HERMISTON — The airplane languished in a barn for more than 40 years, gathering dust and and providing a haven for rodents.
The 1946 Piper J-3 Cub cleaned up nicely, though. It made a shiny appearance Saturday night at the Umatilla County Fair Parade.
Getting the little plane from the Ione-area barn onto a parade float took both sweat and planning. Several weeks ago, a group of aspiring aviators removed the plane from the barn, intending to resuscitate the aircraft, hauling it to a maintenance hangar at the Hermiston Airport, where they meet each Thursday night with leaders to explore the field of aviation.
On Saturday evening, the airplane was rolled onto a flatbed for a trip through Hermiston in the Umatilla County Fair Parade. The plane, near the end of the parade, showed up as most folks packed up to leave, but even so, the float caused heads to turn.
Pulling it off took preparation. The plan required removing the wings, driving the plane to Hermiston High School on a trailer, wheeling it off the flatbed, installing the wings, pushing it back up the ramp onto the trailer and securing it with blocks.
“With a wingspan of 35 feet, there is plenty of room to navigate, especially on a street that is cleared for a parade,” said Rolf Anderson Leirvik, manager of the Hermiston Airport and partner in Gorge Aviation Services.
Leirvik helped out as the the wings and struts were bolted back into place at Hermiston High School. From the cockpit, HHS student Garret Brinkley had the best vantage point. He directed as the team slid the wing spars into place and locked them in. The teens, guided by airport mechanic Lisa Sturgeon and Gorge Aviation co-owner Ron Berg, then attached the struts.
The night before, they had done a dry run just to make sure things would go smoothly.
Leirvik said the teens, with the help of certified airplane mechanics, hope to get the plane back into the sky one day. They have already made progress.
After washing decades of dust off the plane, “they cleaned the spark plugs, replaced the fuel lines and fueled it,” Leirvik said.
Ron Linn, a retired crop-duster pilot and volunteer with the high school program, turned the prop with his hands to get it running.
“In five pulls, it started,” Leirvik said.
The strut-braced monoplane with a welded steel frame is covered in fabric, which needs to be removed and replaced, Leirvik said. The teens must also take the engine apart and put it back together.
Brinkley, 16, admitted he was apprehensive about firing up the plane, given its rough condition.
“I was a little worried,” he said. “I was concerned that the first time we started it up, it would explode.”
The plane, once the property of an Ione rancher, still belongs to his family.
If all goes to plan, Umatilla County residents may one day hear a plane overhead and look up to see the red-and-white Piper Cub cruising across the sky. Before that happens, however, there’s some work to do.