were no asphalt runways, no fleets of planes.Back in the early days, says
Laurel's Wes Nicholas, flying was done "from fields of aviation-friendly farmers in the
area." Wes should know. His dad, Joe, was one of the early aviators in the 1930's, when he began his forty year career in aviation.
"Back then," Nicholas says, "most of the planes were open cockpit, like the
Curtis Wright Pusher, Hisso Eaglerock and an unknown plane named "Whitey Sport".
But the scenes weren't exactly
glamorized shots of Howard Hughes type pilots in their goggles and gear. They were way more practical scenes
of western-style hunting. "They
would shoot the coyote from the air, land close by, get the pelt and turn it in
because there was a bounty on coyotes at the time," recounts Nicholas.
That was for profit, and during some
trying economic times, but flying was
also done for fun – like scaring
unsuspecting fishermen in the Yellowstone, by
cutting the power, silently sneaking up on them, then gunning the engine while
passing overhead. Those were the
days – before the FAA and environmentalist regulations that no longer allow for
such antics and back when friends of Joe Nicholas paid $2,400 for an OX5
Eaglerock. But, that was also back
in the days when flying was not nearly as safe.
"Whenever he was flying," Nicholas says of his dad, "he was continually
looking for a place to land in case the engine quit. That habit saved his neck many times
as he had 17 'dead-stick' landings.
One time the field was so small, he had to disassemble part of the plane to get
Wes Nicholas followed in his dad's footsteps and received his private pilot
license back in 1967. While no
longer flying, he still enjoys talking about the old days, "I still have my
mother's helmet and a wooden propeller, although I'm not sure now which plane it