By Emily Herron
Each day this week, we’re running one of the winners of EAA’s Pilot Your Own Adventure Contest, supported by Flight Outfitters. This entry placed fourth, out of nearly 200 entries received. While all stories have been edited for grammar and style prior to publication, they were judged as submitted, with no editing of any kind. — Ed.
Having grown up around aviation and now working in the aviation industry, I have met many pilots and aircraft owners. I’ve heard some incredible stories of how they came to own their most prized possession. Some searched for months for the right airplane, while some stumbled upon their airplane while browsing the ramp at their local airport or on Trade-A-Plane.com. Our family’s story is a bit different.
Piper J-3 Cub N6745H rolled off the production line in Lockhaven, Pennsylvania, in September of 1946. After 45H spent three years training pilots in Valdosta, Georgia, my grandfather, Kenzie Jones, brought her home to his family in Alabama for the bargain price of $725. That day was the beginning of our story, one that isn’t finished yet, and one I hope to just be a small part of when my great-great-great grandchildren tell it in 100 years.
My grandfather fell in love with aviation while in the Army. After he was discharged, he took flying lessons in a J-3 Cub, received his commercial and CFI ratings, and began a 30-year career as an ag pilot. With the Civilian Pilot Training Program ending in 1949, light planes flooded the market. So, on June 19, 1949, just two months after my dad was born, he bought 45H from Southern Airways, flew her home to Montgomery, Alabama, and gave rides to the whole family, including my infant dad sitting in my grandma’s lap in the back seat. While my dad surely doesn’t remember that flight, it would be the first time one of our family members would fall in love with aviation because of a flight in our Cub. It wouldn’t be the last.
During the 1950s and ’60s, my grandfather worked as a crop duster, flying 450 Stearmans around the South and Midwest. He took my dad and aunts up in 45H when he wasn’t away on a flying excursion, and my dad’s love for aviation (and for 45H) continued to grow. In 1965, just before my dad’s 16th birthday, a tornado ripped through southern Indiana where 45H was tied down and severely damaged the right wing. This gave my grandfather the opportunity to re-cover the airplane, and teach my dad the art of fabric work. He gifted 45H to my dad on his 16th birthday with the stipulation that Dad did most of the restoration. They finished her up when he was in college and they were living on a farm north of Lexington, Kentucky. Dad, who already had his student ticket, actually soloed 45H from a 700-foot cow pasture!
After college, Dad became a high school teacher and football coach, married my mom, and moved from Kentucky to sunny Florida. While coaching, my dad took several of his football players on their first airplane ride. In 1981, my older brother Ryan was born. Dad took him on his first flight, with Ryan sitting in my mom’s lap. Ryan fell in love with flying just like my dad, but because of a genetic condition, he has been visually impaired since he was very young. Ryan is 45H’s favorite honorary pilot to this day!
My dad had many adventures with 45H in Florida, including watching a space shuttle launch, landing on a deserted beach, dropping sky divers, static displays at Eglin AFB and Pensacola NAS, and flying in a J-3 demonstration team called The Yellow Sparrows. It was a four ship of beautiful yellow Cubs that flew at air shows to show the crowd how fun low and slow can really be!
I was formally introduced to flying in July of 1985 at the age of 4 months old while in my car seat in the back of 45H, and just like my father before me, I fell in love — not just with this little yellow flying machine, but also with aviation. As I grew up, I took note of my dad’s love and care for 45H. He assisted the IA with every annual and did all of the fabric work (including four full re-covers) himself. Over two-thirds of the total time on 45H belongs to my dad. The two of them have taken countless flights, each one with a story. As a child, I hoped to share a similar bond with her someday.
After a year of training with my dad and two and a half hours with a CFI, I soloed 45H at the age of 17, and 13 years (and a husband and son) later, I took my private pilot certificate checkride in her in 2015. After many years apart, 45H and I were finally living close to each other. During the winter and spring of 2021, I was able to help my dad re-cover the fuselage and landing gear. It was hard work, but I gained such an appreciation for this airplane I have known my whole life.
That spring, I began looking through old pictures and making my dad tell me flying stories from before I was born. We then decided to document our story with 45H on camera, and what better way to do it than to take an epic cross-country flight! Our goal is to fly back to every airport she has ever been based at while with our family (it’s a lot of airports)! We took a five-day, 1,600-nm journey last fall from Kentucky to Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and back.
We still have a few more airports to fly to this spring, but that trip was one my dad and I will never forget. It reminded us that while most people fall in love with aviation, then later an airplane, 45H was our first love. She led us to the aviation community, which has been the most amazing part of our whole story. From the countless first airplane rides we have given, to the lifelong friends we have made, to seeing the look on our own children’s faces on their very first flight, 45H is our family’s legacy. And gosh, are we grateful she chose us.