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A magical life

With love from a Cub

By N70472, as told to Leonardo Correa Luna

Even though it was so long ago, it feels like yesterday that Bob Mohr picked me up at the Piper dealership in 1946. I was spectacular, and my fabric was shiny and new. I was ready to fly, but I was also nervous. Who was my new owner? What was he going to do with me? Was he a good pilot?

A Cub's Life

Train another generation of Mohrs to be pilots? Sure, I’m up for that! Ryan (fourth generation) and his son Mavryk (fifth) together over Minnesota. (Photography by Leonardo Correa Luna) Minnesotans tend to be stoical (note the photo formality and lack of smiles from John, Fred, and Bob Mohr above) by nature—but not me! I was so touched when John hand-built this mini-me model that I wanted to snap roll. My former colleague, a Cessna 180, is fast and powerful, but I’m no slacker. Watch me fly this deer carcass off a frozen lake. Or a stringer of walleye. I carried all the lumber to build remote cabins, and even flew boats and box springs for beds out to them. You know him as a silverhaired aviation legend, but I remember John as a skinny 14-year-old kid and taking him on his first solo during a summer day on the lake. His dad said go and pushed him off the dock, and John never looked back. Now he’s wiping bugs off my windshield for his grandkids. Haakyn (Haak for short), an exuberant kid (and cancer survivor) who, apparently, hasn’t got the memo about home-state stoicism yet. Detail shot from N70472 Detail shot from N70472 Brothers Bodey, Mavryk, and Haak. They get to take turns squirming in the same narrow, straightbacked seat while flying over the same Minnesota countryside as their grandfather, great grandfather, and great great grandfather. The land looks different in many places, but I’ll teach them the same stickand- rudder skills that previous generations learned. The Mohrs have always kept me in top mechanical shape—but they’re not much on creature comforts. I’m as light and nimble as ever with no battery, alternator, or starter to weigh me down. I’m a workhorse, not a showhorse. If 25 rivets are good enough to secure my eyebrow baffles, I’ll take 100. And don’t even talk to me about carbon fiber. That’s not my style.

We airplanes like to let pilots believe they “own” us, in the same way a cat or a dog does. The reality is that we own them, and in exchange for taking care of our needs, we share the magic of flying. So, who was Bob Mohr? The only thing I discovered on my way up north was that he was an excellent pilot with great stick and rudder abilities.

My new home was a small town next to a lake with just a few houses. We landed and stopped next to the marina; the word “MOHRS” in big red letters was over the main door. Bob turned off the magnetos, and as soon as my propeller stopped, another man with a big smile approached us. His name was Fred Mohr, and he was Bob’s dad.

My new home at Crane Lake, Minnesota, was an air and marine service, and I was their new workhorse. My duties included flying supplies to isolated homes, dropping hunters and fishermen in remote cabins, and many times I would help with search and rescue missions for missing people. Bob had gotten the idea for the business after he served during World War II as a B–24 systems instructor, and he invited his dad, a renowned mechanic, to join him.

Later, I overheard many of Fred’s stories. Among them, how after returning from World War I, where he fought in the infantry, he brought back a tiny war souvenir. For just $40, Fred brought back home a SPAD French biplane fighter aircraft in a crate. Two wings were not necessary in his mind, and he removed one, creating a high-wing racing version of the SPAD. Many different airplanes followed: two Pietenpols, a Curtis Jenny, Curtiss Robin Model 50, and a beautiful Waco GXE that was used to barnstorm the fields of Iowa.

Fred and Bob loved to help their neighbors and the community. During summer, they looked for fires. When they spotted one, we would fly back to the town and pick up one of the local rangers, land as close as possible to the fire, drop the ranger with his equipment, and repeat that as many times as needed until they could put the fire out.

During the winter, I would help Fred and Bob add income to the family business by flying low and slow (well, I was always slow) hunting wolves to sell their furs. During those flights, we would also check out our neighbors’ cabins in the woods. Sometimes we’d find their roofs full of snow, and we would land and remove it, so the roofs didn’t collapse. I quickly became kind of a celebrity among the few permanent residents at the lake.

There was a problem with my new home: There was no official runway. So as soon as I arrived, Fred and Bob removed my wheels and set me up with brand new straight floats. Wow! If my brothers at the Lock Haven factory could see me! I felt so tall. Now the lake was my runway. For the next 30 years, I flew with floats during the summer, and as soon as the lake froze, the Mohrs switched my shoes for skis to enjoy the ice and snow.

