ROSEBURG -- Thanks to Maj. Gen. Marion Carl's lifelong habit of keeping a diary, his family and friends know the bright yellow J-2 Piper Cub found dismantled in a Southern Oregon barn was the same plane the late war hero piloted in his first solo flight.
And to those who want to build an aviation center dedicated to the World War II fighter ace, the 1937 aircraft is a treasure....
Wednesday night [September 2000], the refurbished plane was unveiled in a ceremony to kick off a $2.5 million fund-raising campaign to build the Marion E. Carl Aviation and Aerospace Educational Center in Roseburg.
Nels Hult, a Dillard resident who had the vintage aircraft stored in his barn for almost 30 years, discovered its significance 18 months ago after reading a story about Carl in an Oregon State University alumni magazine. The story mentioned that Carl had soloed for the first time in a J-2 Piper Cub at the Corvallis Airport in 1937 when he was a student at Oregon State University.
That rang a bell.
Hult said he knew that the J-2 Cub was the first in a line of the famous Piper Cubs and "they didn't build very many of them." Hult and his father-in-law found their J-2 Cub in a barn near Elmira in the early 1970s. The logbook that came with the plane said it was manufactured in 1937 and shipped to Corvallis to be used for instruction.
Hult called Ernie King, president of the Carl Foundation, and told King that he thought the Piper Cub that was hanging in his barn was the same one Carl soloed in.
"He said, 'Man, oh man, you're kidding.' They had to have it."
King and Edna Carl, Carl's widow, matched the plane's tail numbers -- NC19503 -- to the numbers Carl had written down in his diary the day he soloed in October 1937 when he was a 21-year-old OSU student.
Hult decided to give the aircraft to the center after he was convinced the project wouldn't fade away. "They got organized, were headed in the right direction," he said. "You could see this thing was going to go."
A team of supporters took the plane by truck to the San Diego Aerospace Museum, where volunteers spent eight months returning the airplane as close to its original state as possible.
"Those men worked," King said. "We figured it would take two years. It took them eight months."
The restored Cub returned to Roseburg last week to be reassembled for Wednesday's event. The plane will be housed in a private hangar at the airport until the center is completed.
King, who spent 35 years in the aviation industry, said the purpose of the center is to spread Carl's passion for flying. "It's dedicated to exposing young people to career opportunities in aviation and aerospace, both in the air and on the ground."
King said Carl is considered an "icon of aviation," both for the records he set in speed and altitude and for his skill in combat. Carl shot down 18 planes in World War II, flew during the Korean War and piloted helicopters and fighter jet aircraft in Vietnam. "He was always in the front line," King said. Carl was twice awarded the Navy Cross.
The city of Roseburg has given the Carl Foundation a 50-year lease on land adjacent to the memorial for the aviation center. The San Diego Aerospace Museum, the Pensacola Naval Aviation Museum and the Smithsonian Institute have pledged their support.
"Everyone involved in this is doing it pro bono," King said. "All the money goes to the building fund or the Cub restoration. It is the only plane the center will ever own."