The magic of flight

Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

It all started when a plane landed in a field near Lowell DePoy’s father’s cow pasture.

The plane carried a Surge Milking salesman, selling mechanized dairy cow milkers, from Hartford City. DePoy said his father did end up purchasing milking machines for the family’s dairy cows, but for DePoy, having one chore get easier wasn’t the highlight of the visit. Watching the plane land and being allowed to see the plane up close sparked something in DePoy that never let him go — the magic of flight.

“I asked if I could go back and look at the plane and he said I could and Dad said, ‘Don’t touch anything,’ and [the salesman] said, ‘Eh, he can’t hurt anything.’ I could walk back there today and show you exactly where that plane landed … The seed was planted then to someday fly an airplane, but I had no idea it would develop into this. I eventually got my license, but I still reflect back to when that seed was planted.”

His first model airplane — a Piper cub, a bright yellow one, just like the one he flies. The first plane he ever rode in — a Piper cub.

Decades later, DePoy’s face still shows that same spark when he talks about flying and his beloved Piper aircraft, along with all the pieces of memorabilia — from manuals to diagrams to poems he wrote and were published to plane parts to pictures to models — at the Piper Flight Museum at the Salem Airport. He hopes to pass on that love for aviation to others and, especially, the next generation of pilots, engineers, manufacturers, flight attendants and more. He even has resources for those already adults, interested in getting a pilot’s license or have a general interest in aviation.

“There are so many careers in aviation beyond being a pilot,” he said. “And there’s such a need in that field.”

It was a librarian at his high school who encouraged his interest in flight.

“She knew I was interested in two things: ham radio — there’s my ham radio station over there,” he said, pointing to a brown box with radios around it, “and airplanes. Piper would advertise in a lot of magazines … and she said, ‘Hey, Lowell, I have a new Boys Life that has a Piper advertisement in it. I’ve always been a fan of Piper and cubs. We fly a Cessna, also. It’s in another hanger. I’d read anything with electronics in it, ham radio and aviation.”

He got his ham radio license more than 60 years ago and his pilot’s license not too long after that. In time, he became friends with Bill Piper, Jr., the son of the man who started the Piper Aviation.

DePoy said Danny Briscoe and Tony Hoke framed the hanger-like building at the airport in January of 1998 and DePoy spent the next year turning it into the home for some of his most treasured pieces of aviation history.

“I laid the concrete and finished a lot of it myself to save some money,” he said. “It was eating the elephant, one bite at a time.”

The museum opened in January 1999 and celebrates 20 years in operation this month. DePoy’s guestbook records the hundreds of visitors who meander through the rooms every year — school groups, flight-inclined out-of-towners, groups who hold events at the museum and, of course, fellow local plane people.

For more about the Piper Flight Museum, see an upcoming story in The Salem Democrat!

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