In summer, tourists flooded the town, and I flew them to isolated areas. Time flew fast, and in 1952 something special happened. For the first time since my arrival to Crane Lake, there was a new Mohr in the family, John.

John was born to fly. From an early age, he would go up with me, his dad Bob, and Grandpa Fred. Soon, he was grabbing the stick and making me do turns around the lake. He didn’t know, but I would give him a little help to stay coordinated as he couldn’t reach the rudder pedals yet.

When he was not flying with me, he flew a one-sixth scale version of myself. I don’t know how he did it, but he built a perfect replica of me, and he could make it fly and control it with his mind! He was some kind of flying wizard.

The day finally arrived. John was just 14 years old. I was so proud that he finally took me up by himself, and while I was using my big summer shoes, those floats.

As the business grew, the Mohrs decided a bigger airplane was necessary. And just like that, one day I was not alone at the flying service anymore. During the summer of 1955, a shiny new Cessna 180 arrived at the marina. While the 180 was good at his primary mission of handling the big and heavy loads, my ability to land in tighter and smaller places sometimes gave me an advantage. Bob would use the 180 to take hunters to their remote cabins, and then during the following days, I would drop smaller loads of supplies and gas. I would also perform the occasional flight for a tourist, and no other airplane could beat me doing that.

The 1970s arrived fast and with it some changes in the usual family routine. John went south to the big city to study. He only stayed for a few months and left to start work for a charter service out of International Falls. There was not enough business at the lake for all of us, and John also needed to get some experience in airplanes with more than one engine for his future career. At least he visited often.

During those visits, John would share with Bob all about the new airplanes he was flying. And I think it was in 1975 when he bought an old cropduster with two wings called Stearman.

Soon he was barnstorming, flying to small towns, landing on the fields, and taking passengers up in exchange for some money. During those rides, he would perform some aerobatics for the enjoyment of his passengers. He became so good that other people started to pay money to him to come to their towns and perform airshows. I was so proud of all his accomplishments.

While John was away, I used the extra time to teach other Mohr family members how to fly. John’s younger brother Jimmy would be the second family member to solo with me. Jimmy and I would fly together for pleasure for many years.

In 1973, after almost 30 years flying, it was time for a well-deserved restoration. Every seven years, Bob would replace my tired cotton fabric, but this time was different. John heard about a new product called “Ceconite” and insisted Bob test it. I was going to look brand new and shiny again like the day I left the Piper factory. Bob, his wife, Dorothy, and John spent the whole winter working on me. Tenderly they removed my old fabric, fixed some of my old bones, and gave me a new coat of paint. After installing the new fabric, they applied many coats of silver to protect my skin from the intense UV rays in northern Minnesota.

Bob also decided this was an excellent opportunity for some improvements. My seats were redesigned, quick-release fasteners were added to my cowl, and a new fuel cap with an indicator replaced the old cork. Now I could know for sure how much fuel I had inside. Bob also put me on a diet, and by the end of winter I weighed only 650 pounds.

I was better than new. I felt good, light as a feather, and ready to fly again. Today, I am still wearing my 1973 fabric. Well, most of it—I’ve had a few new patches here and there.

In 1976 a new generation of Mohrs was born. John got a baby! The newborn’s name was Ryan. Soon, he followed the family tradition. John brought him back home, and I took him flying with now proud “Grandpa” Bob. Wow, I couldn’t believe it. I was flying the fourth generation of the family.

Years went by, and around 1986, unexpected things started to happen. I suspected something was not right the day that my now old friend Cessna 180 left. What was going on?

Bob was 63 years old and life around the lake was changing. After so many years working hard, he and Dorothy earned a rest in warmer lands. But what would happen to me?

Bob took me up for one last flight and he told me, “Don’t worry, you are part of the family. John and Uncle Jimmy will take care of you from now on.” That was our last flight together after 40 years of sharing countless adventures.

My new home was still in Minnesota, close to a city called Princeton, and I was back on wheels. For some reason, when I was on the ground, I couldn’t stop when I wanted. Later I discovered that Bob had removed my brakes as part of my diet. Well, who needs them?

My new home was originally designed for horses, and I barely fit. At least I had a roof to protect me during the cold winters. The runway was also cozy: 1,000 feet with trees on both sides and power lines at the end. I really needed to be careful on takeoffs, especially on warm summer days.

