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Pickups II

I got to use the truck while I was a member of the Civil Air Patrol in Sacramento. The CAP is nominally the auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and dates from 1942 when civilians used private planes to search for U-Boats. In the spring of 1966, CAP still flew searches for missing planes, but mostly it was a youth group. We teenagers drilled in Air Force uniforms and dreamed of flying jet planes. Our real flying was limited to orientation flights and instruction in small, even tiny, planes. Our home squadron had an Aeronca Champ, a two seater totally inappropriate for searches over the Sierras, but perfect for weekend trips around the Central Valley. The Champ is a lot like the J-3 Cub, but you can solo from the front seat.

My call to action came from some CAP senior members, as the adults were called. The squadron Champ had just received a new engine, but it conked out and had to make an emergency landing at a tiny strip in the Sierras. They needed me, or more precisely my truck, to haul the old engine up to the strip for a change. How far away from high school could that be?

I recruited my good friend Bob Snyder and we met at the squadron (in uniform of course) on Saturday. The senior members helped us load the replacement engine into the truck. Bob and I navigated from Sacramento up to the gold rush community of Georgetown.

We found our way up an unpaved road to the airport. In those days the Georgetown strip had no services and the Champ might have been the only airplane there. We had no trouble finding it. After a short wait while Bob and I giggled at this pleasant diversion from senioritis, the mechanics arrived by air with their tools.

The seniors had day jobs as machinists at the Air Force base and they knew their way around airplanes, not that there was much to know about the Champ. Changing engines proved amazingly simple. Off came the prop and the engine cover. Four bolts (if I remember correctly) and retaining wires held the engine to the firewall. The connections to the few engine instruments and the fuel line came off quickly. By backing the truck up to the airplane, the engine dropped right to the bed. I bet it took the four of us only an hour for the whole operation.

The Champ has no electric starter so I seized the honor of hand cranking the prop. You stand close to the propeller, so as not to lose your balance and fall forward, and you take the right blade with both hands. You call out “brakes!” to the pilot insure that when the engine comes to life it doesn’t run over you. Then you pull on the prop to see that the brakes are set. Next is “switch on” and the pilot sets the magneto switch. One pull on the prop is usually enough to get it going.

Off flew the Champ with its new/old engine and we drove back to Sacramento with the old/new engine. It was all soooo cool.

The Champ flew for CAP for nine more years. In 1976, our friend Mike “Andy” Andrykiewicz attempted a takeoff for a search mission. Andy apparently got disoriented in the fog and crashed. He did not survive.

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