S’cuse Me While I Kiss The Sky!

I’ve hosted the LadiesLoveTaildraggers website for 9 years and it’s put me in a very fortunate position. When I’m lucky I receive unexpected little treats via email – sincere, heartfelt, and genuine messages from ladies, and sometime gentlemen, that stop me in my tracks and inspire me. A little “jewel” arrived in my In-box this week, this time from Jerome Behm from North Dakota. If the name sounds familiar, I did a blog post in 2015 titled “Love Is In The Air! about Jerome, his 1947 Piper PA-12-150, and his “wish to find a lady taildragger pilot of his own.”  Ok, Ok, ladies, calm down. It was all in fun and, as I discovered then and again this week, Jerome is an aviator we can all call a friend.

Jerome’s message read:

Hi Judy, It’s Jerome Behm from Burlington, ND. Do you remember me? I was thinking of you and wanted to tell you that I am in line to receive the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award for 50 years of safe flying. As a partial requirement for that award, the applicant must write and submit to the FAA a bio of his aviation career. I just wrote my bio this past week and submitted it to the FAA in Fargo. I am forwarding it to you so that you can read it if you wish to.

Spreading the taildragging love! Jan Johnson & Jerome meet at Valentine, NB.  🙂

I wanted to tell you too that I personally met one of your members this past summer. It was in later July and I had just landed at Valentine, Nebraska for fuel on my way to Hoxie, Kansas. I was ready to taxi out to the active runway at Valentine and a gal in a 1945 Stinson L-5 taxied in. She shouted to me, “I just love your airplane” so we visited for a while. It was Jan Johnson from Hayward, California and she was on her way to Oshkosh. She treated me and “Mom’s Worry” like we were long-lost family members and took some pictures too which she sent to me.
All my best, Jerome Behm

Jan Johnson, you rock! For anyone that knows Jan, and most do (she has more Facebook friends than anybody I know!), this was totally a day in the life of Jan – spreading the love of taildragging and flying to everyone who crosses her path. 🙂

Jerome’s PA-12. “The gal in the periwinkle blue bikini. I told the artist prior to his sketching her that it had to be decent and that I didn’t want anything too risque. She is in her bare feet because I wanted her to portray innocence and I didn’t want her wearing high heels. I didn’t want a call girl or a dancer, just a youthful and healthy all American girl who fully depicts the joy and exhilaration of the freedom of flight.”

For me, it would be a privilege to read any pilot’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award bio for 50 years of safe flying but it was a real honor to read Jerome’s. Some encounter the bug to fly as teenagers, in between or later in life, but for me, the most amazing stories come from babies – those who were obsessed with all things that fly from their earliest memories. Jerome’s personal story is the real deal and one most pilots will understand and appreciate. With permission from Jerome to post, here is his letter to the FAA in Fargo …..

I cannot remember a time in my life when the sky did not beckon me. Neither can I remember a time when I wasn’t mesmerized by the site of pinwheels, wind mills, fans, weather vanes, windsocks, and propellers, — all of which could be moved by air or in some cases would move air in return. The sight of all of these things always held every facet of my interest and imagination. As a 3 year old boy I can still remember watching birds with enthusiastic interest. Airplanes held even much more fascination. I would watch them until they disappeared from my view. I distinctly remember one time at the approximate age of 3 when I was with my dad in the yard by our farm shop. We were outside and I was watching the birds in flight overhead. I asked my dad why birds did this and then I stretched out my arms to imitate their gliding through the air so effortlessly. I imagine my dad was quite tired of my endless questions and he answered me by saying, “They see airplanes doing that”. I am amused today by his answer but at the time I was completely satisfied by that answer.

I promised myself at a very early age that I would someday be a pilot. I didn’t know how I would accomplish all of that but I knew I would do it. I was never a stranger to hard work and determination and was one to live my life on challenges. My dad always used to say that “Necessity is the mother of invention” and in this case it applied to my dreams for aviation too. In all of my grade school and high school years I never told anyone that I someday wanted to fly. School was not especially easy for me and I had to work for everything I received. Being that I was a farm kid I am sure I was viewed by some of my peers as being a “dumb country kid” and there were those who always seemed to take delight in seeing me put down. With all of this in mind I didn’t want to tell anyone about my lofty dreams and goals. I didn’t want to hear anyone say that I couldn’t do it, or that I would never do it, or that I wasn’t smart enough to do it. All of this remained a very guarded secret that I kept inside of me for all of those years. I never even told my parents about it but I am sure they were able to tell that aviation fascinated me.

