George Matson Brown's Home Page

1931 Glider license, signed by Orville Wright

by Sheldon Brown

My father, George Matson Brown, was born in Outlook, Washington December 16, 1908, and died when he crashed his airplane in 1953, when I was 9.

I have only vague memories of him, but I cherish them. He was a great dad. He used to take me flying with him most weekends, in his Ercoupe (NC93314) or, later, his Piper Cub (NC7077H). He kept his planes at a small grass-strip airport in Somers, Connecticut, not far from our home in North Tarrytown, (recently renamed "Sleepy Hollow") New York. I remember being very proud of the fact that the Ercoupe was the only plane at the airport with a new-fangled metal propeller. He used to let me fly the plane sometimes, though I never took off or landed. I could fly the Ercoupe, because it had no rudder pedals; the Cub, you needed to be able to reach the pedals, and I couldn't.

George Matson Brown George Matson Brown and Sheldon Brown George Matson Brown and Sheldon Brown
George Brown, Yakima, Washington
Christmas 1909 (Anders Junnila photo)
Sheldon and Arlene Brown in Piper Cub (George Brown photo) George Matson Brown
and Sheldon Brown, Christmas 1950?
Ercoupe Ercoupe Ercoupe
George and Madalyn Joyce Brown Howard Dearstyne photo, 1950
My parents in the Ercoupe
My brother soloing, probably 1951-52.
My father took this picture,
but I printed it under his supervision.
5 bikes Workshop Workshop

He taught me how to do (and recover from) a stall. He liked to do fun maneuvers like loops, chandelles, and, my favorite, the Immelmann turn, which is sort of a half-loop with a twist. You climb until you are going straight up, twisting the plane around its axis at the same time, so by the time you have made half a loop, the plane is right-side-up, but now going the other way. I didn't like loops so much, it was uncomfortable dangling upside-down from the seatbelt...

He grew up in Zillah, Washington, a small farming village in reclaimed desert country in central Washington. His parents, Sheldon Charles Brown, for whom I am named, and Ida Mattson Brown, had a farm there (though he preferred to call it a "ranch"). If memory serves, the "ranch" consisted mainly of fruit orchards, particularly "'cots" (apricots.) Sheldon was a scientific farmer, a graduate of the University of Oregon. He fought in the Philipines during and after the Spanish-American war. His grandfather, Anders Junnila, a.k.a. Andrew Brown was a Finnish sailor who immigrated at San Francisco in 1869.

My father was a life-long tinkerer, and an engineering graduate of the Washington State College (now W. S. University.) In the early '30's, he drove across the country in an old Model T Ford jalopy. During the tough years of the Depression, he worked for a while as a dishwasher in a carnival, before taking an engineering job with General Electric in Schenectady, N.Y. His first wife, Winifred Fairbanks, died in January, 1941, leaving him with two children, Richard and Arlene.

In 1943, he married Madalyn Joyce, of Marblehead, Massachusetts and Schenectady, and I was born in 1944. She legally adopted Richard and Arlene, so it is incorrect to refer to them as my "half-siblings", especially as we have always been very close. My brother is a diplomat, currently serving in Kazakhstan; my sister is a professor of sociology at Lake Forest College, in Illinois.

My dad was an electronics engineer of considerable note, and particularly a pioneer in mobile two-way radio equipment. While working for General Electric in Syracuse and Schenectady, New York, he designed and built some of the earliest two-way radio setups to be installed in police cars and fire boats. He installed systems in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York City.

In 1946, he took a job with the New York Central Railroad, and moved to North Tarrytown, where my earliest memories begin. He was engaged in the development of railway communication equipment.

He could ride a bicycle sitting on the handlebars, facing backwards. When he was very angry, he would say "What the Sam Hill!"

He was extremely active in ham radio (W2CVV) and was a frequent contributor to the ham radio magazine CQ. He was one of the first hams to have a transmitter in his car, and wrote many articles about such equipment. Our family cars, a '46 Mercury and later a '50 Ford, had large "whip" antennas mounted on the rear bumpers, and other drivers used to slow down when they would see us coming, because they took them for police cars.

The cellar of our home was his workshop, equipped as a mini-machine shop and electronics laboratory, plus photo darkroom and firing range. When I was 6 or so, he set me up with my own little workbench under the stairs.

He loved to fly, and he made this hobby support itself by giving lessons and doing aerial photography. He was a CAA (now FAA) licensed instructor and mechanic, an unusual combination. I remember he had a special setup for instruction, where he would put orange transparent plastic inside the windshield, and the student pilot would wear green goggles. The student could see the instruments, but couldn't see out the windshield.

He was a 2nd lieutenant in the Civil Air Patrol, and in May, 1953 was called upon to fly a search-and-rescue mission for some fishermen whose boat had been struck by a liner. He tried to take off from a difficult field, in unfavorable wind conditions, and crashed in the attempt.

As he named me for his father, I have followed the tradition by naming my own son for him.

since August 4, 1996

Copyright © 1996, 2008 Sheldon Brown

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