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Aviators Celebrate Piper’s 50th Anniversary

July 12, 1987

LOCK HAVEN, Pa. (AP) _ Dozens of fliers have gathered at the birthplace of the Piper Cub for the 50th anniversary of the company that got private aviation off the ground with its single-engine, two-seat airplane.

Pilots flew from as far away as California, landing their small airplanes at William T. Piper Memorial Airport for Saturday’s beginning of a 10-day celebration marking a half-century of Piper Aircraft Inc.

″If it hadn’t been for this aircraft, how many people would be flying? Not many,″ said Walt Golembiewski, 61, of Fort Wayne, Ind., who came in his yellow 1946 Piper J-3, better known as the Cub.

With the advent of Pipers, the cost of flying dropped from between $40 and $50 an hour to between $8 and $12, according to officials at the event. Last produced in 1947, Cubs still sell for between $18,000 and $22,000, said former newspaper editor Ray Schaeffer, one of the event’s organizers.

Six rows of planes were lined up on the tiny airport next to the plant that once produced the Model Ts of aviation.

″It’s kind of an informal fraternity,″ said Len Buckel, who flew 32 hours from San Diego to attend the event, called ″A Sentimental Journey.″

The first Piper pulled out onto the runway at Lock Haven in 1937. Labor problems forced the company to close the plant and move its headquarters to Vero Beach, Fla. in 1984, but to many pilots, this central Pennsylvania town of 12,000 remains the home of Piper.

Dale Phillips of Michigan City, Ind., took his 12-year-old son, Darren, to the former Piper plant, now used by George Ruckle to make airplane parts and airplane pontoons.

″My dad said, ’This is where your Cub was made,‴ Darren said.

More people learned to fly in a Piper Cub than any other aircraft and more than 26,000 people in North America own Pipers, Schaeffer said.

The Piper Cub has simple controls: a stick and two pedals for maneuvering. Windows surround the co-pilot and pilot, who sit beneath the wing in tight quarters. Speed is between 50 mph and 100 mph, depending on the wind.

They’re just 27 feet long, with a 36-foot wingspan. Early models were made of fabric stretched over a skeleton.

To a novice, flying in a Piper is akin to sitting in a narrow chair on water, rolling and twisting thousands of feet above the ground. The dashboard rises above the shoulder and the pilot spends much of his time peering to the side.

About 185 aviators had signed up in advance for the celebration, which was scheduled to end July 19. About 600 planes arrived at the first ″Sentimental Journey″ last year.

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