Mid-America Air Museum Director Bob Immell, right, officially accepts a donation from local pilot Jim Floyd of a 1971 Grumman Ag Cat to the museum. Floyd has had the plane for more than 40 years, and said it was time to donate it. L&T photo/Elly Grimm

ELLY GRIMM

  • Leader & Times

 

There have been many great duos throughout history, and in Kansas, that list can include local pilot Jim Floyd and his long-term aviation partner, a 1971 Grumman Ag Cat.

The pair has worked together since 1976 and recently, Floyd made the decision to donate the craft to the Mid-America Air Museum (MAAM). As Floyd tells it, the path to getting the plane started in the early 1970s.

“The Grumman Ag Cat, and it was specifically built for agricultural work like spraying and dusting and work like that. I bought the plane in August 1976 and I've had it ever since. I used it every year from August 1976 to September 2017, so we worked together 42 years and logged several thousand acres and more than 11,000 hours,” Floyd reminisced. “I bought the plane used, it had originally gone to Louisiana after it had been involved in a crash and then rebuilt. As I remember, it's had multiple engines replaced over time as parts have gotten older, and there's been some other upgrades made. It's a good plane and we were definitely one when we were in the air. I was flying converted WWII Stearman trainer airplanes, and it was in the current newspaper building where Whitney Aviation was located, and I ended up buying it and all the inventory. The Stearmans were good airplanes, but they weren't productive enough to keep up with what I wanted, and we needed something bigger, and I ultimately ended up upgrading to the Grumman Ag Cat and kept it for all this time. There was another plane I had that got destroyed in a crash with a power line, and that took a chunk of time cleaning up. The Grumman corporation was famous for Navy fighter airplanes, and they actually built and designed the last of the biplane fighters the Navy used until just before WWII.”

After so much time together, it was only rather recently when Floyd made the decision to donate the plane.

“I've been thinking about donating the plane for about five years now, but I just never quite got around to the logistics of everything. Paying rent on the building, and all the insurance and whatnot, that's all gone up throughout the years, and it was ultimately something I just needed to do,” Floyd said. “My college friend, Homer Hickam, has been visiting the area for about the past 20 years giving lectures and talks and things like that, and we came around to doing the donation ceremony Wednesday evening. He's had a very extensive career as a NASA scientist and engineer and is also a very qualified SCUBA diver, dinosaur hunter and author, and he's written several books about his work. I could have sold it for a pretty penny, but since I've had it for so long already, I thought 'Why not just leave it here in Liberal?' It's a pretty iconic and interesting plane, and I've heard from multiple people who say they watched me spray or dust their farm in my plane when they were growing up. I just felt it would be best to keep it in Liberal, and I'm not really hard up for money to sell it, so giving it to MAAM just seemed the right move, and I think it'll be a good addition to the museum's collection.”

While he has had his plane for only slightly more than 40 years, Floyd said his interest in aviation goes back much farther.

“I grew up in Southeast Virginia, and my father was a welder in a Navy shipyard, and he didn't have much interest in higher education. I'd been in 4-H and worked with steers and other animals for projects, and we were also close to military aviation, which I knew I probably would never end up being around,” Floyd said. “I went to Virginia Tech to get my degree in animal science, but I ultimately didn't finish because I didn't have enough money. I went up in a plane with a couple of my friends who had their pilot's licenses, but I knew my eyes weren't good enough to be a military pilot since they require 20/20 vision and a lot of other strict criteria. Once I was on active duty in the military, I went up with another friend who had his pilot's license and ended up really liking it. Since I wasn't the best athlete, I figured I would probably never learn to fly, but there was an aero club on base, and flying lessons weren't terribly expensive at that time, so I jumped in and ultimately learned to fly, and fly pretty well. As time went on, I was wanting to combine my interest in aviation with my interest in agriculture, and I ended up doing just that by starting my own company and doing spraying and crop-dusting before settling as a rancher.”

While there are some mixed feelings about donating the plane to MAAM, Floyd said he has no regrets from his career working with so many local people.

“Working with the people was the best part, and again, I still have guys coming up to me who remember watching me work in my plane on their family's farm some years ago. I was making good money and making my way around as an itinerant pilot helping people. I learned a lot during that time, and I ultimately ended up settling in Liberal,” Floyd said. “I never would have thought of Liberal as my home, I hadn't ever even heard of it way back then. But I made my way here, settled down and had my business and family and all of that. I've made a lot of friends here who I still talk to quite often and it's been a good life. Before I came here, I was working in the Hereford, Texas area and I saw an ad from Mr. Whitney about a job, so on a whim, I called him up and talked to him for a while. That happened in the fall, which is near the end of the season, and I came and looked at the town and Mr. Whitney and I came to an agreement. That was in 1974, and I was officially in business in the spring of 1975. It'll be a bit of an odd feeling to not have the plane anymore, but we've had a good run. I flew until I was 75 and flew a total of about 50 years with my career and the other flying I did before my mind and body started slowing down. But I know the MAAM staff will take care of it and make sure it's preserved for the community to look at and appreciate.”

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