“If you’re not willing to travel at 15 to 40 miles per hour ground speed slower than air speed, and watch cars pass under you, and occasionally stop for weather to pass, you better find a different mode of transportation.”
When flying your own Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser across the country, speed of motion doesn’t always translate to speed of travel. And when you relish the freedom of exploration and seeing things in different ways, this suits Doug Turnbull just fine.
A licensed pilot for almost 35 years, Doug spent a month this summer experiencing much of our country’s vastness – from New York to New Mexico and back again – one hop at a time. “You fly the first three hours in the morning and the last three hours in the afternoon,” Doug explains. “A lot of times in the middle the wind’s blowing so hard you stay on the ground. You fly until nine or ten in the morning, find an airport to land and tie the plane down, and then find a place to visit or go to sleep for five hours. You have to want to travel that way.”
Wanting to travel this way afforded Doug the opportunity to visit parts of the United States that he may not have otherwise seen.
Freedom of the Skies
Why would a busy gunsmith, business owner, father and grandfather want to travel this way? “It’s a free feeling up there, floating along in the air,” Doug confesses. “You see things different from the air than you do from the ground. It’s always interesting to see areas differently, especially traveling across the west.” Doug bought his 1940s-era Piper in Helena, Montana a few years back. Flying it home he experienced anew many different parts of the west, midwest and east – regions of our country that he was already familiar with from his myriad travels by road. “It’s a whole different perspective from the air, and you can see stuff from the back country that you never see from a car.”
It’s clear that a sense of wonder inspires Doug to travel by small aircraft. “You come up over a ridge, and it’s like you peaked over a wall and then there’s something else.” Doug recalls, “There’s clear skies and visibility for a hundred miles, and you’re just a little speck in the sky floating along looking at things.”
Doug’s father was an avid pilot in Doug’s younger years. They flew together in a Cessna 185 Amphibian, traveling to Quebec every summer to go fishing. Outside of the Quebec visits, their adventures were “generally within 150 miles from home,” Doug remembers. “Not very far.” It was Doug’s relentless curiosity that would lead him to flying too, and eventually to venture much greater distances.
In gun restoration and piloting – things have to be done right
His father was a self-taught gunsmith, and like him, Doug really enjoyed the hands-on side of working at Creekside Gunshop, his family’s business. According to his mother, Doug was always a tinkerer. “My mom said if it had wheels on it I was tearing it apart. Didn’t matter what it was, [vehicles or guns], I was always trying to do something with it.”
This relentless pursuit of how things work is the drive behind the Turnbull Restoration story. Minding every detail, and getting things done the right way certainly suits Doug’s desire to fly as well. Doug recalls of his early restoration work, “Dealers and collectors were saying ‘it’s really nice work but you need to do this better, or have better detail here, or this should be polished this way.’ It was the dealers and the collectors that forced us to be better. [The work] had to look right.” Doug expands, “A plane is kind of a tinkering thing too. There’s so much [mechanical work] you can do yourself, but then you have to get it signed off by a certified professional. Everything has to be right.”
Giving others a chance to see differently
Doug’s worked hard for the opportunity to see the country he loves from the air. What always strikes Doug the most is “how big and diversified the country is. Every area is beautiful in its own right, and I see why people love that area and want to be there.”
Doug enjoys giving friends and clients the same opportunity to see things differently. During his summer trip he visited a client in Nebraska and gave plane rides to various neighbors and family members. “Some were in their late 40s and 50s and had never been in a small plane, or any type of plane for that matter,” Doug recounts. “It allowed them to have a different perspective of the area, and see their farms in a whole different way.”
Giving rides to a group of cultural exchange students shortly after Doug’s return home to Bloomfield was especially impactful. “That may be the only chance [these students] get to ride in a plane, let alone a small plane. It’s fun giving rides because you don’t have any idea… how it’s going to change their lives, how it’s going to allow them to see a bigger world, that it’s more than just their home.” In some ways it reminds Doug of the first flights he took with his dad. “It reminds you of the freedom, the openness of what else is out there.”
Openness, exploration, and the freedom to see our country in many and varied ways. “If you have time to spare, you go by air,” Doug likes to say. And for him, that is most definitely time well spent.
The Journey from Nebraska to New Mexico