A Pearl Harbor Mystery
How a 1940s Interstate Cadet trainer sent a famous airshow pilot on a journey to find a kindred spirit.
- By John Fleischman
- Air & Space magazine, January 2012
National Museum of the USAF; Texas Woman's University Libraries; Library of Congress; Photo Illustration by Theo
(Page 4 of 6)
The Underground Flying Club held onto N37266, flying it for the next 25 years. By 1971, the club had dwindled to two members. The airplane finally passed to a series of private owners in and around Honolulu. The last airworthiness application was dated 1973; in 1979, N37266 was sold in Honolulu for the last time. A few months later, it was registered in Newark, Delaware. From there it went to buyers in Texas, Arizona, Ohio, and now North Dakota.
When the airplane arrived in Minot, the city was sodden. It had been a wet spring, and the Souris River was rising, every day creeping closer to Pietsch’s airstrip and hangar. Pietsch started a small sandbag dike around the strip. It kept raining. By early May, he and an airplane buddy, Larry Eide, had a sandbag wall as high as their heads. By late May, with no sign of the river receding, Pietsch had flown out his flyable airplanes. In June, the water breached the dike, flooding his hangar to the rafters.
In mid-June, I rented a Hyundai and drove to Minot to check out N37266. Despite the inconclusive paperwork, Pietsch was now calling his purchase “Cornelia’s airplane.”
“Cornelia was right there on the forefront,” Pietsch told me later. “That was the start. That was the minute when it went from being a calm Sunday morning just like any other—then boom—it’s a world war in which millions of people died. And this airplane was there.”
Pietsch, Eide, and restorer Tim Talen wrestled the bare airframe, wings, and many boxes of parts onto Talen’s flatbed trailer, which Talen would drive to his shop in Jasper, Oregon. There, he would administer a full-bore, museum-quality restoration. Talen, who had earned a master’s degree in history before turning to antique airplanes, is the unofficial dean of Interstate Cadet studies. While the three men worked, Talen gave impromptu talks on how to recognize factory welds, how Interstate redesigned the original tail to gain 50 pounds of carrying capacity, and the mediocre performance of the Cadet’s military version, the L-6.
Interstate Cadets came into his life on a fluke, Talen explained. As a teenager, he’d hung around a small airport near his home in Chico, California, picking up enough of the rudiments of dope and fabric work to earn a few bucks. Noting his skill with wood and fabric, a customer offered him a set of wings off an unknown airplane. They turned out to be Cadet wings. Cleaned up and advertised in a western aviation newspaper, they fetched $500 from a grateful priest in Portland, Oregon, who dispatched them to a Catholic mission in Brazil that was flying Interstates. After that, Talen kept an eye out for Interstates. These days Interstates appear to return the favor, seeming to migrate toward Jasper, Oregon.
“The Interstate was the first aircraft that I got enthused about restoring to some sort of authentic condition,” Talen says. “Every one I’ve looked at since has given me another clue or tells me something that I didn’t know before about what it looked like originally.”
Compared to other trainers in the early 1940s, Talen says, the Interstate turned in better performance. “I’m sure all the Aeronca and Piper lovers would say I’m crazy, but I’ve flown them all. The Interstate is just a notch above. But it’s not brain surgery to figure out why. The Interstate came later on the market than these others, so it benefited from experience and from good design and good engineering. It shows up in the aerodynamics. It’s just a superior flying airplane.”