The next morning, the weather broke just enough to let us try – for the 3rd time – to get out of Stroudsburg/Pocono. Bach led, and all I did was concentrate as hard as I could on getting our Luscombe into proper formation. It was terrifying flying that close to another airplane – my wingtip tucked slightly behind Bach’s – but after a few minutes I began to see what Richard meant. It was easier flying formation this close in. All I had to do was use the Cub’s wing as my “artificial horizon” and keep “the picture” of the Cub framed exactly the same through my left windshield. That seemed to be the trick. And while Bach wasn’t smiling, he wasn’t glaring either.
(Sidebar: I note with interest that “Hippie Joey G.” was flying with me on this, and the next flight. Which means a} my right-wing tendencies must have started to dissolve, and b} Michelle was flying with Richard. Hmmm … wonder if that’s why I worked so hard to make my formation-work look good?)
Mind you, our flight didn’t last long. After several attempts to break out in different directions – all met by walls of cloud – we finally managed to limp northwest into Pocono Mountain Airport.
We tried escaping from there a bit later in the day, but my log book shows that must have been a very fast circuit, because we were back on the ground after less than 10 minutes.
Later, our group walked along an old railroad track through the forest to reach the nearest town – and supper! The boughs formed a perfect arch overhead, so we were fairly protected from the rain, which had now dropped back to a persistent drizzle. Michelle was walking with one of “our Hippies,” and I clearly remember feeling somehow freed by that. It didn’t matter that we weren’t walking side-by-side, clinging to each others’ hands. I could see Michelle was enjoying her discussion – that she looked … free! And, for some reason that made me feel … I was doing something right!
Strange how hard it is to put that moment into words, and yet, I know that was the beginning of a whole new level to our relationship. (Little did I know how many were still to come.)
The next morning, the weather actually seemed to have improved, so we took off, got into tight formation, then headed southwest to get back on track.
We flew for almost an hour, trying to break out. But by the time we were forced to land we were shocked to discover we’d only travelled 28 miles!
We fuelled up at a brand new airport that wasn’t officially opened yet. But the nice FBO let us top up our tanks anyway. Then – as we were obviously going no farther that day – he suggested we backtrack a few miles to the old airport, right in “Downtown Lehighton, Pa.”
I often wonder if our trip would have been the same had we not taken that good man’s advice. Because when we landed at Old Lehighton Airport, we touched down smack in the middle of the nineteen twenties!
The Old Lehighton Airport was in its last days. Soon it would close, replaced by the airport where we’d refueled. But since the early days of flight, Pioneering Fliers, Air Mail Pilots and Barnstormers had been dropping in to Old Lehighton. We know this for a fact because we were shown a corridor in the rear of the building where the walls were signed by every Airman and Aviatrix who had ended up stuck for the night in Lehighton. And some of them were very famous names!
The airport’s biggest draw was that downtown Lehighton, complete with restaurants and real food, lay just a short walk away. Not only that, but the owners had always made it clear that any Pilot dropping in at the airport was not only welcome, but expected to stay. “We’d much rather put ‘em up here than have ‘em fly into the side of a mountain somewhere up ahead. These rocks can fool ya’,” the man said. (Less than two years later I’d have good reason – a real good reason – to remember that warning … albeit a bit too late.) To that end, the owners had filled “the flight shack,” such as it was, with big couches and over-stuffed chairs. There were more seats outside in case someone wanted to fly and others just wanted to sit and watch. It was, in fact, a piece of Aviation Heaven.
I think it was at Lehighton that Richard got the idea to turn our trip into a book. He’d originally planned on writing an article for Air Progress magazine, but after seeing the way all our lives (not just “The Hippies”) were changing on that trip, Richard had called his Publisher and they had decided to make this story his next book instead. It was to be called “Living in the Sky” … but don’t bother looking for it – because fate had other plans for Richard Bach.
We knew none of this, making our way back to the airport after stuffing ourselves in Lehighton. And while we tried to walk off our lunch, Richard began asking Michelle about the kind of dancing she taught.
“Mostly Ballet & Modern Jazz,” said The Widge.
“Can you teach me something?” challenged Richard. The Widge thought for a second, nodded, then answered, “How about a “jette”?
“Oh, right,” I thought. “Richard is really going to go for this.”
Well, not only did the big man learn the step, he had Widge teach it to all of us as well. Then, to add insult to injury, Bach asked Joey G. to get a shot for him.
Joey obliged … and the picture ended up on the front page of Richard’s Air Progress article, “Anywhere is Okay” (also featured in his book, “A Gift of Wings”).
Image by Joseph Giovenco
From L to R: Chris Kask, Richard Bach, Michelle Goodeve, Glenn Norman
Swell. Exactly the “Conquering Hero of the Skies” image I was hoping for … NOT!
