Flying a World War II Spotter Plane

My Dad flew a “spotter” plane for the U.S. Army Field Artillery in the Big War, World War II.  It was a Piper Cub, L-4, named “Chipunk”, a combination of my and my mother’s nicknames.  It had a cruising speed of 60-65 miles per hour and a landing speed of 38 mph.  To start the engine, the pilot had to spin the wooden propeller from the outside of the aircraft.  The instruments inside the plane were limited to a compass, throttle, and fuel gauge, as well as an artillery radio for communicating target information to the artillery firing battery.  There was no need for a parachute, since the L-4 rarely flew above 1,000-1,500 feet, which is not high enough to be able to use one.  The plane was controlled by a “stick” and that’s it.  A tube of “dope” (glue) and a piece of canvas comprised the bullet hole repair kit.  My Dad carried a .45 caliber sidearm, his only firepower.

On January 1, 1945, “Chipunk” was chased by two much faster and heavily armed German Messerschmitts.  Fortunately, they were also less maneuverable and couldn’t go down into the trees and large coal mounds to flush her out.  The evasive tactics worked, and the pursuers finally gave up and left, frustrated I’m sure.

I was less than 10 months old on January 1, 1945, a pre-Boomer, but I remember it all very well.  Or, did I just hear about it for many, many years to come?  It was a lucky day for all of us, especially me.  I would soon get to meet my Dad.

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