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History of Mudflap Aviation:

Beginning a profession as restorer of antique aircraft was pure chance, or was it perhaps destiny? A friend of mine in Denton, Texas, back in 1976 invited me for a drive in the country to visit a peculiar man she had met who built harpsichords and lutes. She knew I was a lute player, (university degree in classical guitar) my husband a harpsichordist (among other things) and was interested in early music. Being new to Texas, I was pleased with the prospect of seeing more of the state, however, I was not prepared for the culture shock as we entered the tiny town of Ponder, some 15 miles west of Denton. It truly looked as if it were caught in a time warp, stuck in the Great Depression. Old fashioned buildings and houses, hardly a tree to be seen, quiet and forlorn. A secluded stop on a railway line. We rounded the corner of the “downtown” area and parked nowhere specific, just not in the middle. As we came up to the door of a particularly shabby-looking probably-used-to-be-a-storefront, I saw a sign that read: “If you have nothing to do, don’t do it here. Go waste someone else’s time. Visiting hour: 12 to 1. Lunch. You buy.” Rather foreboding, don’t you think? Disregarding the warning, my friend knocked on the door and there was this guy, looking perturbed. He did not remember ever meeting my friend, but when she mentioned that I played the lute, he said, “I never met a girl who could play the lute very well.” Friendly, to say the least.


As it turned out, he was having a musician “jam” session that very week, and had invited his guitar-playing friends, so he invited me to come and play. He also let us come in his shop to have a look at the harpsichords he was building. But this is where the story gets even weirder. The harpsichords were at the back of the used-to-be-store-now-a workshop, and to get to them, one passed by a number of antique airplane parts: wings, wings hanging from the ceiling, fuselages, fuselages hanging from the ceiling, tools scattered everywhere, machines, motors, ailerons, etc. If I thought I’d entered the Twilight Zone before, I was sure of it now. For a kid growing up in the city of Cleveland, Ohio, who barely knew milk came from cows and not from a factory, and had no idea that there were antique airplanes still around, this was mind-boggling! I was utterly fascinated! It’s not that aviation was totally foreign to me; after all, my dad was an aeronautical engineer for NASA. A researcher who tested jet and rocket engines. YUP, you got it - my dad was indeed a rocket scientist.


To skip the grueling details, I played my lute for the group of musicians, who were mostly country-western types, and they thought I was good. Not that they are worthy judges of renaissance music performance, nor were they necessarily sober, but it was nice to hear the praise, nonetheless. Shortly afterward, after several visits and not-so-subtle hints, I landed a job with the peculiar man as apprentice, where I worked for three years.


I’ll never forget the first job he gave me. In the broken-down store next door, which he had also rented as a workshop/storeroom, there was an old fuselage, a skeleton-looking thing from some 1920’s something. He put a big toolbox next to it and told me to undo everything I could find. Every nut from every bolt, every cable, every cotter pin (what’s a cotter pin?) from every castelated nut (huh?) just take the thing completely apart. At the end of several hours, my hands were filthy, sore, and bleeding. My clothes were smudged all over, as was whatever else on me that was exposed, and you know what? It was love at first job. I was ecstatic. I hardly knew a screwdriver from a wrench, but this was the most fun I’d had in years. And from that day on I was hooked.


After the three years with the peculiar man, learning fabric covering and wing building, I began working for other people in the circle of antique airplanes in the Dallas area. After another 18 months, I signed up to take my Airframe License test. Which I passed, by the way. The man who gave me the practical test happened to have a rudder he needed covered for his Piper, so that was what I did. Anyone curious as to the identity of the perculiar man in Ponder, Texas,can go to this site: www.ponderthisone.com , read the intro, and follow the link at the bottom of the page. His name: Richard Wilkinson.


In the next 12 years after the apprenticeship, I have probably tied tens of thousands of rib-stitches, traveled many a mile, and met amazing and fascinating, as well as really weird people. I should oughta (that’s Texas grammar) write stories of the most notable jobs. And relate stories I have heard, which may or may not be true, but in the airplane world, a good story is worth telling and hearing, regardless.


It was only our move to Germany that put a halt to Mudflap-Aviation. And the withdrawal symptoms are emerging as my kids are getting older and (hopefully) responsible.


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