The Pointe

MidPointe Library's Official Blog

Historian's Interest in Aviation Remains High

This month MidPointe Library is recognizing the long relationship between the city of Middletown, Ohio, and the vibrant aviation industry that was Aeronca and is now known as Magellan Aerospace. The adjacent Middletown Regional Airport/Hook Field has been an integral part of that historic relationship...

Middletown, Ohio, Historian Roger Miller knows a lot about the city from the ground up...way, way up.

In fact, as a teenager, Miller himself made history there.

At seventeen years old with a single-engine land license, Miller was described as “the youngest licensed pilot in Middletown” in an April 1957  article in the “Middletonian,” the Middletown High School student newspaper. Miller believes the moniker was originally bestowed on him by George “JR” Wedekind Jr., a leader in local aviation and the son of George “Pappy” Wedekind Sr., who in the 1920s opened what was then known as Middletown Municipal Airport. Today its official name is Middletown Regional Airport/Hook Field.

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The article recounted young Miller’s “exciting adventure that took place in the skies above Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.” Flying a Cessna 140 that belonged to a flying club, Miller flew to Lexington and Louisville with Columbus, Indiana, as his destination. Unfortunately, he ended up in Bedford, Indiana, due to an incorrect compass heading and strong winds that blew the plane off course.

But the intrepid young pilot was undaunted. Miller decided to fly to Interstate 70 because, he explains, “by going east I would come to places that I knew. It was not hard to find Middletown. Armco put out a nice red cloud of smoke that could be seen for miles.”

Asked to comment on his student’s aerial adventure, Herman H. Lawrence, then Assistant Principal and Dean of Boys, offered this succinct quote : “He had a lost weekend.”

Recalling the experience today, Miller says he “had a lot of training, which probably helped” the situation. After all, he worked at the airport during high school and started flying at his first legal opportunity -- the age of sixteen.

Young Miller’s fondness of flying was apparent. “I enjoy flying more than anything else,” he was quoted in the article. “I work at the airport and when I’m off, I fly or work on the airplane. Sometimes I fly during lunch hours or go to Hamilton for lunch.” At the time the article was published, the young pilot was planning to take his father on a fishing trip in northern Michigan.

Accompanying the school article was a photo of Miller inside a plane. However, that was not the plane Miller had flown on his eventful “weekend.”  The plane in the newspaper photo was owned by Middletonian Art Draut and family, he clarifies, adding at the time that he belonged to a flying club that owned a similar plane. Karen Draut wrote the article and took the photo.

Miller has fond memories of working at the airport as a high school student.

“There were a lot of good people in aviation who helped me as I learned... and afterwards,” he says. He remembers working with fellow high schoolers Dave Fagan and Bob Charles. “We were called ‘hangar boys’ or ‘line boys’ and worked a limited number of hours. In the summer we could work more than during school, when we were limited to after school and weekends…

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“Bob McNutt was somewhat in charge of us and made out our schedules. Most of the time the two of us worked together,” Miller continues. McNutt, he adds, was part-owner of an airplane and later flew a Beechcraft King Air plane for the Dupps Company of Germantown.

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The teens’ duties included “refueling and servicing various airplanes, moving them in and out of hangars, performing oil changes, washing and spraying down engines, keeping the hangar and office clean, and closing up at night,” recalls Miller.

“Because I was interested in airplanes, I got to do some maintenance” at the airport, Miller adds. “Armco was the big customer, next was Gardner Board and Carton. Both had bigger airplanes, which we could not move...Even when I was off, I spent a lot of time at the airport,” he says.

Miller’s love of flight took off in 1955. He began taking lessons from Jimmy Clark, an employee of the Queen City Flying Service, the operator of the Middletown airport. He remembers Clark being apprehensive about allowing “such a young person” to solo even though Miller had been taking “a lot of dual instruction” which was unusual at the time.

The solution arrived in the person of “Red” Stewart of Waynesville. Miller took a one-hour lesson from Stewart, who then gave the all-clear for Miller’s first solo flight. On his next flight with Clark, Miller soloed. To this day he remembers the date he received his flying license : March 22, 1957.

