A Flight Instructor's Recollections

By: Bruce R. Watson

Airport - 1946
Sandwich Airport - 1947
Sandwich Airport - Now

Doc Vincent
Roger "Doc" Vincent
(WW2 picture)

Frank Ament
Frank Ament
(WW2 picture)

Soon after World War 2 (WW2) small general aviation airports sprang up all over the United States, many of them founded by returning military pilots anxious to cash in on the much hyped “postwar flying boom” (which never developed nearly to the level originally envisioned).  Among those was the airport at Sandwich, Illinois founded on farm land just west of town by returning USAAF pilot Roger Vincent.  Roger was the son of a prominent local veterinarian resulting in his often being referred to as "Doc."  Captain Roger “Doc” Vincent had flown many missions in transport type aircraft over the "hump" in the China, Burma, India theater of operations during the war and received the Distinguished Flying Cross in recognition of his service.  He operated the airport until 1949 when it was purchased by Frank Ament of nearby Yorkville, IL.  Doc Vincent left the airport business to become co-owner of The Sandwich Motor Co., the local Ford Dealer.  He continued to be a popular figure around the airport where he based his personal airplane, a war surplus Vultee BT-13.  He was recalled by the USAF to active duty during the Korean War and shortly thereafter tragically lost his life in a C-124 Globemaster accident off the coast of Ireland (see below). 

Frank Ament was a graduate of Parks Aeronautical College, had served as a maintenance supervisor at the USAAF Contract School at Cape Girardeau, MO during WW2 and in the same position with the now defunct American Export Airline in New York.  He was a talented aircraft and engine mechanic and a FAA Designated Aircraft Maintenance Inspector (DAMI) who performed the required maintenance and periodic inspections on his own airplanes plus many of the other aircraft in the region.  As time went on he also built a significant business in new and used aircraft sales.


Soon after Frank took over the Sandwich airport I (a USAAF veteran, Spartan School of Aeronautics graduate and former co-owner of a flying service in Detroit, MI) was hired to handle the flying activities.  In addition to flight training and the associated ground training we provided passenger rides, charter flights, crop spraying and aerial advertising.  The services provided were similar to those of many other small airports at that time.    


The Sandwich Airport flight line in 1950.  Included are the office, shop, hangar and some of the planes used in our flight training program.  The closest plane in the picture at left is Doc Vincent’s Vultee BT-13 after he had it painted as a flying billboard for his new venture, Sandwich Motors.  We had one additional hangar, not included in these pictures, that housed several privately owned planes.  Within a couple of years a larger quonset style hangar was added about where Doc’s BT sits. 

Piper J-3

The majority of flight students trained during the late 40’s and early 50’s were trained under the WW2 GI Bill of Rights.  We were approved to conduct the Private Pilot, Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructor courses.  Each course had a syllabus established by the Veterans Administration that outlined the specific content of the course.  Dual hours, solo hours, cross-country, night hours, time in heavier type aircraft (when required) and related ground school were all specified.  Students started out in the Piper J-3, and we always had three or four available on the training program, and could advance to the Cessna 140, the Cessna 170 and a former USAAF trainer, the Stearman PT-17, for their “heavy plane” requirements and for the occassional student who wanted basic aerobatic instruction.  For a time we also operated a Luscomb 8E on the training program but it was lost in a tragic mid-air collision (see below).   Upon completion of the required training students took a FAA written examination and a flight test with a FAA designated examiner in order to obtain their pilot license.  We normally used examiner Pete Julius of the old Aurora, IL airport for our flight tests. 


Cessna 140
Cessna 170
Stearman PT-17


                                                        GROUND SCHOOL
GrSch GrSch2

Periodically we held evening ground school classes.  Meteorology,
Navigation, Basic Aircraft and Engine Care, Federal Air Regulations, and

Analysis of Flight Maneuvers were all included in a curriculum that helped
students prepare for their FAA written examination.  The above class
included (L to R) Bud Nehring, 
Bob Ament, Chuck Howison, Willard White
and Orrin Marvick.

