Bill and Margaret Vaughan moved to Elm Hill Farm in Hallowell in 1941. In addition to being a dairy farmer, Bill was a Hallowell city councilor, and later represented Hallowell for three terms in the state Legislature.

Now, here’s the family lore on Bill Vaughan, the pilot.

To start, it’s January 1940, and I don’t have much from his days at Colby, where he was no star student. But he sure spent a lot of time at the Waterville Airport learning how to fly at Airways Inc.

His early student pilot log had quite a few pages with instructor Harry Thyng commenting, “Bill, got to work on your landings! You’re walking the controls!” He had real trouble fitting into the cockpit of the Cubs — he was just over 6 feet tall and 220 pounds, and he had big feet, too.

Dad was like a linebacker in a phone booth.

He must have gotten both the instruction and the message, because each of his succeeding log entries had him steadily advancing from student pilot to commercial pilot’s license, then on to pilot instructor himself, all in less than two years.

The earliest story I recollect was from a cousin, Little Bill, several generations older than me. He was 14 and would go flying with my father while he was grinding out hours in the air toward his commercial pilot license.

“We’d just go up and fly around in his Piper Cub; occasionally he’d let me take the controls and teach me the rudiments of how to fly. At one point your father said, ‘Want to do a loop?'”

Only this was no conventional up and over loop, but a forward loop. I had to think for a minute to visualize the maneuver. Forward loop? This was down-under-back up in a stick, cloth and glue Cub with just a 65-horse Lycoming engine and a wooden prop. It was like diving over the dashboard ’til you’re back on the strait and level.

My aunt said my father casually flipped the Cub upside-down like a corkscrew somewhere over the Isle of Shoals on a flight from Beverly, Mass., to Mount Desert, just to see what she’d say.

Another time my mother said he flew her upsidedown for 20 minutes — before they were married. They flew from their wedding in Vermont to Rockwood, Maine, with pontoons on the Cub landing on Moose River.

“He left me on a wilderness fishing pond at dusk while he flew his friend and guide Martin Munster back to Rockwood, leaving me alone in the real wilderness for the first time in my life,” she said. “He did come back for me close to dark.”

He would tie the tail of the Cub to a tree and get his friend Munster to cut the rope with an ax when the motor was a full revs, so he could get out of the pasture he’d landed in and clear the river and telephone lines at the other end of the makeshift runway.

The story goes that one day he tipped his Cub up on its nose, breaking the tip of the prop off on landing in a rough pasture while looking for directions to my mother’s house; he borrowed a handsaw so he could cut the other end off so he could balance the wooden prop. He then took off and went on his way.

According to family lore, he once flew under the Bath bridge on the Kennebec, drank most of his morning coffee upside down while teaching aerobatics to cadet fighter pilots in Camden, Ark., and landed his Cub in the back field at Elm Hill when showing my mother the farm for the first time.

He landed a C-46 on its belly when the wheels wouldn’t go down, a mechanical malfunction and not pilot error. He did a true dead stick landing in Great Falls, Mont., with a full load of cement in a C-46 while training to fly the hump (20,000-foot passes in the Himalayas) into China.

He flew every single and twin engine plane in the Air Force inventory, including a jet fighter before 1950. He flew over the farm so low that my mother almost “dropped the baby” He quit the Maine Air National Guard in the summer of 1950 on the advice of Harry Thyng (a true fighter pilot hero, my father’s first flight instructor and later, four-star general).

Four kids and a farm were too much to risk military flying anymore. He served, he flew and he had fun, and made a dad — a hero for his children, even if he did raise the hair on more than a few necks with his flying.

 


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