Joe Murray’s work and interests have taken him all over the world — the Middle East, South Africa, China, even Antarctica.
But he has seen very little of his home state.
Murray, a Hudson resident, aviator and Kent State University professor, will try to rectify that this month when he attempts to land his Piper Cub in each of Ohio’s 88 counties, at airports with names like Wynkoop, Port-O-John, Checkpoint Charlie and Morningstar North.
“If you follow this flight, you are going to enter a world that you probably didn’t know existed,” Murray said. “There are almost 800 airports in Ohio. I think this is one of the legacies of the Wright Brothers, and certainly James Rhodes,” who encouraged the building of a public airport in almost every county during his 16 years as governor.
Murray picked this year for his feat to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the antique aircraft he will be flying.
He plans to leave KSU’s airport, Andrew W. Paton Field, at 8 a.m. Sunday and make his final touchdown about 10 days later at Dayton’s Wright Brothers Airport as a nod to the men who made Ohio “the birthplace of aviation.”
While Kent is 159 miles and about a three-hour car ride from Dayton, Murray’s scenic route will cover 1,670 nautical miles and more than 26 hours in the air.
Murray, 52, said he can’t imagine a better way to experience the state than in the tiny 1946 Piper Cub J3C-65 he and two other pilots purchased together two years ago.
“The airlines are amazing for their speed, efficiency and safety, but participating in that kind of air travel on a personal or human level has little correspondence with the experience of actually flying,” he said. “... Most passengers are thinking of the destination, not the flight.”
In a small aircraft, “the best entertainment is looking out the open door and window on a warm summer day, early in the morning or evening when the sun makes the shadows long and you can see the shape and contours of the Earth below.”
Murray, who teaches journalism and digital sciences, intends to put his experience into a book and a documentary. A crew of KSU students will hone their own storytelling, photography and writing skills by helping with the project, and KSU colleague and photographer Gary Harwood will record the trip from the ground.
Friends and family are assisting with everything from sending updates to the Web to making sure Murray’s team has a place to park their RV.
Chapters of the Experimental Aircraft Association from around the state are planning events around Murray’s visits, including pancake breakfasts, airplane rides and airport open houses.
In the air, Murray will have company. Fellow aviator Ron Siwik will follow him in an identical bright yellow plane that was built the same year as Murray’s at the Piper factory in Lock Haven, Pa.
If Murray is successful, his effort also would land him in a book of a different kind. He plans to have someone from all 88 airports sign a section of aircraft fabric to help certify the route for Recordsetter.com as “the first, longest, slowest and most peculiar flight to Wright Brothers Airport ever made in an antique airplane.”
“The Cub is an aviation legend,” Murray said.
It was a popular training tool during World War II, when half a million pilots learned to fly in them.
It has some “peculiar characteristics” that make it special, Murray added.
The plane is covered in fabric, the two-seater is typically flown from the back seat, and there is no electrical system, so the pilot must spin the wooden propeller by hand to start the engine.
“The J3 has been a challenging airplane for me to learn how to fly, but it is the most fun I have ever had as a pilot,” Murray said. The aircraft is susceptible to gusts and crosswinds, and “if you think of a paper kite on string, you wouldn’t be far off in understanding how the wind affects the airplane.”
Many Cubs remain in service today because they are affordable to fly and simple to maintain. Still, Murray said, they will fly only as long as there are parts and experienced pilots to maintain them.
“There will likely be a day when the only place you will see this iconic old flying machine is in a museum,” Murray said. “I happen to think the best place to see an airplane is in the air, and I intend to fly this one as much as possible to give its next caretaker or curator something to talk about.”
Murray grew up in Girard, the son of a World War II veteran and a British war bride.
“I don’t know how they did it, but my parents always managed to somehow take my brother, sister and me to Ohio’s North Coast in the summer. We parked at Keller Airfield in Port Clinton, and for about $7 apiece would catch a ride on the Old Tin Goose for the short flight across Lake Erie to Put-In-Bay Island,” he said.
“For a kid growing up in the shadow of the steel mills, this was as close a thing to an exotic adventure as I had ever known. ... It changed my perspective of the world and I’ve loved flying ever since.”
Murray said his 10-day goal of reaching all 88 counties is ambitious — and totally dependent on the weather.
He quipped: “I expect a fair amount of delays will be caused due to overcast skies, low ceilings, thunderstorms, rain, hail, snow, sleet, 45-degree temperature swings and tornadoes — or what we in Ohio now euphemistically refer to as ‘springtime.’ ”
To follow Murray’s journey, visit www.lostinoscarhotel.com.
Murray explained the website address: “Lost in Oscar Hotel” is an inside pilot joke. The Federal Aviation Administration’s phonetic alphabet for OH (Ohio’s abbreviation) is “oscar hotel.”