                      Culver Cadet
What does a young flight instructor do
on his time off?  He goes flying, of course. 
A Culver Cadet, owned in partnership with
Sandwich banker Dave Roberts, was my trusty
steed for many hours of enjoyable personal

flying.  A favorite memory recalls one
winter when a
particularly heavy snow
closed the airport. Flight students
other friends bodily carried my airplane to the
plowed highway adjacent to the
airport and stopped traffic long enough
for me to take off for a flight back to my 
boyhood home in Pennsylvania for the
Christmas holidays.  Great friends!     

___________________________________________   AIRCRAFT MAINTENANCE   ______________________________________

The maintenance shop was always busy and normally had a sizable backlog.  Frank Ament was a personable, friendly, dependable guy and a meticulous aircraft and engine mechanic who folks knew they could depend on to do the job right.  When I was not busy with flying or flying related activity I worked alongside Frank in the shop and over time completed the requirements for my aircraft and engine mechanics license under Frank’s direction and supervision.  We not only maintained our own fleet of training airplanes, but also had numerous area customers who had all of their maintenance including their annual inspections handled at the Sandwich Airport.  And, often we would have an aircraft restoration project under way as a fill-in project if other work slowed down.  The pictures above show the results of one of our Stearman restoration projects.  At that time there was a considerable demand for war surplus Stearman PT-17's for the crop dusting and spraying market and this is one of the airplanes we reworked for that market.    


_______________________________________   CROP SPRAYING   __________________________________

    Stearman Crop Sprayer
A few of the attendees at Custom Spray Operators meeting -
Champaign, IL - Jan 19, 1951
(L to R) Eddie Grandgeorge-Serena Airport, Chance
Fitzgerald- Mendota Airport, Orrin Marvick-Leland,
and Bruce Watson-Sandwich Airport

Much of the crop spraying in northern Illinois during this period involved the use of DDT pesticide to rid the corn crops of the dreaded corn borer.  This was long before the controversial banning of DDT in 1972.  Many small airports had at least one airplane equipped for crop spraying to help the local farmers control this problem.  The Sandwich airport was no exception.  A local farm supply store contracted with area farmers to handle their crop spraying requirements and we would apply the DDT solution from the air.  We had both a Piper J-3 and a Stearman equipped for crop spraying.  In each case the planes normal second seat was replaced with a large tank to contain the DDT solution.  Long booms extended out under each wing with spray nozzles evenly spaced along the length of the booms.  A wind driven pump forced the solution from the tank into the booms, under pressure, to be emitted from the nozzles in a uniform spray that covered a wide swath behind the plane as it flew low over the crop.  Flag men on the ground paced off the the necessary distance between each pass to ascertain that the entire field was covered uniformly.  Most of the spraying was done in the early morning or late evening hours when the winds were light in order to avoid having the pesticide carried into unintended areas.  The equipment and methods used then were primitive compared to today’s custom built, GPS directed crop sprayers but we got the job done.

 _________________________________________   TRAGEDY STRIKES  ______________________________________

September 4, 1950
Alfred "Pete" Milburn (1924-1950)

Alfred "Pete" Milburn (1924-1950)

Clpng 3


March 23, 1951
Roger "Doc" Vincent (1914-1951)




Doc's Last Flight

                            A FOND FAREWELL
Time to move on to new challenges.  The Sandwich airport
experience was one of those enjoyable chapters in the great
book of life turned bittersweet by the loss of a couple of
great guys. This unfortunately is too often the case in the
flying world.  Nevertheless I returned many times over the
years to get together with good friends (most gone now)
and relive those enjoyable times we shared in the late 40's
and early 50's.  Time marches on!  Pictured above (L to R)
Dave Roberts, Eddie Grandgeorge, Bob Lett and Chuck

FRANK AMENT (1924-1990)
         (1952 picture)
We lost Frank to lukemia in 1990.
Frank and I remained close friends
until the end.
  He was one prince
of a guy and a fine role model.
is fondly
remembered and sorely
by many.

-- Comments and/or questions are welcome --