Do You Feel Lucky, Punk? Well, do you?
(I did and I was)

Landing on World's Shortest Runway: dumb things that I've done

Text and photos by Budd Davisson, Air Progress, '72 (or so),


Some of the pix Greg Koontz took while standing up in the sun roof of Jim's Mercedes. They were yelling and honking through the entire escapade.

On takeoff. Ernie showed me a little of the clown act he's done for awhile, about 40 years to be exact. As we stewed sideways back and forth across the runway and the grass. his voice boomed from the back scat. "Boy. doesn't that say something about a Cub!" He was having a helluva good time. I was beginning to wonder.
As we climbed to altitude, I could see Jim positioning the truck on the runway numbers. He wouldn't start rolling until I was already on final and waggling my wings. Then he would accelerate to about 48 mph and hold it, probably praying I wouldn't get sucked into the downwash of the truck and centerpunch him in the rear or fall off the front and get run over. At that point we were having the same thoughts.
On final, I gave him a 300-yard lead and waggled my wings. As he started rolling, I could almost hear myself say out loud, "Ah, come on, guys, give me a break!" Not willing to leave me alone, there was a car running on each side of the truck with the afore-mentioned grinning faces leering at me.
To make things worse, Greg Koontz was sticking out of the sunroof of a Mercedes running along shooting pictures. Did I mention that it's not a good idea to go clown to AeroSport if you have a fragile ego?
As the truck's speed stabilized. I began to get some feel of the spatial relationships and found myself jockeying the throttle to keep closing the distance, while at the same time trying to fly down to a spot several feet above the truck. A bulb went off in my mind, "Hey, I'm actually doing it!" Easy, easy, a little more throttle, whoa, not too much. here it comes. Then, I was looking down out of the open door of the Cub at the top of the platform. It was so close I could almost throw up on it, and the thought occurred to me.
Ernie had been talking non-stop since we came down over the runway, but I had been so absorbed in watching that little spot turn into a truck that I didn't hear him. Then, as we hung over the top of the truck, his voice broke through "Move it over. get it over the truck. Move it over!" I had forgotten that the platform was only about 18 inches wider than the Cub. If I saw more than a foot of platform past the right, I wasn't in the middle and the other wheel would fall off, taking me with it. At that moment, at least three feet of that platform was on the other side of the wheel. All of this was happening while the Cub danced above a truck going 45 or 50 mph down the middle of the runway. with a Mercedes and a Corvette running close formation with it. "Davisson," I thought, "this has got to be the absolute peak in the stupid things you've done."
The runway was being eaten up fast, but Ernie's words finally worked their way into my partially paralyzed brain. I made my move. "Son of a ... !" The world went crazy the second 1 applied a little aileron to move the airplane over. The truck that had been on my right, vanished, as I appeared to peel off in the other direction. My mind was definitely not keeping up with what was happening. Just the slightest bank had been enough to yank me yards off to the side and I found myself sec-sawing back and forth over the top of the truck, trying to gauge the amount of movement needed. I was astounded!
Since I had never been in a position where I could judge an airplane's movement right clown to the last inch, I didn't realize how much it moved when you used a little aileron. 1 pendulumed back and forth, each swing getting smaller, but so was the amount of runway ahead, and I finally had to yank it up and go around. By this time Ernie was doing a tattoo on my head at about a thousand words a minute. I caught about every third word. I had flown the approach right. but when it got down to pinning the Cub on the target. I hadn't been able to limit my control to that which was needed.
Second approach. nose down, truck and escorts moving, me sweating. This time I was careful about what my hands were doing. Rather than banking it to move that last few inches. I found myself skidding just a little with the rudder, inching the gear over until it was just about right. "Nail it. Push it on!" Ernie prodded. I did just that and felt the wheels thunk on to the plywood. I relaxed a little, I had made it. My second major mistake! I had been so fixiated on the seemingly motionless platform below me, that I had completely forgotten that we were doing 45 mph and the airplane was still flying even though it was touching the platform. Without thinking, I started to retard the throttle, which set off an explosion of words from the backseat. I didn't need Ernie to tell me that I was doing wrong. It was obvious. Just dropping the power a few hundred rpm was enough to start the Cub rolling towards the back of the truck. The tail was still in the air, so it was hanging off the back while the entire airplane moved gently backwards. I quickly inched the power back on, picking the airplane up in the air a few feet, convinced, if I didn't, I'd fall off the back and give Greg in the Mercedes a hell of a picture for his scrap (or is it scrape'?) book.

