• Volume 13  Number 2  Spring 2004

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One by air, one by sea, one by land

Click here for the expanded photo galleryThree professors, three passions

With Purdue classes ending as you read this, students are scattering to the four corners of the earth by air, by sea and by land. Fittingly enough, three Purdue Agriculture professors — Larry Murdock in entomology, Rado Gazo in forestry and natural resources, and Peter Hirst in horticulture and landscape architecture — also have air, sea and land on their minds as summer break arrives.

 

 

Since getting the 1928 Travel Air reconditioned and airworthy, the grin on Larry Murdock's face has become a permanent fixture.
Since getting the 1928 Travel Air reconditioned and airworthy, the grin on Larry Murdock's face has become a permanent fixture.

The Piper Cub airplane circled over Susie Calvert's house like a hawk seeking prey.

The pilot, Don Stark, first flew large, lazy circles in the sky over rural Worthington, about 20 miles west of Bloomington in southwestern Indiana. As Stark zeroed in on his target, the circles got smaller and smaller, faster and faster.

To the kid in the front seat, it looked like the ground below was spinning wildly out of control. The kid, Larry Murdock, 18, looked down to see if the circling plane had drawn out Calvert, the teen-aged girl he so badly wanted to impress that day back in 1961. But his head felt light, even as his heart felt heavy.

This was Murdock's first flight. He loved everything about aviation, even though he had never been airborne. Shoot, he liked aviation even more than he liked Susie Calvert. Indeed, Murdock had spent a good portion of his childhood building balsawood model airplanes from kits … the kind whose decals take the skill of a brain surgeon to cut out and the touch of a safe cracker to attach.

But this flight, this was way different.

Stark, Murdock's friend, had his pilot's license and made him an offer that made Murdock downright giddy.

“If you chip in for the gas,” Stark had said, “I'll take you up for a ride in my Piper Cub.”

Well, if Murdock was going to pay for the gas, then he was going to have a say in where they would fly.

As the Cub flies, Worthington is 12 miles from the Linton airport. “Let's fly over there,” Murdock said. After all, what better way to impress Susie Calvert than a fly-by over her house?

But his plan to make Susie go weak in the knees only made Murdock weak in the stomach.

“She wasn't even home,” Murdock now says with a laugh.

Murdock looks every bit the World War I flying ace as he taxies down the sod runway at the Delphi, Ind., Airport.
Murdock looks every bit the World War I flying ace as he taxies down the sod runway at the Delphi, Ind., Airport.

As the earth spun beneath Murdock in smaller, but faster, circles, pushing Murdock and his shaky stomach further back into the seat, he knew he wasn't going to make it back to the Linton airport without getting sick.

“Boy, did I ever have a mess to clean up in that plane,” he recalls.

Today, Larry and Susie have been partners in a marriage for 40 years. And for the past three years, partners in a 1928 Travel Air 4000 open-cockpit biplane. They are the17th owners of the plane that was born in Wichita, Kan., and spent most of its life in California before ending up on the Indiana prairie.

They bought the piece of aviation history in 2001 and shipped her off to New Hampshire, where the plane spent the next two years being completely restored. “She's young again,” says Murdock, who got his pilot's license in 1997. And every time he turns over the loud, throaty, rotary engine, bounces down the runway, hits 45 mph and escapes to the skies, Murdock is young again, too.

Three Professors continued on Page 2