John Noll Veterans Air aviator … still a man of adventure all those years later!
When John Noll, Veterans Air aviator and co-founder turned 70, he was living in Cherry Hill, NJ. Buffy, his daughter, and her family were in Virginia. A major air show was scheduled near them, so Buffy invited her dad down for the event. What John didn’t know was Buffy and Jack, her husband, bought him flying time in a Stearman as a birthday surprise.
Buffy’s description of her dad’s response, his reaction, to the flight was awesome. All these years later, I’m sure she could still see the look on his face as she told the story.
Beyond besides himself!
“He was shaking with excitement. Beyond besides himself!” she told me, beaming herself.
(Dear Buffy, if you can find a photo of that Stearman day…that would be FAB!)
I don’t know the time span of the next flight, but John was so “back” into flying that he arranged a flight for himself in a Pitts. (For those of you unfamiliar, a Pitts is an aerobatic, agile, nimble, great upside-down-flying little airplane.)
The rest of the story starts here
But the real story is what happened next. Reinvigorated about flying, John Noll bought a Cessna 120. However, not what you might think. Not the kind you could get in and fly. At least, not immediately. Actually, not for a long time!
“It had been wrecked,”according to Buffy. “All the pieces were in buckets. Three buckets, actually.”
And the rest looked something like our first photo…a really sad carcass! (To really appreciate all these photos, you MUST click on one of them and NEXT your way thru!)
John machined many of the parts himself
He rebuilt this aircraft into flying condition. It took lots of time. Years. When lots of after-market parts were no longer available, John machined them himself. Plus, in the interim, he moved from New Jersey to Florida. The Cessna 120 “trailered” right along behind him, of course.
What got into him?
What turned this ex-Army Air Corps, Veterans Air aviator John Noll into such an aircraft “junkie?”
John’s rationale for this endeavor? Besides his own obvious joy!? He wanted to pass it on to one of his grandchildren. But first he had to discover which of his grandchildren was the least bit interested. That part of the story comes in a minute.
When the aircraft was finished, John engaged a young pilot to fly with him – from Florida to Texas! where Buffy and her family had since moved.
“We watched him fly in. The cowling seemed to be wrapped in duct tape! As they taxied closer, we were astounded. The cowling was wrapped in duct tape! In-flight two rivets popped. John and his co-pilot landed to inspect the situation. The solution was duct tape! Holding the cowling together the rest of the way.”
Water tower to water tower navigation
Buffy and Jack jointly finished the story as Will Frome* and I sat in their living room all wrapped up in the drama.
“They had two GPS systems on board. (Obviously an “upgrade” from any original avionics!) They said that both GPSs broke in flight.”
Laughing, Jack shrugged, “Maybe. Not likely. We think maybe it was a matter of they liked flying water-tower-to-water-tower.”
In aviation speak, we call that IFR…I follow roads!
And the “winner” is? (Drum roll…) DREW WIMMER
The Wimmers have a son, Drew. Which makes him John’s grandson. Well, Drew “won the grand prize.” The Cessna 120. He was the one that showed the most interest in his granddad’s adventure. After that, Drew took Ground School and a few flying lessons but did not complete his pilot’s license training. The episode, however, sparked Drew’s enthusiasm for his granddad’s flying career, an interest he still maintains.
(Dear Reader, I’m embarrassed to tell you I don’t remember what happened to that Cessna 120. I’m sure it was sold but don’t recall the circumstances. I was so absorbed in the story, I somehow failed to make those notes. My bad.)
Another chapter? You bet! Another Cessna!
However, I did resume my note taking when Buffy said, “Dad bought another wrecked airplane after that. And reassembled it. That one was a Cessna 140.”
Jack finished the description from across the room, shaking his head and getting a kick out of his still-very-vivid memory of his Father-in-law’s adventure…
“A taildragger, like the previous Cessna….but this one had flaps. And maybe a little bit more horsepower. Actually, the engines on both aircraft were something like a lawn mower motor, nothing more.”
One more “last part”…
There’s more. John Noll sold the Cessna 140 to a man who eventually crashed it – again. And John Noll bought it back – again. In pieces – again. But, this time, John didn’t get a chance to finish his third rebuild.
As told to Will Frome and me last week on my RV trek. All photos provided by the Noll Family. Will is also a 2nd generation Veterans Air “kid.” Read about our dinner here and about Will’s memories of his dad, Michael Frome, here.