In my article “Why Buy?” I mentioned that Michelle and I had helped more than 33 friends find their own airplane over the years. When I think back on some of those stories, the serendipity involved seems downright unbelievable, but I swear these tales are true.
Just before we were to begin our second Trans-Continental Air Dash (full story coming soon), we received an unexpected phone call.
“Hi,” said the man on the other end. “It’s Paul Soles calling. I host an afternoon show on the CBC called ‘Take 30’ and I understand you’re about to lead a bunch of antique airplanes across the country.”
“Ah. And you want to do a story on the Air Dash?” I asked.
“Actually I want to film a whole series of stories,” replied Soles.
And then came the kicker.
“… If you can find me an antique airplane—and I can learn to fly it—before you leave.”
“Um … we leave next week,” I replied.
Soles laughed and said, “If it helps, I am a pilot, and I realize it’s impossible—but I didn’t think it would hurt to ask.”
“Oh, it’s not impossible,” I answered as my mind started sorting through the files of Antique Airplanes that might be for sale. “I’ll have a bunch for you to see by tomorrow.”
“Are you serious?” Soles replied.
“I am if you are,” said I.
So the next afternoon a Porsche pulled into our drive, I hopped in, met Paul Soles, and we drove off to look at airplanes.
I’d found three aircraft for Paul: a mid-1930’s Miles Hawk (which I advised against as it was all-wood and had been sitting outside for a long time), a 1937 Rearwin Sportster with a 90 h.p. LeBlond radial owned by our Engineer “Barney” Oldfield (No. Not that one.), and a 1940 Fleet Finch biplane, in RCAF colours, which had been used as a trainer during the Second World War.
As soon as he saw the Finch, it was love-at-first-sight for Paul, and he immediately decided this was the plane for him.
The price was reasonable. As a matter of fact, it was a bit too reasonable … and we soon found out why.
There were only three hours left on the engine and the plane was in need of a new re-cover.
But Paul Soles was/is one determined customer. He not only bought the Finch, he talked the feds into giving him an extension on the engine’s expiry time that was enough to get him to the West coast … but not enough time to get back.
“No problem,” said Paul. “I’ll have the engine majored and the Finch re-covered in Vancouver.”
There was still the problem of learning how to fly the old biplane. But WW2, Battle-of-Britain-Ace Jan Falkowski was the airport’s CFI, and he managed to get Soles checked out just in time for the Air Dash.
And I mean just.
Jan sent Paul solo early in the morning we were to assemble for the start of the Air Dash. After a successful landing, Paul quickly loaded his baggage, then took off for Mountain View A.F.B. where the race was to begin.
And from there, he flew all the way across the Continent (followed by a ground-bound film crew stuffed into a van!).
Total time to find and acquire Paul Soles’ biplane—about 18 hours.
In the early seventies, our friend Teddy Rankine had already purchased his first airplane—a 1946 Aeronca Champ. He flew that great little airplane all over the continent, but what he really wanted was an antique biplane.
One day, Michelle & I were driving into Toronto when a car pulled alongside and the driver started leaning on his horn. I looked over in annoyance, but started grinning when I realized the driver was Teddy.
What are the chances?
At highway cruising speed, he yelled out his open passenger window, “It’s time. Find me a Tiger Moth.”
“Okay,” I yelled back. “I’ll have one by tonight.”
He laughed as he pulled away because we both knew I was joking.
On our way home to the country, I suddenly remembered one of our friends had a Tiger Moth and had recently been thinking he might sell his bird … might.
As we only had to alter the route slightly, we detoured to our friend’s airstrip and found him hard at work polishing his Tiger.
He was surprised to see us and said, “Hey! This is really strange. I was going to call you two this evening because I just decided to sell the Moth.”
“You just sold it,” I replied.
“Huh?” he answered in confusion.
We called Teddy as soon as we got home and said, “Got that Moth for you.”
Teddy laughed, “Right. You already found me a Tiger Moth.”
“Yup,” I replied.
Teddy’s laughing stopped rather abruptly.
The next day, Teddy bought the Moth (and flew it for many years, including a coast-to-coast flight in his 1976 version of our Trans-Continental Air Dashes).
Total time to find Teddy a Tiger Moth?
Less than three hours.
And Example #3 (which, I have to admit—I’ll have a hard time beating):
I’d driven to Markham Airport to visit with “Barney” Oldfield (No. Not that one.), and to see how my friend, Bob Gow’s Taylorcraft re-build was coming along.
“It’s finished,” Bob said. “But, unfortunately, I have to sell it.”
“What?” I responded in amazement (he loved that little airplane and had flown it coast to coast).
“I’m getting married,” replied Bob.
I was disappointed Bob had to sell his beloved “T-Pot” but promised to “spread the word” that the freshly-restored beauty was for sale.
As I opened the door to leave, I hit someone standing on the other side.
I apologized profusely (don’t forget—I’m Canadian and was born in England. Which means I’m polite x2), but the man laughed off the incident before growing quiet and saying, “Don’t I know you?”
It took us a moment to realize we’d gone to school together. As a matter of fact, we’d both skipped school one day to drive to Buttonville Airport and learn how much it would cost to become pilots!
I’d lost touch with Randy but, like me, he had got his license at Buttonville.
“So what are you doing here?” I asked.
“Looking for a plane to buy,” he answered.
The hairs on the back of my neck began to stiffen.
“What kind of plane?” I asked.
“Definitely a taildragger,” said Randy. “A Cub or a Champ. Or my real favourite—“
(I swear I knew what was coming next.)
“… a Taylorcraft,” Randy concluded.
For some reason, I wasn’t surprised. I remember grinning, nodding a few times, then reopening the hangar door and saying, “It’s right in here.”
When I led the very confused Randy into the hangar, Bob Gow looked up in equal confusion and said, “Did you forget something, Glenn?”
“Nope,” I answered. “Just sold your plane.”
I went to introduce Bob to Randy, but by then my old high-school buddy was almost drooling over the Taylorcraft … which had his name on the C of R within a matter of days.
Total time to sell Bob’s airplane: 3 minutes.
Total time to find Randy his Taylorcraft: about 30 seconds.
As I said … I’ll have a hard time beating that record.
There’s also the amazing story of Michelle and her Pietenpol. But as she is not only my partner, but also Why Fly’s Co-Founder & Creative Director, I’d better leave that tale for her to tell (if I value my life).
These are just a few of the more serendipitous airplanes we’ve put together with their new owners over the years.
I’m not superstitious, but even I have to say—some of the coincidences approach the unbelievable.
But every word of the above is true.
How are you going to find your airplane?
About the Author
Glenn Norman is a Co-Founder and the Editor of Why Fly. Learn more.