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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

Son tells story of father, real-life aviator

Saturday, February 5, 2005

Malcolm McHargue flew charter flights around the state during the late 1920's for the adventurous and early business travelers. He gave up flying to marry Fauneil Martin of rural Ferndale.

When the flight instructor asked: "Are you ready to solo?" Malcolm McHargue had a sudden flash of fear and self doubt. Was he really prepared for the responsibility of bringing back to earth in one piece a very fine airplane that belonged to someone else?

The year was 1925, aviation was still in its infancy, and McHargue was only 17.

"Oh well, it has to be done," McHargue answered and climbed into a Curtiss JN4D and made his first complete solo flight, landing roughly at Wall Field in Muncie, Ind.

The boy from Carbon became the youngest certified pilot known in the world at the time.

"It was a glamorous time. The public loved everything about airplanes, and pilots were heroes," Dale McHargue said. His father, who died in 1982, never outgrew running outside to watch a plane fly over their farm. "Whenever we heard the engine of an airplane overhead, the whole family knew to get out of his way. He loved everything about flying."

That love began in childhood when a plane experiencing difficulties carrying two soldiers landed on the family farm. Even the local one-room grade school closed so that everyone could get a glimpse of the wondrous plane.

"A few years later, my grandfather took my father to a barnstormer pilot in the area giving rides for 50 cents," Dale said. "He told the pilot to do everything to diiscourage the notion of flying out of his son. That pilot did every kind of maneuver he could dream of, and when they landed my father wanted to fly airplanes more than ever."

Nothing deterred the young man's quest in becoming a pilot. There were stuck throttles, "hard bumps" and "big bounces" almost every flight. He lived for "cross-country hops," flying by-the-seat-of-your-pants, and the thrilling uncertainty that came with each take-off.

People who wanted to experience the thrill of flying and the first business travelers were passengers on McHargue's plane during charter flights. He met Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell while on the way to a speaking engagement at Ball State.

It was an exciting life that he didn't want to end.

"But my mother wouldn't marry him as long as he flew airplanes," Dale said, explaining that even though his father gave up the idea of being a pilot for marriage and the love of his wife, he never gave up on aviation. "My father tried to be a pilot in World War II but because of his age, 34, and a medical condition, he failed the examination. But he was determined to be a part of aviation in the war, so he got a job testing airplane engines at Allison's and at their test plant at the Indianapolis Airport."

During that time, and afterwards, McHargue was able to touch many of the aircraft that fascinated the country. And although he worked on jet engines, his passion remained for the propellor-driven planes of his youth.

McHargue's love of aviation history allowed him to write many articles on antique airplanes for aviation magazines about forgotten planes. The Brazil Lion Monoplane was the subject of a 1962 article in "Antique Airplane Association News" and a 1982 article he helped write for The Brazil Times shortly before his death.

"He'd tell us stories about the plane all of the time when we were growing up," Dale said. "I don't think there's much about the Lion he didn't know."

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