Saturday, June 21, 2014

Walter "Bud" Ledgerwood: Octogenarian continues to take to the skies

LAPORTE - Walter "Bud" Ledgerwood is still flying high at age 85.

Sitting behind the controls of his 1946 single engine Aeronca Chief is like being with a dear friend, he said, and traveling above the clouds feels like being in the presence of God.

"It keeps me alive. It keeps me young. It keeps me active and I meet great people," said Ledgerwood, a Union Mills resident who flies out of the LaPorte Municipal Airport.

Ledgerwood was about 10 when he caught the aviation bug growing up in central Indiana. He was fascinated by military planes making practice runs overhead as the country was about to enter World War II.

When he turned 18, he got his license to fly at Weir Cook Municipal Airport, now known as Indianapolis International Airport, in a small plane that's now on display at an aviation museum in Cincinnati.

He's owned several planes over the years, including a single engine 1964 Cherokee 140 that he still occasionally flies, but the 1946 Aeronica Chief that he purchased for a mere $1,250 in 1970 is his favorite.

He's attached to the Aeronica Chief because it was modeled after the planes used for combat training and has similarities to the aircraft of pilots who preceded him.

"It's a first class history lesson," Ledgerwood said. His message to young people who might be interested in learning how to fly is to go for it.

"You can relive what your great grandaddies did. You can fly the plane that your grandfather and father flew," he said.

Ledgerwood now mans the controls for only about 30 to 40 minutes at a time. But in his heyday, he flew to places like Kitty Hawk, N.C.,  where Orville and Wilbur Wright took the first plane off the ground in 1903.

He's also flown as far as Canada and Florida and often, during his long journeys, he'd fly in a convoy with other pilots who all would camp together underneath the wings of their planes.

One of his fondest memories is flying to the airshow in Oshkosh, Wisc. He still goes there, but now it's from behind the wheel of a recreational vehicle.

He has no plans to stop flying, but might slow down if his grandson takes it up and allows him to tag along on short trips.

He has no ambition, whatsoever, to distance himself from the airport where can he's found daily looking over and tinkering with his planes or engaging in small talk with other pilots and basking in the atmosphere.

"It's enjoyable and it's a full-time passion," said Ledgerwood, who moved to LaPorte in 1969 with his wife of 60 years, Patricia, and their three children. He now has nine grandchildren and 24 great grandchildren.

Ledgerwood owned a display advertising business for 32 years and retired as manager of the LaPorte airport.

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