Full Circle — A Happy Reunion, 35 Years On

By Lauran Paine Jr., EAA 582274

This story first appeared in the October 2019 issue of EAA Sport Aviation.

How often is it at age 17 that you get your first ride in an airplane — especially a historic 1942 Meyers OTW airplane? Then you end up owning that same airplane 35 years later? Not very often. That’s why I want to tell you the story. It’s full circle and unique.

Don Generaux attended Ridgefield High School in Ridgefield, Washington. He then attended Western Washington University and became a high school shop teacher. He loved to restore old Fords, and in 1969, he acquired an airplane, the 1942 Meyers. Unfortunately, the airplane crashed in 1972, and Don’s partner perished in the crash. The aircraft was then rebuilt in the mid-1970s. Don later earned his credentials to become a high school counselor.

During all that time, a kid named Jay Haldeman, EAA 1025685, was growing up in Vancouver, Washington. He had a paper route, about half of which allowed him to see airplanes taking off and landing at Portland International Airport (PDX). That part of his route always took him a little longer due to airplane gawking. The “aviation bug” bit. Jay later attended Fort Vancouver High School. His counselor was — you guessed it — Don Generaux. At some point during a counseling session, Don asked Jay what really interested him. Jay said, “I like airplanes.” Don said, “I have one. Would you like to go for a ride?” You already know the answer to that question.

Don took 17-year-old Jay for his first airplane ride in the Meyers. Jay was hooked. By his own admission, Jay said, “I was just an average kid.” But Don saw more than “just average” in him and guided him toward Big Bend Community College, which had an aviation program.

About the 1942 Meyers OTW — an airplane is an airplane, right? Not so fast. What captured Jay’s imagination was the history of the airplane — a biplane! Old airplanes have stories. The Meyers was built in a competition to be the new military trainer. That competition was won by the iconic Boeing Stearman. Just 102 Meyerses were built. To this day, each has its own personality. Early models had a Warner Scarab engine; later models (serial no. 160 and beyond) had the Kinner R-5. Legend has it, the OTW stood for “Out To Win,” as in the military contract competition.

Jay graduated from high school in 1981. He headed off to Big Bend Community College with an aviation dream and a healthy hands-on dose of aviation history. And, truth be told, that’s a good thing to have. Learn to fly, yes, but also appreciate the history of aviation. Perspective is good.

At Big Bend, Jay earned his private and commercial certificates as well as an instrument rating. He came back to Vancouver and Pearson Field Airport to finish work on his multiengine rating and flight instructor certificate. Remember the airport where Jay watched airplanes while doing his paper route? He needed a job, so he went there one day. He got hired by Horizon Air, a successful regional airline. But not as a pilot; he was hired as a baggage handler, a bag handler with a lot of certificates but not much flight time. No matter, he was glad to be there. So, there he was, working, going to school, and earning more ratings all at the same time. Undaunted by the work, he handled bags, became a ramp supervisor, and even worked at the ticket counter as a customer service agent. He did it all. And he did it with a smile and a good attitude. That put Jay on the company’s radar. (Hint to job seekers: Work ethic and good attitudes get noticed.)

One day Jay happened to be at the flight operations center, and one of the bigwigs called him into the office. Jay thought, maybe it’s for a flying job. But — nope. In college, Jay had written a paper about the buyout of Horizon Air by Alaska Airlines. That’s what the bigwig wanted to talk about. No matter. Jay had made contact and been noticed. As time went on, the powers-that-be kicked his name around a bit and began to encourage him, saying, “Finish your ratings and get some time and we’ll hire you.” That was all Jay needed to hear. He did as they said, and they hired him: Jay Haldeman, airline new hire, 500 hours’ total time, 10 multiengine. But with this footnote: “Great attitude and works his tail off.”

Jay started his airline career as a first officer in a Swearingen Metroliner, a 19-passenger turboprop. The airplane had nine rows of seats. Jay said, “When I first started flying that thing, I was so far behind I might as well have been sitting in row nine.” But hard work and perseverance won the day. Today, Jay is a Boeing 737 captain for Alaska Airlines. Welcome to the world of professional aviation. It ain’t easy, it ain’t always a straight line, but it is oh so satisfying and rewarding.

Now, back to where we started this story: the 1942 Meyers OTW. Into his airline career now, Jay chose to get back into general aviation where it all began for him. He bought a Cub. Then, he happened to walk into the Pearson Air Museum and spotted a 1942 Meyers OTW. Upon closer examination, it was the 1942 Meyers OTW that he had received his first airplane ride in! Whoa! It seems Don had developed Parkinson’s disease and chose to preserve his airplane in a museum rather than sell it. Later, the museum encountered difficulties and had to cease operations. The Meyers had to be moved. It moved around the airport a bit until Jay put it in his hangar. By then, Don had passed, and Jay told Don’s son, “I want to rebuild the airplane and honor Don’s legacy.” Jay bought the airplane in 2015.

Jay is not a certificated mechanic, but he dove into the restoration under the able tutelage of A&P mechanic Nelson Brown. The fuselage and tail feathers are metal, the wings are wood, and it’s fabric covered. Jay exalts in the joy of the building process, the discovery, and the learning.

“I worked in furniture repair in high school,” he said. “I liked doing fabric work.”

He found a Kinner engine expert in Dale Krumm, a humble but extremely knowledgeable man. (Dale’s father, Cliff Krumm, was one of the original “Beaverton Outlaws” and, in fact, was the only certificated mechanic at Bernard Field where the Outlaws hung out.) After some work, that original Kinner started and ran, and still runs. It’s had some good care along the way.

So, really, the story I’ve told you is just the beginning. Jay figures to have the airplane completely restored and painted by this summer. Then he wants to invite all the important people in the life of the airplane to the first flight. Here’s where the character of Jay Haldeman shines. He doesn’t want to just own the airplane and give the occasional ride; he wants to use the airplane to give back to the aviation community. Here his mind runs free: talk to a shop class, talk to various aviation science programs, and talk at the Cascadia Tech Academy. He wants to encourage others, which preserves Don’s legacy and the history of one particular 1942 Meyers OTW. He doesn’t want it to be about him. He just wants to be the catalyst for the airplane in which he had his first ride. Full circle.

Lauran Paine Jr., EAA 582274, is a retired military pilot and retired airline pilot. He built an RV-8 and has owned a Stearman and a Champ. Learn more about Lauran at his website, www.ThunderBumper.com. For more from Lauran, check out his monthly column, Plane Talk, in EAA Sport Aviation.

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