Jon Coxwell passes from Earth, 4 July 2017.

Builders:

Very sad news came from Mark, the son of Pietenpol builder Jon Coxwell, that his father had perished in a Luscombe crash on the 4th of July. Yesterday morning I was stopping by the SPA/Panther shop to go over orders, parts and Oshkosh prep. Mark’s letter had arrived in our joint communications E-mail system, and Rachel had seen it and brought it to Dan’s attention. When I walked in, Dan took me aside and spoke of the accident. It was thoughtful; Jon Coxwell was the kind of guy who stuck in your mind, even if you had only spent a bit of time with him in person. Dan understood that there are some things better said by a friend than read in an email.

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If you were at Corvair College #27 in Barnwell or even if you are a regular reader of the comments on this blog, Jon stood out as a man with a positive attitude and something thoughtful to say. He had a very interesting personal story. His own father was a USAAF bomber pilot before US involvement in WWII. His father was stationed a number of places in the Caribbean as the US geared up their defenses of the Panama Canal. He was already married to Jon’s mother, and contrary to the wishes of the military, she followed her husband to these bases.

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After Pearl Harbor, His expecting mother retuned to the mainland US and Jon’s father became a Major and a highly respected B-24 squadron leader in Hawaii. In 1943, his plane crashed shortly after a takeoff, taking the lives of the whole crew. This event, and it’s effect on the squadron, was spoken of in the bestselling book Unbroken, the Louis Zamperini biography. This left infant Jon Coxwell with a heroic father he would never meet.

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From such a harsh start, Jon Coxwell had a very full life. He spoke many times of his great fortune of having an outstanding stepfather,  a man who supported his full adolescence, but was gracious about preserving room in Jon’s life for the memories of his birth father. For a look into this childhood, I have included a note that Jon wrote at the bottom.

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At the end of yesterday, I took a lawn chair and a beer out to the edge of our freshly mowed airstrip, and sat down to watch the day end while contemplating the very moving things Mark wrote in the letter about how much his father appreciated flying, and the experimental aircraft builders he met along his journey.  My thoughts kept returning to the question of the risk vs reward.

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Jon was a very cognizant and logical man who understood such considerations. He wasn’t the kind of guy who stands around an airport saying “It will be alright” and blunders on. He might best be described as deliberate. Considering the origins of his life, it would be hard to imagine otherwise. I am quite sure that he never went to the airport without considering what an improbable event would cost his family.

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The chance to ask him directly about this has come to a close, but seated by the runway as the sun set, I came to the belief  Jon had already answered the question with his actions.  He was aware of the risks, but chose to accept them and be in the arena of flight, as an actor, not a spectator.  He did this for the reasons his son spoke of in the letter. Perhaps just as his own father has balanced risk vs duty, Jon had made his own balance in turn.

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On the 4th, the improbable happened, and presented a bill for all the hours of joy flight had brought him in life. It is a terrible cost, but a possibility a deliberate man like Jon understands as a real possibility. As the last trace of light left the evening sky, I concluded that the most moving thing about Jon was that his childhood didn’t steal anything from him, it conversely gave him a deep understanding about things some fathers feel they must do.

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For the times we shared I remain grateful. People outside of aviation will be fixated on his accident, but I find this a predictable reaction of someone who is a hapless passenger in their own life.  Jon Coxwell was the antithesis of this, a cognizant man in command of his life. He offers the testimony that most accurate way to measure men and their fathers is simple to consider how they choose to live.

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In response to the story about balsa planes and childhood: Fixing America is going to cost each of us $1.69

Jon Coxwell wrote:

“I just could not pass up commenting on the balsa wood planes.  I grew up in two worlds simultaneously literally 120 miles apart.  The first was in the largest city in Montana (Billings, about 60,000 when I was a kid, bigger now) and the second on a small cattle ranch nestled against the Little Belt Mountains in central Montana.  It was in my first world where I lived with a grandmother during the school year.  The house was at the intersection of two very quiet tree lined residential streets.  My airplane of choice was rubber band powered with jaunty long wire landing gear.  The only place my friends and I could have a successful takeoff was in the intersection of the two streets.  Other wise the plane would soon be in the trees.  Flying that rubber band powered ship was the impetus for learning to climb trees so I could retrieve it.  More than once, cars would stop and wait for us to complete our flight.  I think the adults got just as much fun out of it as we kids did.  (Those were the days when mothers and grandmothers knew of us playing in the street but just admonished us to watch for cars.  It was learning to take responsibility for our own actions.)  We would grease up the prop bearing with Vaseline and wind the rubber band to 16 knots to get an extra 20 feet of altitude.  What a life!

My second world was where I learned about motors.  I do not remember any flat head lawn mowers but I did build an electric reel mower from plans in Popular Mechanics.  My step dad was always overhauling a tractor, truck, or the little jeep in less than ideal conditions.  A family friend gave me an old Wizzer bike motor and I proceeded to build a go kart.  It didn’t work well as all the roads were dirt and rutted but my dad saw my interest and proceeded to help me scrounge Model T parts from all the old homesteads.  He knew where all of the old Fords had been pushed into the brush when the homesteaders starved out in the thirties.  Before I was out of high school I had a running Model T to chug around the hills in.  The only thing I had to buy was 2 tires.  When the GN-1 flies it will be dedicated to my natural father (a WWII B-24 squad commander) who gave me the genetic interest in flying and my step dad who taught me the manual skills and patience I needed to build an airplane.”

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If you would like to share some thoughts with Mark Coxwell directly, his email address is mtredtek@msn.com.  Feel free to share thoughts in the comment section here also.

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wewjr.

 

About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 20 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at www.FlyCorvair.com and in more than 50 magazine articles.

5 Responses to Jon Coxwell passes from Earth, 4 July 2017.

  1. Carl Orton says:

    Very eloquent, William; it’s very obvious from your writings that you are not only a profuse writer, but a profuse meditator as well. Very nice way in which you honored Jon. I wish I had known him.

  2. Terry Samsa says:

    This is sad news. I met Jon at CC20. We camped near each other at the field and were working at the same bench. He had a core engine he was working on and mine was about ready to run. He drove us into town to a McDonald’s one day for lunch where we talked about Montana. (My Father-in-law grew up in the same area Jon did). In a photo of me and my running engine is Jon standing in the background. He was happy to help out any way he could. After the college we exchanged emails for awhile. He was interested in my Montana connection and people and places we may have had in common. He was a kind man and a fast friend that weekend. My deepest condolences go out to his family.

  3. Mark Coxwell says:

    William,

    Thank you for the very well written and thought out tribute to my dad, he would have been honored to read your words, as am I. Thank you for offering the insight you did as well, you pointed out some things I had been struggling to grasp, and I very much appreciate your thoughtfulness. If you don’t mind, I may read some or all of this at a memorial service for him, I don’t know if I could say some of it much better. Much appreciated.

    Mark Coxwell

  4. Bob 'early builder' Dewenter says:

    I too met John at CC#20 and met up at more colleges in Barnwell. John was a very nice man.

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