Low Level in the Mooney Mite by Gerard Casius
N108C, serial number 69, was an M-18L built in 1950. "AFC" refers to the Aruba Flying Club. Aruba is an island in the Dutch Antilles off the coast of Venezuela.
A very remarkable addition to the private planes at De Vuijst Field was the Mooney Mite, a miniscule single-seater plane, which, thanks to its size, a 65hp engine and a retractable landing gear offered spectacular performance. The Mite is the subject of many remarkable tales amongst the veterans of the AFC. Every so often, someone forgot to lower the landing gear, despite a big warning flag on the dashboard and nearly every successive owner has made at least one gear-up landing with it. Because the Mite had a sort of skate under the belly, this usually only resulted in no more damage than broken propeller tips.
Two AFC members pose with N108C in the Mooney
factory colours. The man on the right is the
mechanic of the AFC, Albert Nicholls.
The Mooney Mite (which always remained US registered, N108C) was purchased in 1951 by AFC secretary Harold C. Miller. In November 1952 it was sold to Joe Hayduk, who soon made his seemingly obligatory belly landing with it. He in turn sold it to Dougald McCormick, who repaired it and after some time it was purchased by a quartet consisting of Ralph Richter, Boyd Bastian, Gordon Cole and Dick Mullen, on condition that McCormick would teach them to fly. The deal included a semi-circular brick hangar at De Vuijst and each paid a one fourth share of the purchase price of $1,400. They received their first few flying lessons on the AFC's Champion, but both Richter and Bastian made their first-ever solo flight on the Mooney Mite, which of course, it being a single seater, they had not been able to fly before. Surely a unique happening and another illustration that the word "impossible" was not often heard at De Vuijst Field!! Over the years, the Mite had several successive owners / shareholders, because when an owner left Aruba, his share was usually sold to a newcomer.
The most spectacular anecdote about the Mooney Mite concerns Boyd Bastian, who, at the conclusion of a demonstration flight at any air show commemorating the US Independence Day (probably in 1954), forgot to lower the wheels and thus tore up another propeller. The plane was lifted off the ground by a few strong men -- it only weighed 550 lbs anyway -- the wheels were lowered and a quite disturbed Boyd Bastian disappeared with his Mite into the hangar. According to one of his flying partners, Boyd was a "genius / borderline psycho" and had a hard time digesting his stupidity of not lowering the gear. He tried to drown his feelings in a few rum 'n cokes, regained his courage and decided to cut off the damaged portions of the propeller blades. After having accomplished this, the astonished audience saw him push the Mite onto the tarmac, climb into it, start the engine and take off. He gave a truly breathtaking demonstration of low-flying over De Vuijst Field, with the engine accentuating this performance with an ear-shattering howl, as a result of much increased rpm's due to the cut-off propeller.
Mrs. Edna "Eddie" Waddell (EGW) and Rev. Brown,
who purchased the Mite. The photo is from a
personnel magazine published by the Standard
Oil/ Lago refinery.
Boyd's solo-demonstration took him all over the Lago community. He did not fly over but rather in between the palm trees at the Esso Club, gave swimmers on the high diving board at Rodgers Beach a unique top-view of the airplane and flew at zero altitude towards cars on the road between Oranjestad and San Nicholas, pulling up at the last second. Players at the baseball field could only save their life by diving flat on the ground. He flew over and under all landmarks on Aruba, including the residence of the Gesaghebber (Lt. Governor) of the island and a US Navy aircraft carrier which happened to be in port. Many spectators thought that the Mooney was a special stunt plane of the US Navy. Needless to say, the Aruba police became interested and came to De Vuijst Field to arrest the pilot upon landing, but Boyd had this one figured out and at zero altitude he made the cops hit the dust, just like he had done with the baseball players. When he was running low on fuel, he finally landed at the big airport near Oranjestad. Palm tree leaves were found stuck in various parts of the plane!
In those days there was a silent understanding between the Aruban police and the Lago refinery that Lago was allowed a 24 hour grace period to deal with any expat who had outlived his welcome in Aruba, which meant that forthwith the delinquent would be put on a tanker heading for the USA and that would be the end of the affair. This is what happened to Boyd Bastian. Sometime later, the co-owners of the Mite received a letter from him in the USA demanding his share in the plane. They chose not to reply.
Reprinted with permission of the author, Gerard Casius of Ijsselmuiden, The Netherlands. The Mite incident in Aruba is a chapter in a book Gerard is writing.
Since the above article was published, we have learned more about N108C from Gerard:
The people on the pictures are as follows:
N108C shot: left - unknown (obviously one of the successive owners), right: the mechanic of the Aruba Flying Club, Albert 'Nick' Nicholls.
PJ-EGW shot: left - Mrs Edna 'Eddie' G. Waddell (she and her husband also owned a Beech Bonanza at Aruba) and right: the Rev. Brown. I am sure that this was taken when she transferred the plane to Brown in September 1961.
The registration of the Mite was changed from US (N108C) to Netherlands Antilles (PJ-EGW) in March 1959, and this is most likely also the date that she became the owner. Prior to that date, I could not find any activity of the Mite since May 1957 and I think that it may have been inop in the mid-57 - March '59 period (damaged in accident?). [see below]
Brown did not actually pay for the Mite, EGW [Eddie Waddell] donated it to him for his missionary work. By the best information I could find, Brown had it for sale for quite a while after he realized that it was not an ideal cross-country machine (but at the same time it was probably flown by several other pilots at Aruba). Brown left Aruba in June 1962 and then it was sold to Barney Ellis (Lago Refinery employee at Aruba) in August 1962.
As you no doubt know, it was registered in Venezuela in September 1965 as YV-T-DTU and had been cancelled from the Venezuelan register by 1973.
The Aruba Flying Club had its own airfield, De Vuijst Field, on the eastern tip of Aruba, just North of the Lago refinery, and actually on refinery property. This is where all the club planes were based, but also quite a few private planes, including the Mite. This airstrip has long ago been closed.
The Mite was actually imported to Aruba in 1950 by Standard Oil employee Harold Miller. See: http://www.nwaac.com/airplane%20info-Harold%20Miller.htm