Flight of the Unmanned Aircraft
An exceptional event took place in 1949 when an unmanned aircraft took off from the Grays Army Airfield and landed near Ellensburg.
On February 14, 1949, Lieutenant Herbert A. Winters (1928-1995), a supply officer who needed time in the air to maintain his certification, checked out a light observation aircraft, a L-16A Aeronca, for his flight. A corporal in his office asked to come along. Corporal William G. Kaiser (b. 1926) would sit in the rear seat during the short flight. Winters and Kaiser boarded the plane with Winters setting the throttle at idle. He then stepped out of the plane to spin the propeller by hand. The engine started, he went to the door to board, and Corporal Kaiser, reaching forward to open the door, accidentally pushed the throttle forward to full open.
The L-16 leaped forward and the tail struck Winters knocking him, uninjured, to the runway. Lt. Winters watched helpless as the plane taxied down the runway. In panic Cpl. Kaiser jumped out of the plane. The plane rose into the overcast. Soon, the pilotless aircraft was heard over American Lake and then Tacoma. Efforts to locate the plane failed, it was assumed to run out of gas after three hours and crashed.
The next day Bob Krouskop (1911-1986) found the wild plane in deep snow on his pasture one-and-one-half miles east of Kittitas (near Ellensburg, some 90 air miles from GAAF). The plane had crossed the Cascade Mountains without a pilot, and made a landing without major damage. A recovery team returned the plane on a truck. Following minor repairs the L-16A returned to service and one year later sent to Korea, where it functioned as a forward air control role.
Estimated Flight Path