Miller’s association with the airport provided an opportunity to meet flying enthusiasts, local pilots and mechanics and see interesting aircraft. He has vivid memories of:

Admiring the 1929 Davis open cockpit plane owned by mechanic Cal Wallace. “I badly wanted to fly” that plane, Miller says. “It never happened.”

Seeing the Fulton Airphibian,* a 1940s automobile that could be converted into a plane by attaching the wings that came with it. He watched the vehicle “land at the airport and taxi up next to the hangar, in a few minutes remove its wings and then drive away. I believe they were trying to get Aeronca interested in building them…” Miller recalls.

Relishing “getting to help and know people” and their planes. He fondly recalls Lloyd Sink (Stinson airplane), George Chippendale (Aeronca Scout and a Swift, which Miller got to ride in on several occasions), Homer Leffler (Beechcraft Bonanza), Dale Converse (Cessna 170), and Mel Hodgdon and Louie Gaston (each had a Piper Tripacer).

“Mel Hodgdon was an early bird pilot,” Miller says. “He first flew in 1912. Being interested in history and aviation, I wish I had known him much better than I did. After his death I did talk to his wife and copied some early photographs of some of his activities. Louie Gaston worked at Armco and operated a small airport on land that became part of Armco’s Project 600. Dr. Winfield R. Steele had a Piper Tripacer. He was my eye doctor and every time I went to him we ended up talking airplanes,” Miller recalls.

When Miller returned from serving in the Air Force (he was a jet engine mechanic), he observed many changes at the airport. They included “a hard surface runway, Armco’s big hangar and fleet of planes, etc.”  At that point in time Miller became “very interested in the airport’s history.”

At one time Miller “had hopes of making aviation a career,” he says, but he found employment elsewhere. However, parts of Miller’s working life did relate to aviation.

Miller worked at Armco in the summer of 1957, served in the U.S. Air Force from 1957 to 1962, returned to Armco but was eventually laid off. He did “some work” for Wedekind Aircraft in Middletown, spent a year at Ohio Aviation at Dayton Airport, ran a gas station for a year and returned again to Armco in 1965, retiring in 1995 as a maintenance foreman.

Although Miller has never owned a plane (“cannot afford it”) he’s belonged to lots of flying clubs, especially while he was in the service. He no longer is a member of a club.

To many in the Middletown area, however, Miller is the go-to man for the facts on local history, having spent years cataloging the voluminous works of the late Middletown Historian George C. Crout. The Crout collection is now housed at MidPointe Library Middletown and is available for viewing at http://www.midpointedigitalarchives.org/digital/ .

Miller was named a Distinguished Historian by the Butler County Historical Society and is the author or co-author of several books on local history, also available at MidPointe Library.

Not surprisingly, the aviator in Miller still surfaces to this day. He’s a regular at the Biannual National Aeronca Association Convention and Fly-In at the place that once seemed like home, the Middletown Regional Airport/Hook Field. The latest Fly-In took place this month.

At the Fly-In Miller enjoys looking for “the rare Aeroncas.” He recalls the time he saw an “Aeronca C-2 at one [Fly-in]. It was one of the first airplanes built by Aeronca. The C-3’s and the L’s are of interest. Some of the people who fly to the event come in older, usual, and/or homebuilt airplanes. I enjoy them all.”

That’s to be expected from a man with the soul of a pilot.

A pictorial exhibit celebrating Middletown, Ohio’s 78-year relationship with the aviation/aerospace industry will be available for viewing  through September at MidPointe Library, Middletown. A companion exhibit on the library’s interactive touchscreen accompanies the exhibit.

The exhibits highlight the history of Aeronca, a longtime Middletown employer now known as Magellan Aerospace. They also recall the vital role that nearby Middletown Regional Airport/Hook Field played in local aviation.

Visitors will find the displays easily by looking for a replica of the colorful Aeronca 7AC Champion plane suspended above the library’s Local History and Genealogy Gallery. The 7AC was one of several popular, private-use planes produced in the post-war era at Aeronca-Middletown before the company became a leader in the aerospace industry.

The Aeronca photo and interactive exhibits will be available for viewing Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ; Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ; and Sunday, 1-5 p.m.

* Fulton Airphibian information from Wikipedia