Mt. Healthy Airport Stories
I started flying in the spring of 1944. Jerry Greenfield was my instructor for a little while. Then I went with Sleepy Marlin, who sang country songs while he was instructing me. I soloed with him after about ten hours. Sleepy left the airport and went on to his own airport, somewhere in Kentucky.
Pat Slattery, who qualified me for a private license, later went on to Indianapolis as a flight controller for air traffic. I teamed up with a fellow named Merrill McDonald, who had a Sterman. He bought it from Jerry Greenfield, the airport operator, who bought three of them from the government surplus. After Mac bought one, he talked me into buying one, too, which later became the regret of my life, because I lost a lot of money on it.
The plane had to be redone, and took a lot of money. After I had it done, I sold it to a fellow from Kentucky, who made a crop duster out of it. This was a couple of years after 1944. It took a couple of years for me to get my private license, because I didn’t have the money to buy flying time. Flying time was then ten dollars an hour. That was pretty steep when I was making just sixty-five cents an hour.
As a child I use to ride my bicycle from Mt. Healthy over to the airport just to see the airplanes. That’s about all I could do because I didn’t have enough money to go up in one. When Jerry was operating the airport, I took my first plane ride in ‘44, and that got me hooked. I really had my mind made up before that, but I didn’t know how to go about it. It didn’t take me long before I bought a block of time, eight hours of flying time for eighty dollars.
At about that time the government released all these pilots. They were Air Force pilot trainers, and the Air Force did not have any use for them anymore, so there were plenty of instructors. Many became flight controllers at the Greater Cincinnati Airport. Some went to the Indianapolis control center.
Many G.I.’s were getting discharged, and they wanted to learn to fly on the G.I. Bill. On average only one in ten really stayed with flying. The airport was operating in ‘39. But back in 1937 there was a pilot at the airport named Ed Doyle. He was a motorcycle policeman in Mt. Healthy, but he took his instructions at the airport, and all he talked about was getting enough hours to become an airline pilot. He did become an airline pilot, but I do not know for what airline, possibly for American, because then they were going into Cincinnati at the time with their DC3's.
The runway was not pure east and west. It ran parallel to Springdale Road for a while; then the road veers to the right. When you took off or landed, you went right over old Colerain High School, right directly over the top of the school. When landing to the east, you were going toward Colerain Avenue, and you were going down hill. If you came in a little fast or short, it was hard to slow down. Even with brakes, if you hit them, the tail would come up on you.
Jerry Greenfield bought cinders from CG&E and had them trucked in to put down a cinder runway. They called this crawfish land because it was always sinking, and you needed to keep building it up with cinders to get a pretty good cinder runway base.
Sometimes it would get so muddy at the airport that it was very difficult to take off or land. It was early in the month of December, and we wanted to fly, but there was mud all over the place. In order for us to fly, Jerry Greenfield and Elmer Lierer would get us out on the runway and aim us down the runway. Then we were to gun the engine and they would start lifting the wings and rocking the plane. Next thing you knew, you were moving and down the runway; you’d go and take off. When you landed, you just sunk in the mud.
Four of us decided to go to the Indianapolis races. We got up to Indianapolis, landed, and took the bus to the races. We saw the races, and just as we were leaving, a big thunderstorm came up. We got back to the airport, and there were a couple of airplanes that had skidded off the runway and were lying over in the ditches.
What should we do? We talked it over and decided that the first time there was a break in the weather, we were going to get out of there. We saw a little blue in the sky and we jumped in our planes. We had two airplanes: one was a Sterman and one was a Fairchild, two-place cabin job. It was an old Fairchild 24.
We got over Indianapolis and the weather closed in on us. It really closed in, and we immediately started dropping down. It was raining as hard as it could be, and we dropped down between two radio towers. We were down to about five hundred feet, so we could see. Before long, about forty miles out of Indianapolis, it cleared up and we flew on in to Cincinnati. That threw a fear in me. Then I got drafted and that ended that.
The big times were after the war when men and women were returning from the service. One fellow named Corky Shields bought an AT 6, a fighter, pilot-training plane. It had a 650 h.p. Engine and many of these returning G.I.’s were afraid of it.
It was an advanced aircraft, pretty sophisticated. But all these pilots that came back from the service loved to fly. They’d come out, rent it from Corky, put some gas in it, and take off.
One Navy pilot in particular would approach the airport, like he was approaching a carrier. He would put it down in front of the hanger, which was about one hundred yards from the street, and the wind would just “whoosh” like a big goose coming in. It was a sight to see.
My grandfather lived on Colerain, right across the street from the Six-Mile house. He had a farm there, and I can remember Powell Crosley flying in to his own airport on Pippin Road.
Pop Muhlberger was an old bachelor. If he had money, he didn’t show it. He was a very smart man, very intelligent. He had a ninety-nine year lease on the airport property. They use to tease him about how he was ever going to out live it.
Every spring, here he’d come from Florida in his airplane and each trip; it was a different airplane. He even came around when Jerry Greenfield was operating it. Mr. Clippard, of the Clippard Instrument Company, learned to fly at Mt. Healthy Airport. He later had his own airport, on the East Side of Colerain Ave.
Here is the location of the Clippard Airport. It started on the north side where what is today, the Wal-Mart parking lot is located, and crossed I-275. The south end was in the area we know today as Clippard Park. Its runway was fifteen hundred feet in length.
Mr. Clippard had a bad accident at his airport on his plane. He had a propeller that had a control on it, one setting for high pitch and one, for low pitch. Something went wrong with it. He lost altitude and went into the trees and was badly injured.
When we would come in over the wires on Colerain Avenue, we’d try to make a short landing. We’d do a sideslip. We’d cross control the airplane so that the left wing dropped down and the nose went up on an angle. You’d come in sideways and we’d try to drop the airplane in front of the hanger, which made a short landing. This way you lost altitude very fast. These airplanes didn’t have any flaps; flaps were just coming in.
The restaurant at the airport came later, after the war. At one time the airport was full, and the overflow had to go to Lakewood Airport for storage. Air speeds back then were about ninety-five miles per hour for a Stearman and sixty-five to seventy miles per hour for Aeronca Champs, what automobiles do today. I flew from 1944 to 1948.