Let’s Do This

by Chuck Dunning, Memoir Partner with father-in-law Lou Hartwig

I first saw the Bell 47B, at an air show in Clinton, Iowa in the fall of 1947. It was the first civilian helicopter and was licensed in 1946. It really got my interest because there were thousands of ex-military pilots competing for regular flying jobs but I could use my GI Bill to learn how to fly helicopters.  I really wanted to go back to flying if I could find something. Then this helicopter thing shows up and I told my wife Katherine “here’s an opportunity to get involved in something that could end up being huge.” She agreed. “Let’s do it,” she says.

I looked at an aviation magazine and there was an ad for helicopter training in Camden, New Jersey, across the river from Philadelphia. I called the owner and he says, “yeah, come on out.” I unloaded that house, bought a new travel trailer and a new 1947 Pontiac to pull it. It was a 2-door sedan with a big 8-cylinder engine and the Indian head over the radiator. My father said, “You guys are nuts. You got a good job, a good house, all new furniture.” He thought Marshalltown was the greatest town in the country. Of course, he lived there all his life. I looked at my job at Fisher Governor. There were guys working there for fifteen, twenty years, making only a few bucks an hour more than me. Without an engineering degree, I wasn’t going to go very far. I told my father, “You know, I love to fly. Helicopters are different but I’d be really involved. The whole field is starting from zero and I think the possibilities are great.” He backed off. Years later we were down in Fort Worth, he was probably in his nineties then. I took him through the hangar and showed him all the stuff we were flying and gave him a helicopter ride. Back in my office I asked him, “Dad, what do you think about me getting involved in aviation? You didn’t think I should get into that.” He said “I had no idea that it would get to this much, and what it is doing for the public.”