Ryan grew up quickly and was definitely a Mohr. He loved flying and was a gifted pilot. With John’s help, I gave him his first hours, and again I took a Mohr up alone for the first time in 1992.

After gaining some experience, Ryan was flying everything he could get his hands on, especially if it had a radial engine. He was also a gifted mechanic. While in college, he would escape every time he could to visit me. Operating in summer from Uncle Jimmy’s tight runway allowed me to teach Ryan how to get the best of my performance. I forced him to learn how to squeeze all the power from my old C-65 engine. Use ground effect, stay on it until I had enough speed to climb hard over the trees at the end of the runway. Another lesson I taught him is that I could land in much shorter distances than I needed to take off. I was a great instructor.

During those visits, Ryan told me he was something called a CFI. Thanks to that, he could teach other people to fly, and he asked me, “Would you like to go back to college with me and teach others how to fly a tailwheel airplane?”

I was out of my mind. I never thought I could be a college professor. I confess I didn’t know what I was signing up for. These new students had never been in an airplane like me. They were used to flying modern ones with a wheel in the nose that I heard were so easy to control on the ground.

For me, flying is all about emotions and feelings, not about numbers and manuals. You need to feel me, and I will force you to do that, especially on the ground. If you don’t feel me, I am going to scare you. In a blink of an eye, I will make you go right, then left, and then right again. The only problem with my teaching technique is that I would scare myself too. And remember, I don’t have any brakes.

But Ryan was there for me every time, keeping me safe. Together we were a great team, and we succeeded in teaching 25 new pilots the fine art of Cub flying.

Life was slow for me now. As Ryan grew up, he was flying all kinds of cool airplanes with big radial engines. Howard 500s, Albatrosses, Stearmans, and even those big jets that can carry many passengers in the back. Occasionally, I would still fly with him, Jimmy, or John, but mostly I was alone in my hangar.

One day in 2005, when Ryan was flying for the airlines, he showed up with this beautiful lady, gorgeous, with long red hair. She was also a pilot. This was their first date.

We went up, and she took the controls. She knew what she was doing. With the door open, her long red hair was flying all over the place. Ryan removed one of those Velcro straps used to hold the push-to-talk switch and wrapped her hair to keep it from blowing in her face. She smiled at the gentlemanly act.

After a perfect landing, this was a done deal. She was in love with me and would do whatever was needed to stay close. One year later, she married Ryan.

On a slow day in 2013 I was missing the good old days of flying all day with Bob, when the hangar doors opened, and there was Ryan. I was so happy that I wanted to wiggle my tail. He pushed me out, did a quick preflight, and told me he had a surprise for me—but first, we needed to fly to another airport.

The flight was short; we landed in an airport called Princeton. We stopped at the apron where the beautiful redhead lady and two little kids were waiting. They looked very much like her. New Mohrs?

Yes! These were Ryan’s and Tory’s kids. My fifth generation of Mohrs.

Ryan seated Bodey and Mavryk in my rear seat, one next to the other. It was a beautiful day with blue skies and a few clouds. We flew low and slow, enjoying the smell of the grass. Bodey and Mav could barely reach over the windows. They couldn’t stop giggling and were constantly waving to the cows. After a short flight, Ryan flew back to the airport and made a perfect landing in the grass. It was nice to see that he didn’t forget my lessons.

After a long, successful career, John retired from the airlines. He built a giant hangar at New Richmond airport in Wisconsin and took me with him. Suddenly, I was not alone anymore! Next to me in the hangar was John’s famous Stearman. Also, there was a rare airplane, a seaplane with the engines installed in the wrong direction. He spoke with a weird accent, his name was Piaggio Royal Gull, and he was from Italy.

September of 2020, that little one climbing through my door was Ryan’s youngest son, Haak. Ryan was going to fly with me with Haak seated in the front. John was ready to hand prop my engine like in the old times. Even when they were not with us anymore, I could feel Fred and Bob were also going to fly with me today.

Even after 74 years with my old fabric, my patches, and extra rivets in my cowl, I was still able to do what I was born for. Share, and teach the magic of flying to the next generation of Mohrs. I can’t wait for the following years full of adventures with this new generation. John, mags are on. Swing that prop!

Leonardo Correa-Luna is an airline pilot, photographer, and owner of a Cessna 170B.

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