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Piper pilots celebrate Sentimental Journey

Flock returns to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania

The thirty-eighth annual Sentimental Journey Fly-In to William T. Piper Memorial Airport in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, drew 200 aircraft and more than 2,000 attendees during a six-day celebration (June 18 to 23) at the birthplace of the venerable Piper J–3 Cub and its tube-and-fabric siblings.

  • A Cub pilot on short final performs a slip to landing during the Sentimental Journey Fly-In to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, June 20. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Dan Fogle’s PA-18-105 Piper Super Cub on display at the Sentimental Journey fly-in is known as a "Tango Cub" because it was produced for Civil Air Patrol and military use and incorporates design standards that improve military use. Some of the modifications are toe brakes, an extra-large map holder, an adjustable front seat designed for parachute use, and three sets of seat belts—including one set in the baggage compartment. Photo by David Tulis.
  • The Sentimental Journey Fly-In attracts a variety of pilots to the Pennsylvania factory town and airfield that is also home to Keystone Instruments and Air Parts of Lock Haven. In 2023 the Lock Haven city manager drew up documents proposing the sale or closure of the airfield that supports 77 jobs providing $4.4 million in income annually, a measure that AOPA opposes.  Photo by David Tulis.
  • The thirty-eighth Sentimental Journey Fly-In attracted a crowd. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Piper PA-20 Pacers are parked on the grass. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Chris LaRose and the Hex Highway Blues Band with Emily Neblock on bass entertains attendees. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Piper PA-22 Tri-Pacer owners Jim McMaster and Scott Hinton, who met while flying helicopters for the U.S. Army, discuss tube-and-fabric aircraft details during the Sentimental Journey Fly-In. The two pilots and their extended families—which now includes additional pilots—also get together and camp out during EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in Wisconsin. Photo by David Tulis.
  • A Boeing Stearman Model 75 biplane is seen before a sunset flight. Photo by David Tulis.
  • A Piper PA-18 Super Cub frames fly-in attendees before sunset. Photo by David Tulis.
  • The Sentimental Journey Fly-In attracts a variety of aircraft and fly-in attendees. Photo by David Tulis.
  • The setting sun illuminates a Piper PA-20 Pacer. Photo by David Tulis.

The vintage high-wing Piper aircraft were manufactured in Lock Haven from 1937 to 1984. More than 5,000 of the original 19,888 J–3s are still on the FAA registry, according to the manufacturer. Piper built 736 J-3 Cubs during its first year of production and the company completed one aircraft every 10 minutes at its peak. By the end of World War II, about 75 percent of the pilots participating in the civilian pilot training program had taken their first flying lessons in the little Cub.

Scores of restored high-wing Cubs, PA–15 and PA–17 Vagabonds, PA–16 Clippers, PA–18 Super Cubs, PA–20 Pacers, PA–22 Tri-Pacers and Colts, and Taylor E–2 Cubs filled the grassy ramp area, just steps from where they rolled off the brick-and-mortar assembly line for their first flights. During its heyday, Piper manufactured 1,120 taildragger Pacers and 7,600 tricycle gear Piper Tri-Pacers.

More modern models that trace some of their design roots or production to the Lock Haven facility include the retractable PA–24 Comanche, the agricultural PA–25 Pawnee, and the multiengine PA–23 Apache and Aztec. After a major flood damaged the Pennsylvania facility in 1972, Piper moved aircraft assembly to Vero Beach, Florida, home of the line of low-wing PA–28 Cherokees, PA–32 Cherokee Sixes, PA– 34 Seneca twins, and others.

But this week was all about Lock Haven, nostalgia, and flying low and slow. Sunset hops in vintage taildraggers, precision landings, golf ball drops, nightly corn boils, live entertainment, and camaraderie were the main attractions at the 2,179-foot-long grass landing strip or the adjacent 3,799-foot paved runway.

“It’s just an awesome atmosphere,” said Kim Garlick, executive coordinator for the multiday event. “You make a lot of friends during Sentimental Journey week.”

The setting sun provides a backdrop for a pair of biplanes and a Piper PA-16 Clipper on Whittaker landing gear. Photo by David Tulis. Ben Presten’s Piper PA-16 Clipper 'Calypso' outfitted with Whittaker rough-field landing gear draws curious glances. The tandem dual-wheel landing gear helps smooth out rough airfields and was an option on some early Piper high-wing models. Low-pressure, large-diameter bush tires later replaced the innovative approach to backcountry landing gear. Photo by David Tulis. A pink 1947 Aeronca Champion liaison aircraft taxis out for an evening flight. Photo by David Tulis. The experimental category Aeronca-based Rat is a high-wing, open-air cockpit staple of the Sentimental Journey Fly-In that has been shown at the event for decades, says owner Charlie House. The tube-and-fabric design cobbled together by aircraft mechanics with a penchant for humor utilizes a pusher-type engine arrangement and is adorned with several rodent-specific features including whiskers, a mouse, and a lunchbox-housed carburetor heat box. Photo by David Tulis.

Longtime buddies Jim McMaster and Scott Hinton, helicopter pilots from Pennsylvania and North Carolina who met during their military service days in the U.S. Army, renewed their flying friendship under the wings of their similarly equipped red Piper Tri-Pacers. (McMaster’s “other aircraft” is a family hauling, award-winning Piper Cherokee Six.)

Former Piper Cub owner Robert Peterson, who worked at the Piper plant during its 1940s heyday, shared his 100th birthday celebration with fellow pilots mid-week.

Amish agricultural community members visited with pilots giving rides during the "golden hour" before sunset and extending into the blue twilight hours. Full beards on the men and white bonnets on the women swayed in the prop blasts between rides. A couple of Boeing Stearman Model 75s and a handful of other non-Piper models shared the airspace above the Susquehanna River that flows next to the airport.

Amish community members visit with a pilot giving rides before sunset. The Loganton Amish agricultural community with fresh produce greenhouses and a grocery store is close to the airport. Photo by David Tulis. A youngster checks out the view from the flight line. Photo by David Tulis. Pilot and former Piper Cub owner Robert Peterson of Mahaffey, Pennsylvania, worked at the Piper Lock Haven assembly plant during the 1940s and shared his 100th birthday celebration with fellow pilots during this year’s thirty-eighth Sentimental Journey Fly-In. Photo by David Tulis. Scott Hinton shows the engine compartment of his Piper Tri-Pacer to attendees. Hinton is the airport director at Elizabeth City Regional Airport in North Carolina, and he purchased his aircraft after spotting it during the Short Wing Piper Club’s annual convention at his airport in 2023. Photo by David Tulis.

The week’s stifling nearly 100-degree Fahrenheit heat caused organizers to freely hand out bottled water before the evening faded to cooling mountain breezes challenging no-flap-Cub pilots into slips or crabs before touching down on the grass.

Other highlights included Ben Presten’s Piper PA–16 Clipper named Calypso, which is outfitted with Whittaker tandem dual-wheel landing gear for rough-field operations. The design was offered as an option on select Piper high-wing models before the advent of spongy, low-pressure, bush tires. Charlie House’s cobbled together experimental Aeronca-based Rat was parked at show center and drew a steady crowd. The pusher-prop, exposed airframe design came complete with whiskers on the nose, a lunchbox-inspired carburetor heat assembly, and an intercom that consisted of a piece of metal to tap the front-seater’s shoulder for attention.

David Tulis
David Tulis
Senior Photographer
Senior Photographer David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-wining AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft and photography.
Topics: Fly-in

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