Upon graduating from high school I spent two quarters at Minot State College and then transferred to the State School of Science at Wahpeton where I was enrolled in the Diesel Maintenance program in the fall of 1966. I was 18 years old then. On the first Saturday I was in Wahpeton (October 7, 1966) I walked down to the local airport south of town to see if I could get a part time job there. It was my goal to see if I could give rise to my dreams of flight. Upon arriving at the airport I found two men in the wood quonset airport shop located on the field. One of the men was spraying lacquer on the wings of a Piper J-3 Cub which were resting on saw horses and the other fellow was watching him. I pulled out a business card which I had received the previous spring during a visit to that same airport when I had come to Wahpeton to check out the State School of Science. I was told that neither of those gentlemen from that flying service was still at the airport there. The man spraying lacquer on the J-3 wings was Edwin Littke of Littke Aircraft Service and he was doing none of the talking, in fact he wouldn’t even look me in the eye as I talked. The other man was Ralph Moes who was the self designated airport manager and who was joyfully answering all of my questions. I then told these fellows that I would like to get a job working at the airport. The man spraying the lacquer now started to speak. He told me, “Well, I don’t think this is a very good deal. First of all I can see that you are young and you probably don’t have any experience with aircraft maintenance. You should have a mentor to work with in that case. Secondly, I am a teacher at the North Dakota State School of Science and I wouldn’t be here during the week to be able to work with you. It just doesn’t look like a good deal to me”. I had everything to gain and absolutely nothing to lose and I certainly wasn’t going to be deterred by all that I had just heard. I quickly digested all of this information and then I said, “Well, this looks like a very good deal to me. I am a Science School student and wouldn’t be able to be here during school hours everyday but I would be able to work after school and on weekends and besides that I am willing to work for NOTHING in order to learn a LITTLE BIT about flying!” Ed Littke stopped spraying lacquer immediately and for the first time since this conversation started looked me straight in the eye. He said to me, “I can always use some help like that!” and I was hired immediately. Without hesitation I picked up a broom and started sweeping his shop. Today when people ask me how I started flying I always tell them it was with a broom in my hands. I worked approximately 40 hours per week at the airport shop, — from 5 PM until 10 PM every week night, all day on Saturdays, and from the time I came back to the dormitory on Sunday mornings after Mass to change clothes until about 5 PM. It was a glorious time in my life and I was always in 7th heaven when I was working in that airport maintenance shop. It was in this same shop and while working for Edwin Littke that the late Gerald Beck of Tri-State Aviation at Wahpeton also received the modest start of his aviation career. Gerry and I were the best of friends and we had great respect for each other. His untimely passing in the crash of a P-51-A Mustang at EAA AIrVenture at Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 2007 shocked and devastated the aviation community nationally. All of those people who knew and depended on him and Tri-State Aviation for support and help in maintaining a number of World War II War Bird aircraft across the world still mourn his loss. His passing was a tremendous loss to so many who knew him and to so many as well who wished they had known him.

I worked for Ed Littke (who held A&P and IA ratings) both of the years I was in school in Wahpeton and for no pay other than what I was able to learn at the job. All of the businessmen and local Wahpeton pilots at the airport knew me as the “kid who worked for Littke and who wanted to fly”. The moral support in that atmosphere was immeasurable and I developed close friendships with all of those who were actively involved at the airport. I received lots of rides and lots of encouragement. Ed was my mentor and a very close friend and he grew to be like a second dad to me. He gave me dual flight time in John Wicklein’s Super Cub (N1943A) even though he wasn’t a flight instructor and taught me a lot about airplanes and flying. On March 17, 1967 (St. Patrick’s Day) I made my first solo flight in a Piper J-3 Cub (N98333) with Orvin Sanden from Wyndmere as my flight instructor. Progress grew slowly and by bits and pieces. With some financial help from of a couple of the local guys I was able to pay for a ground school course that was held at the Fergus Falls, Minnesota Airport twice a week for 6 weeks. I didn’t have transportation of my own to make the bi-weekly trip to Fergus Falls for that training so Bryce Smith of Smith Motors, Inc. and his wife Murl offered me the opportunity to ride with them in the evenings for the duration of the training course. Bryce Smith was the Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, and Cadillac dealer in Wahpeton and owned a new Mooney Executive 21 which was on the field in Wahpeton. Bryce had been a B-17 bomber pilot during World War II and wanted his wife and son Buzzy to take the ground school course also. In all of those trips to Fergus Falls I never rode in anything less than a brand new Oldsmobile or Cadillac. The Smiths liked me and were willing to help me in any way they possibly could too. In my second year in Wahpeton Ed bought a run-out 1946 Aeronca 7CCM Champ (N1233E) and we rebuilt it during that school year. By April it was airworthy and I was flying it and building flight time before school in the early mornings and again after school in the evenings. By this time, Mel Wefel from Wefel Flying Service was back on the airport and was doing flight instruction and aerial spraying. He had two new Piper Cherokee 140’s and I used Mel to finish me up for my private pilot check ride which I received from Joe Devorak at Fergus Falls, MN. on April 5, 1969 in a Piper Cherokee 140 (N3503K). I was 21 years old then and made a deal that same day to buy a 1939 Piper J-3 Cub Sport (N25835). That aircraft had previously been owned by Gerald Sanden of Barney, ND who was a nephew of my first flight instructor, Orvin Sanden. Gerald had been killed in the crash of a 150 Cessna at Argusville, ND in early March of 1967 at the age of 22 years. I owned an airplane before I ever owned a car, — certainly not a statement that a lot of people can make.

