Pilots, owners, and just plain devotees of Piper aircraft gathered again for the (normally) annual Sentimental Journey Fly-In. The event, held for the past 35 years at the site of the original Piper Aircraft Corp. (1937-1972), was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hundreds of pilots flew in to William T. Piper Memorial Airport in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, for the thirty-fifth Annual Sentimental Journey to Cub Haven Fly-In between June 22 and 26 to show off their airplanes—mostly Pipers and Taylorcrafts (the predecessor to Piper), plus a few Aeroncas, Cessnas, and other brands. Attendees were ready to network, buy and sell vintage Piper parts and memorabilia, and socialize with like-minded Piper people. Owners of the ubiquitous yellow, fabric-covered Cubs would say, “right-minded people.”
The fly-In hosted the 2021 Short Wing Piper International Convention, which is a group of pilots devoted to five models of Piper aircraft, the so-called “short-wing” Pipers. In 1947, with the idea to reduce the cost of his already reasonably priced airplanes, William T. Piper shortened the wings and fuselage of the standard J–3 Cub to create the first of the short-wing models, the PA–15 Vagabond. Five models were built from 1948 to 1964: the Vagabond, Clipper, Pacer, Tri-Pacer, and Colt.
Perhaps, the most unusual short-wing Piper in attendance was a military version of a Piper Tri-Pacer, which was flown as a forward air controller and artillery spotter by the French military during the 1950 and 1960s Algerian War for Independence. It was meticulously restored to its military appearance, including a (replica) 30-caliber Browning machine gun, by pilot and owner Douglas Kulick. This Tri-Pacer may have flown the farthest to attend, flying more than 2,200 miles from Reno, Nevada.
Another interesting short-wing was a bright yellow Colt, normally a nosewheel airplane, which had been modified with a tailwheel.
Gary Winter flew his beautifully restored 1941 J–3 Cub—which won Grand Champion Custom Antique at the Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo in April—nearly 1,000 miles from Ocala, Florida, to attend.
Sentimental Journey has become quite sentimental for those who’ve attended for decades; one pilot had attended 33 of the past 35 years. Each fly-in includes fun events, flight demonstrations, seminars, and friendly competitions. The “Alabama Boys” performed their classic “Flying Farmer” routine, in which a local hayseed farmer in overalls and straw hat “steals” a J–3 Cub, manages to take off, and flies wildly over the airfield. Finally, he’s able to land the Cub on the “World's Smallest Airport,” a platform atop a pickup truck driving down the runway.
Experts shared information of interest to vintage Piper owners at seminars such as “Restoration of Fabric Pipers” and “Meet the Short Wing Piper Club.” On Thursday, pilots attempted to touch down their landing gear on a stripe painted across the grass runway during a spot landing contest. At least one hit it precisely as the chalk kicked up visibly.
On the last Saturday of the fly-in, attendance is free and many locals come out, bringing their children, to enjoy all the aviation activity. On that day you’re as likely to meet a nonpilot as a pilot, and it’s a chance to spread the word of recreational aviation. EAA Young Eagles flights introduced potential young pilots to recreational flying. Many visitors took time to walk over and tour the Piper Aviation Museum, located on the south side of the airport in the former Piper engineering building, to learn more about the history of the Piper Aircraft Corp. and see a selection of memorabilia and vintage Piper aircraft. Others joined a tour of the Lycoming Engines factory in Williamsport 25 miles away. (Factory tours are offered on most Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2 p.m., but you must contact Lycoming to register and provide identification before arrival.)
In the evenings, a corn boil cooked up local sweet corn on the cob, while vendors grilled dinner and scooped ice cream, and everyone enjoyed live music at the pavilion. Awards for best restored aircraft were presented at a Saturday night banquet. On Sunday, the last Pipers lifted off the grass at Lock Haven, with many planning to make the sentimental journey again next year.