70s. The flight was from Medina Municipal Airport, 30 miles south of Cleveland, Ohio, to Concord Airpark, near Painesville, Ohio. That’s about 65 miles, statute, not nautical (I’m an old-timer); a tad farther the way I did it to avoid the Class B airspace around Cleveland Hopkins. The plane I was flying, a Piper Colt, was once part of the Concord training fleet, and I flew it out of Medina in them good old days. Neither the plane nor I had been back since.
The trip is hardly a navigation challenge. Just follow the roads, if you’re of a mind to do it that way, which I was. I-71 is right off the departure end of runway 27 at Medina. Two miles north, I-271 angles off to the northeast. Keep that to the left till it ends in I-90; follow that east to the second interchange. There, turn south (on Route 44) to the blue barn. Turning left on Girdled Road puts you onto downwind for 20.
But the journey wasn’t the important part; the destination was. It’s now just a sleepy little country airport—a couple planes at tiedown, a few in individual hangars and maybe eight in a large Quonset. In the ’60s, though, it was a bustling place. On weekends, there were often three or four planes, usually Colts, chasing each other around the pattern, shooting touch-and-goes. Adolph Luhta and his wife, Connie, owned the field. Adolph was a larger-than-life character. Once a B-25 crew chief flying in the South Pacific, he ran the airport with an iron hand. His wrath came down on anyone foolish enough to enter the pattern improperly or do anything else that jeopardized safety.
Adolph typically had a few Piper Colts for rent ($7 per hour wet), a Tri-Pacer, some Cherokee 140s, a couple 180s, an Arrow, a Bonanza, an Apache and an Aztec. Around 50 private planes called Concord home, including a couple Stearmans, a variety of homebuilts and such odd birds as a Republic Seabee, a PT-23 military trainer, a rare B-23 bomber, a Piaggio Royal Gull and a twin-engine Italian amphibian.
Adolph has gone west, but Connie still owns and runs Concord Airpark, maintaining the airport in first-class condition. And she’s an interesting personality in her own right: a 45-year member of the 99s and a former Powder Puff Derby racer. She’s a CFI and flies a Cherokee 180 and a Colt. Moreover, she’s president of the International Women’s Air & Space Museum at Burke Lakefront Airport.
My son, Bob, really instigated this flight. He was just a kid, hanging around the field, when I was flying at Concord. Now he owns and flies a Cherokee 140. One day last winter, he called me and asked, “Wanna go flyin’?” Of course I did, so he said, “Meet me at the field office.” When I got there, his Cherokee was nowhere in sight. He said, “Before we go flying, there’s a plane here I think you’ll enjoy seeing.” So, expecting some exotic warbird, I tramped out with him. He opened the door to the big hangar, and there was a Piper Colt, white with blue trim, identical to the one I once owned but had sold 25 years ago. Then I tumbled to the obvious. It wasn’t just any old blue-and-white colt: It was 5545Zulu—my very own.
I had put over 600 hours on that Colt, mostly just airport-hopping around Ohio, but also to Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee, Florida and South Carolina. I flew it once to Denver to visit my daughter, and another time to San Diego and back, just because.
Bob had long been wondering what had happened to my old Colt. So he looked it up and found it at Jackson County Airport in West Virginia. He called and asked if he could see it; the owner said, “Of course, but I can’t guarantee it’ll be here. It’s up for auction.” Bob immediately flew down to see it. He found that it was in good shape with a new annual and overhauled engine, and he bought it.
We took it up that afternoon, with me in the right seat. I got in a lot of airwork but was much too rusty to try takeoffs or landings. (Hey, I’m 89, ya know?) Later, I got an instructor to whip me into shape, so now I can put it down precisely where I want and when I want. When the instructor was satisfied, Bob said I could fly left seat. That’s how I wound up flying to Concord in my old Colt.
Concord was quiet the day we got there, as usual now. All we did was drink Connie’s coffee, eat her cookies and reminisce over the photos that cover her walls—all from the good old days. Included are those of almost every pilot who flew there, almost every plane that called Concord home and a record of all events, big and small, happy and not-so. That’s really what turned this otherwise routine flight into a sentimental journey.