Restored plane stops on sentimental journey

June 22, 2014
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Brad Hundt / Observer-Reporter
Chris Nesin, a Chattanooga, Tenn., resident, shows off the vintage Piper Cub aircraft he and his wife, April, are flying across America. They stopped at Washington County Airport late Sunday afternoon. Order a Print
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Brad Hundt / Observer-Reporter
April Nesin shows a photo of the Piper Cub airplane in which she and her husband, Chris, are traveling from the memoir “Flight of Passage.” The Nesins are traveling the same route detailed in the 1997 book. Order a Print

The idea of taking to the open road and seeing the country holds a special allure in movies and literature, from Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” to Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper on their choppers in “Easy Rider.”

Chris and April Nesin of Chattanooga, Tenn., will be traveling coast to coast and getting an up-close look at the countryside for the next 10 days or so, but the couple won’t be seeing a stitch of highway – they are flying in a restored 1949 Piper Cub aircraft, the same plane that was used by brothers Rinker and Kernahan Buck for a similar trip in July 1966 that became the basis for “Flight of Passage,” a memoir by Rinker Buck published 31 years later.

The journey started Sunday in Lock Haven, and they made a stop at Washington County Airport about 4 p.m. Sunday. The Buck brothers also stopped at the airport in 1966, and it will be one of their many stops as they travel in the Bucks’ footsteps. Their trip is scheduled to reach its end July 2 in Riverside, Calif.

“It’s better than most people’s midlife crisis,” Chris joked, as they waited for to get some fresh oil at the airport. Chris earns his daily bread as a corporate pilot, and even though he’s used to traversing the heavens, piloting something along the lines of a Gulfstream jet and a Piper Cub are entirely different experiences, he noted. “In this plane, you’re working all the time,” he said. “It’s like comparing driving an 18-wheeler to driving a Harley.”

The couple purchased the plane in November 2011 and, after an extensive restoration effort, took it up in the air for the first time June 13. The restoration “was almost like a part-time job,” he said, as they pieced it together with vintage parts. The plane does have a few concessions to modernity, though, with a transponder that can allow people on the ground to track the plane (the website,, offers tracking and updates on the couple’s travels), and their flight charts are stored on an iPad, rather than printed on paper.

They intend on flying about 250 miles per day, mechanics and weather permitting. The Nesins will only be about 500 feet to 1,000 feet above the ground, going about 80 mph. Along with following the path paved by the Buck brothers, who were teenagers when they undertook their voyage, the couple are using the trip to raise awareness for the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer, where April is employed as a psychologist.

Along with the usual needs for food and fuel as they stop at various small airports, the Nesins have been greeted by vintage plane enthusiasts along the way.

“When you’re flying a plane across the country, you want to show off the plane,” April Nesin said. In fact, they were held over at Finleyville Airport a little longer than they had planned because some admirers insisted on taking them to lunch.

As he looked over the plane, Jeff Stewart, a lineman for AeroNational Inc., which provides fuel and supplies for planes at Washington County Airport, said he had seen many Piper Cubs, “but this is special. This is special any way you look at it.”

Brad Hundt came to the Observer-Reporter in 1998 after stints at newspapers in Georgia and Michigan. Brad holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from George State University in Atlanta, Ga., and a master’s in popular culture studies from Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. He has covered the arts and entertainment for the O-R, and also worked as a municipal beat reporter. He now serves as editorial page editor.

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