The Cessna 172 airplane is a single engine aircraft designed to accommodate a pilot and three passengers. The 160 horsepower single piston engine allows the aircraft to comfortably cruise at a speed of 148 miles per hour. The plane has a maximum takeoff weight of 2454 pounds and has a cruising range of 791 miles. The Cessna 172 made its inaugural flight in the year 1955, after which more than 43000 units have been produced.
There was absolutely no reason that Larry would have reason to believe that this information was in any way important to him. In 1970 he lived near the small Southwest Missouri town of Noel. He worked for a nearby builder of manufactured homes and, when not working, his attention was focused on his wife and children.
The then 31 year old man had lived in the area since the age of four when his parents moved to the area from Pittsburg, Kansas. He knew practically everyone living in or near the town of approximately 950 people and most of those Ozark inhabitants were considered friends.
Many of the locals passed their leisure hours floating on or swimming in the Elk River. Anyone driving along County Road DD would have a difficult time counting the number of fishing rods that hovered above the calm warm summer water.
The evenings might find local residents strolling along the Main Street sidewalks exchanging greetings as they passed one another.
If you were in the mood for a good burger and fries, there was Carl’s Café located just the other side of the small bridge which the throngs of summer tourists crossed over as they drove into town.
Life at that time was, for the most part, very predictable and that’s the way most people, Larry included, preferred it. But, every so often the opportunity to break out of that life of predictability presented itself and that chance came to Larry on a warm July day in 1970.
After working more than his usual ten hour day Larry walked through the front door of his Blankenship Hollow home just in time to hear the ring of the telephone. The folders containing work-related papers that filled his hands were dropped onto a chair cushion as he made his way to the ringing phone. “Hello,” he answered in a low and tired voice.
“Larry, it’s Tommy.” Larry recognized the voice of his friend Tommy Kilmer. Larry had known Tommy for most of his life. Tommy worked for his father, Homer, at Kilmer’s Grocery on Main Street when he was a boy and the two often talked when Larry’s mother shopped there. Larry was certain his mother only took him with her because she disliked carrying the bags of groceries.
“Hi Tommy, what’s up?” Larry replied. “Me and Larry Largent are going to fly to Colorado Springs, Colorado tomorrow and I wondered if you wanted to tag along. We’re going to fly out of the Neosho airport tomorrow morning and come back that evening. We’re taking a young kid from Pineville there because he needs to report to the army’s induction center there and start boot camp.”
“How many people does the plane seat,” Larry asked. “It’s a Cessna 172 and it seats four. Largent will be the pilot and I’m going to be the co-pilot. I just got my license.” “Why not,” without much thought Larry responded. Maybe that stack of work papers and the folder resting on the chair made his decision come more quickly.
Larry and the others met at the small Neosho airport early the next clear and sunny morning. As Larry climbed into the plane and nestled into one of the two rear seats he looked to his left and saw a young man he did not recognize. “Hi, my name is Larry,” he remarked. “Hi, Tommy and Larry are flying me to Colorado Springs so I can report for boot camp.” The boy’s name was Billy, or Johnny or something like that; “That’s nice,” Larry remarked in a sort off-handed tone.
Following an uneventful takeoff, Largent announced that prior to leaving he learned that storms were likely across the middle and southern portion of Kansas. “I think we’ll fly north to Kansas City, then go west across the upper part of Kansas to miss the bad weather. The flight will take longer but we’ll miss the storms.” No objections or concerns were voiced.
The flight followed the paths of the main highways and everyone seemed relieved when towns and cities were seen. Largent’s pilot’s license only allowed him to fly using Visual Flight Rules, VFR, meaning he could not fly in bad weather or at night. Largent used a compass and landmarks as his guide. The four stopped only once, that being for a brief lunch, at an old military airbase near Salina, Kansas. The plane was refueled as the four talked and ate.
The plane made a perfect landing in Colorado Springs and not much more than a brief, “goodbye and good luck,” was said as the young man stepped from the airplane. He offered one last gesture, a wave, as Largent asked for, and received permission to take off.
The distance, by plane, from Colorado Springs, Colorado to Neosho, Missouri is 587 miles. As Largent turned the plane and headed East Larry asked, “How fast does this plane go?” “It cruises at about 148 miles per hour Tommy replied.” Larry glanced at his watch, and then the sky and the calculator in his brain which was processing data seemed to indicate that the sun might set before the three got safely to Neosho.
The hours passed and the three continued to call out landmarks, “there’s Garden City, there’s Wichita” and Largent often remarked, “The compass says we’re heading due east, we should be right on course.” But that setting sun had its own timetable and that schedule would soon find the sun falling in the western sky behind them.
Almost at once the three cried out, “Look, there are some lights below us.” “According to the compass and the time that must be the Neosho Airport,” Largent said, almost as if he had planned it that way. The note of confidence in his words gave some relief to the somewhat concerned rear seat passenger.
The small plane began its descent when suddenly Larry spoke up, “that’s not the airport, it’s downtown Miami, Oklahoma.” The plane had fallen low enough to allow the startled passenger to make out the Main Street lights, the name on the Coleman Theatre marquis and the sign on the KuKu Burger restaurant.
With no more than an “Okey-Dokey,” Largent brought the small craft up and, with a strange tone almost reflecting pride announced, “I know exactly where we are and how to get to Neosho.” Sure enough, a few minutes later the lights of the Neosho Airport were visible and the plane, and its occupants landed safely.
That was Larry’s one, and only, flight in a Cessna 172 aircraft and it was the last time he ever flew with Largent and Tommy. He could never quite remember the name of that young Pineville boy but he seems to, even to this day, recall the sight of downtown Miami very well.
The Cessna 172 requires a minimum unobstructed runway length of 1500 feet for a safe landing. Larry looked up that information some days later.