University City

Four generations of a family flying high

"Not many people can say they have had a plane or car in the family for 60 years," said Ryan Montambo, 39, about the Piper J-3 Cub.

"The Cub is a simple aircraft. No starter, no air conditioning, no radio, no real good way to communicate to the passenger except for talking really loud."

Montambo's grandfather, Ray Montambo, bought the plane used for $800 in 1951, from a man who bought it brand new in Michigan.

"The original owner paid $1,995, and the story is that in 1951, that's all you could get for them," said Ryan's father, Roger Montambo, 67.

After Piper Aircraft stopped making the J-3 Cub in Lockhaven, Pa., the last J-3 Cubs were made in Ponca City, Okla., in June 1947.

"A lot of his buddies flew, and he probably had the money and belonged to the pilot's club. He probably bought a plane, said, 'I'm gonna learn how to fly,' and he did," said Roger.

"It's a good clean hobby. It teaches math, meteorology and discipline. It teaches a lot of things that are good in life," said Roger, who remembers flying with his father.

His mother, Sharon, also goes to fly-ins. Roger and Sharon live on Radbourne Boulevard in University Cityarea.

Ray, who grew up in Stambaugh, Mich., died in 1989. Roger grew up in Milwaukee, Michigan and near St. Paul, Minn.

"I remember flying in the plane at an early age, maybe 10. He took the wheels off and put snow skis on it," said Roger.

The skis would enable the plane to land - with no brakes - on frozen lakes.

"It was kind of fun. My buddies would go with me; we'd put two buddies in the backseat," said Roger.

"We took off one day to go flying and the snow was about five feet deep by the hangar, and we shoveled a ramp to get out, and we came back by 2 or 3 p.m. and were coming back to the hangar and the plane sunk into the snow. Down she went.

"Not a lot of people had planes. My buddies came, and we lived in a small hick town, and we'd zoom up to the airport and go for a ride. It was kind of cool," said Roger.

The Cub is yellow, with a lightning bolt painted along the side that's synonymous with the Piper Cub brand.

"It's a plane that trained a lot of people because it was affordable. It's synonymous with learning how to fly in the '40s and '50s," said Roger.

Roger re-covered the fuselage with new fabric and bought it from his father for $2,500 in 1976.

Roger still owns the plane, but Ryan loves it fiercely and flies it proudly.

"We are truly fortunate," said Ryan, who lives in Mooresville with his wife, Brandy, and children. "I can remember going with my grandfather to check on the Cub when I was a child visiting on vacation. After my dad took possession of the plane and moved it to Red Wing, Minnesota, I can recall many weekends playing at the airport with other kids, and the flights we would make."

Ryan recalls landing on the lakes and coves of the Mississippi, near the ice shacks and fishermen.

"I remember seeing fish frozen in the ice, and I always thought that was cool," he said.

Every year, the Montambos went to Osh Kosh, Wis., and met other families, united by a love of flying. They'd spend several days at air shows, making new friends, watching aerobatics, taking engines apart and exploring other planes.

Ryan now creates new memories flying with his family: his wife, Brandy, 35, and children Andrew, 9, and Kira, 7.

Andrew and Kira help remove the tiedowns during pre-flight prep and "help" fly, since the plane has two sets of controls.

According to Roger, there's no reason the plane wouldn't fly for another 100 years. Planes from even as far back as the 1920s have been restored multiple times.

"My dad loved flying. He stuck within 75 miles of home, but he had a passion for going up and looking at the trees and the sky," said Roger.

"For other pilots, it's cool, it's a neat machine," said Brandy. "With Roger and Ryan, it's part of who they are. It's like water or food to them."