This is one of the most fun things I've ever done in an airplane .

I struggled to get back onto the platform but was losing out to the rapidly approaching trees. Up and away! Time for round three. I'll freely admit to being behind the power curve on this little adventure. I thought I had worked out most of the problems beforehand. but when I got right over the platform and was actually touching it, a few unexpected items popped up which scrambled my thought processes. Theoretically the plan is. once you've wheel landed on the platform, you taxi forward into two deep notches or wells in the platform that are only about six inches from the leading edge. That sounds simple except it goes against much of your common sense. For one thing, you have to force the gear onto the platform and then increase, not decrease, power. So there you are, gear down on a moving truck, trying to taxi forward to the gear wells. Further complicating all of this is the fact that, when you are rolling into the platform notches you suddenly realize that the entire nose of the airplane hangs off the front of the truck and you are depending on the notches to stop you. It looks like the slightest miscalculation and you'll go bounding over the notches and plop off the front edge. T had this vivid image of the truck running down the runway with the Cub stuck to its windshield like a squashed dragonfly.
Approach Number Three found me running down to the truck like I was on wires, no problem getting to the truck, now the problem was getting on and into the gear wells. This time I got the gear on but was off-center. Rather than picking it up again. I did as Ernie suggested (rather strongly) and kept the gear forced against the platform but skidded it sideways with rudder. A quick glance told me we were going to run out of runway soon, but I'd he damned if I was going to take a waive-off again. I think I almost closed my eyes, as I jockeyed the throttle forward. Whoa, not too much, back off a little, jab it a little more, easy, the gear's rolling forward. Here come the wells, ease off' the power a touch, jab it. Jab it! Plunk and we were in the gear wells! I felt like I had just made my first carrier landing (hadn't I?). but I didn't have much time to enjoy it.
The end of the runway was rushing down on us and there wasn't room for Jim to gradually slow the truck thereby keeping the Cub on board. He was going to have to get on the brakes hard, and I had the squashed dragonfly vision again. All of this was happening at 45 mph, so the Cub was still perfectly happy to fly. I eased the power up and twitched back on the stick at the same time. The gear popped out of the wells and the truck fell away below while I banked around for another run at it.
The fourth time was no sweat. I guess t had gotten over my fear of falling off the AeroSport Cub Carrier so I just drove it down, nailed it to the platform and taxied forward like I was headed for the gas pumps. This time Jim had half the runway to use in slowing down. All I had to do was remember to reduce the power at the same rate he was slowing down, so I could keep the Cub solidly stuck in the platform wells. If I had killed the power and dropped the tail, we would have lifted off but wouldn't have had enough speed to fly. The truck would drive out from under us, leaving us on the runway like a flattened squirrel.

It wasn't pretty, but I finally did it.

I took a reasonable amount of razzing from the rest of the guys. "Hey, what was that first approach, we thought you were going to get sea sick." But I felt good. It had been much more of a challenge than I had expected. but not so much that it was even remotely impossible. Besides that. it had been a hell of a lot of fun.
The real kicker came later in the day when I drove my wife and kids out to the airport. The Cub was still on top of the truck, which was parked by the AeroSport terminal. When we pulled in my wife turned and asked, "How'd that airplane get up there?"
"Oh, that?" I replied with nonchalance running out my ears. "I landed it there!"
Then followed a rapid fire you're-kidding-no-I'm-not-I’ll-ask-somebodyelse-goahead. She asked Jim and her next comment had to do with an invitation to an impending catered divorce. (Ed Note: when we finally did get divorced, the Cub had nothing to do with it and it definitely wasn't catered.)
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