Time spent in the US Army intervened and I sold the J-3 before entering active duty. Aviation was still my strong interest and I was able to find army training which qualified me as a crew chief and door gunner on the Charlie model Hueys. I later was a crew chief on the UH-1D and UH-1H model Huey helicopters. I had always wanted to be an army aviator and that couldn’t be realized unless I was a commissioned officer so I applied for OCS (Officer Candidate School) and was accepted. I started OCS with 39 prospective officer candidates in my class. When we graduated and were commissioned there were just 13 of us remaining to graduate. I was 26 years old when I graduated OCS and became a US Army second lieutenant. I proved to myself that I was made out of the stuff that is necessary to be a leader of men. The Viet Nam war was winding down by this time and the army had a surplus of rotary wing pilots so I was never able to find a slot for rotary wing aviator training. When I was 35 years old in the spring of 1983 I started flying with Ernie Knutson of Knutson Flying Service at Tioga in an effort to receive my commercial add on category rating in rotary wing aircraft. I had received my fixed wing commercial license the year previous (March 26, 1982) at Pietsch Flying Service in Minot in a Beech C-24-R Sierra (N18917). My first solo flight in a Hiller UH-12D helicopter (N47077) was made just one week after I started flying with Ernie.

In 1991 I bought a 1947 Piper PA-12-150 (N3896M) and kept it hangared at the farm. This aircraft was to become an aerial work platform for Ward County in our efforts to apply leafy spurge flea beetles to standing infestations of leafy spurge. In June of 2000 when we we were due to release beetles again, two film crews from NOVA came to Minot (from Boston, MA. and Minneapolis, MN.) to film our efforts as they were making a science documentary movie series titled “Evolution”. The crews mounted a $100,000.00 camera on the right wing lift struts of the PA-12 for filming a portion of their movie. That movie series was aired on national television in September 2001.

During the years as I have served as a member of the Ward County Weed Control Board there have been several opportunities for me to conduct cross county weed control assessment flights for our weed control board members. Included passengers many times on these flights in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk (N8344L) were county commissioners, members of the state legislature, members of the ND Department of Agriculture, television and news crews reporters and photographers, members of the agricultural community, and on one occasion Roger Johnson who at that time was North Dakota’s Agriculture Commissioner. All of these flights have been very rewarding for me and have allowed me the opportunity to use my skills in general aviation to support the needs of agriculture and the local community. I have always made it my strictest duty to promote aviation safety in all areas and to favorably promote general aviation in as many ways as I possibly can. Whenever I have the opportunity to take someone along as my passenger I want that passenger to have a very favorable and safe experience so that he or she will want to go again and will be able to tell others what a good and memorable experience it was. I will always fly in a manner that makes people look forward to another uneventful and safe fight which is so worthy of being remembered.

As I look back on my 50 plus years of flying, I still think about my being so reserved that I wouldn’t tell anyone during my formal schooling years about my dream to fly. That peer pressure vanished shortly after those school years and as I realized that if I didn’t accomplish my goals that I was the only one who was to be held accountable for that failure to do so. I realized that I was the only one who could ever stand in the way of stopping me from attaining those goals. It was then that I assumed a real aggressive posture and attitude and used all of my talents and abilities to fulfill my dreams and goals. And today, incidentally, I am the only one in my high school graduating class who flies and who has been an aircraft owner.

My airplane, “Mom’s Worry” is still in the hangar here on the farm and I use it as often as I can. It was involved in an extensive 22 month rebuild at Hawarden, Iowa in 2010 and 2011 and is just like a new airplane now but with many more modifications and changes than it had when it rolled off Piper’s assembly line at Lockhaven, PA. on February 28, 1947. I often tell people that if I had lived my life without learning to fly that I would have lived my life in vain. It is always a joy to see the smiles on the faces of my passengers as they experience the exhilaration of flight. My involvement in aviation and learning to fly has been the most personally gratifying thing I have ever done with my life and it has opened doors of opportunity and added joys that I never would have experienced without it.

Respectfully submitted,
Jerome W. Behm
FAA Commercial Pilot  1917936

  • Pilot
    Posted at 14:52h, 12 November Reply

    Terrific, and well said.

  • Maggie Schue
    Posted at 14:42h, 11 November Reply

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story.
    We truly do meet great people through our love of aviation❤️

  • Jan Johnson
    Posted at 10:12h, 11 November Reply

    Hi Judy and all my LLT sisters –
    What a surprise to read your latest post on Jerome Behm, from Burlington, North Dakota.
    Our chance meeting in July at Valentine, Nebraska was a lot of fun. We‘ve stayed in touch and I now consider him my good friend.
    Amazing things can happen when you fly your vintage taildragger across the country. But nowhere did I feel more loved than in Valentine! I met so many wonderful people and felt so welcomed there.
    Thank you for sharing Jerome’s story. Next year, I just might have to stop at Minot, ND to see him!

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