When we got back to the airport, we were stunned to discover a Reporter from the local newspaper waiting for us. The Airport Owner had called to let them know what we were up to, and now the Paper wanted to do a story on us. I’m proud to say the story made the next issue, and there was a copy waiting for us when we got home. It contains – to the best of my knowledge – the only picture of all six members of The Invitational Cross Country Adventure (as Joey G was usually taking the “snaps”).
After the Reporter left, Richard eyed the sky warily and said he thought we might be able to work our way farther down the valley before the day was out. In truth, all of us were pretty disappointed because we were rapidly falling in love with Lehighton. Besides – if we stayed the night, we got to write our names on “The Wall” (along with some of the most famous Pilots in history!)
But Richard thought we should give it a try, so – with deep sighs – we thanked our host, packed up our airplanes, took off and headed west.
It didn’t take too long before the weather started looking ugly – I mean, really ugly. Up ahead, the clouds were on the ground and it was obvious we weren’t about to break through. Bach saw this and signaled us to turn around. We held tight formation during the 180 … so it was only after we were heading back towards Lehighton that I realized the weather ahead was almost as bad as the weather behind.
We were trapped! And I felt my heart start to race as I realized our chances of returning safely to Lehighton were slim, to say the least.
For his part, Bach didn’t look the slightest bit worried. He started looking down and around beneath us, (which made me wish I had a radio just so I could tell him there were no other airports nearby. I’d already checked.)
But after a few moments, Bach saw what he was looking for, indicated we should change formation to line astern (all in a row), then turned final for … a field.
Sweet Ra, was he seriously planning to land in A FIELD?
He had to know that he could land safely with his Cub, and that Lou Levner’s Taylorcraft would probably get down okay (as long as it didn’t float too much). But we were flying a Luscombe. And Luscombes need a lot more runway than either of the other two aircraft.
Besides, this wasn’t a runway, it was … A FIELD!
And Bach knew I was terrified of having to actually land in a FIELD. I’d told him that.
A bell went off in my head and I suddenly had strong suspicions that Bach had a hidden agenda when he insisted on making this flight (not that he ever admitted it,)
Still, there would be time to talk about that later. Right now, the important thing was to get on the ground in one piece.
I looked down. Richard’s Cub had already landed on a runway-shaped-swath, cut down the centre of a corn-field. I could see Joey G. hop out and start taking pictures as Lou Levner’s Taylorcraft plunked onto the ground.
The muddy ground I noticed as I roared overhead.
I hadn’t liked the first pass … too close behind the Taylorcraft and way too fast.
I eyed the lowering ceiling as we orbited the field again. We were only going to get one more chance. To add to my joy, trucks were beginning to stop on an adjacent side road and a whole host of eyes now looked up at us.
I took a deep breath, turned to The Widge and said, “Ready?”
“Piece of Cake” she grinned.
(I was glad at least one of us was convinced.)
I lined up on the field again.
“Must concentrate on keeping the speed as low as possible,” thought I.
The airspeed was as low as I dared to go.
The field rose up towards us…
Photo by Joseph Giovenco
“My first Field Landing”
Then I was pulling back on the stick – and back – and back – and … Fuglump.
The little Luscombe was down and stopped in half the distance I’d ever managed before. And while the ground was muddy – as long as I was gentle with the brakes, I had no problem keeping our little bird straight.
We rolled to a stop, I cut the switches, looked at Widge … and exhaled. (I’ve no idea how long I was holding my breath.)
There was a knock on my window. It was Richard.
“And that,” he said, with a grin, “is how you land in a field.”
“Bastard…,” I muttered (after he’d walked away.) And yet I was so glad he’d done it. Because from now on, I wouldn’t hesitate to land “off airport” if the weather got too bad (which was, I’m convinced, what Richard intended to teach us from the very start of that flight.)
After a pleasant hour visiting with local farmers (who’d gathered to make sure we were all right), the ceiling lifted sufficiently to let us fly on.
Photo by Joseph Giovenco
“With New Mahoning, Pa. Farmers”
We said our goodbyes, made an uneventful take off, and were soon safely back at wonderful, Old Lehighton.
We each picked a comfortable couch, or chair, and were soon fast asleep – like so many other Fliers who had found a safe haven here in Lehighton … over all those history-filled decades.
And the following morning … before we took off … we were asked to sign “The Wall.”
Watch for Episode #25 of Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear,
“Bach’s Invitational Cross-Country Adventure – Part Five.”
Coming … Soon <g>
Abridged excerpt from Glenn Norman’s book,
“Living On Stolen Time”
Due for release … um … whenever I get it done. <vbg>