How would you react if your teenager asked permission to build an airplane in your backyard, with dreams that it would enable him to go anywhere he wanted? It might sound so ridiculous that you'd say OK, believing there's no way it'll ever happen.
But 80 years ago, this was a real effort by the Brosky brothers, led by 14-year-old Stanley, whose plane rocked all of Hope Hollow in Carnegie.
Stanley, who would later become a physicist and entrepreneur solving technical problems for the Navy and others, had already built his own ham radio station. He talked to radio operators around the world, with the unfortunate side-effect that his conversations frequently broke into the favorite soap operas of neighbors listening to their radios in the 1930s. Husbands would come by to pound on the door and demand, "Knock it off or I'll ..."
The urge to build a single-engine, single-wing plane hit Stan after seeing a Popular Mechanics article with detailed drawings describing how to do it. When word got out that he was going to build the first airplane of "Hope Hollow Airline," everyone he knew began offering help.
The owner of a lumber yard provided light-weight pine wood. An auto repair shop offered a Model-T Ford engine. A junk yard donated parts that helped connect the drive shaft to the propeller. Local gas stations donated thick canvas for the wing and body skeleton that Stan cut and sewed on his mother's sewing machine (which upset her once she realized he was damaging her needles). The only expense was $3.50 for two airplane wheels purchased at Mayer's Airfield in Bridgeville.
It seemed every teenager around wanted to help build the plane. The Brosky household became an animated gathering place after school with boys shouting, "What else can I do, Stan?" The hardest part was carving a propeller over days from a 6-foot-long, 4-inch-by-4-inch post.
Once everything was assembled, there was a clamor to test the motor and propeller. It had so much power once turned on that it created a dust storm traveling through the hollow to Scott Township. It being a Monday, when all the housewives were doing their laundry, many came running up to complain loudly.
At one point, someone remembered to ask Stanley and our brother John (the future state Superior Court judge) assisting him, "Do you have a pilot's license?" Negative! The two of them walked to Mayer's Airfield to take five 30-minute lessons costing $5 each.
Then it was time to position the plane for flight. Picture 20 teenagers pushing an airplane up the street for half a mile, directing traffic to move to the side, until they reached Virginia Manor in Mt. Lebanon. No houses had been built there yet, and it had a smooth field to roll down.
Once there, Stan started the motor with a loud roar. The plane rolled down the hill and broke through a cow pasture fence. From all the vibration in the motor, the propeller broke in half and part of it flew into the air. Everyone ran for cover behind trees.
Disappointed but still determined, we pushed the plane back home, with an escort from a policeman who initially thought the plane had crash-landed. Then we made small repairs and carved a new propeller, this time bolting it on more securely.
On our second try, some 30 teenagers pushed the plane up the street. Our airfield this time would be Foxcroft Hill in Scott, again where no houses were yet built.
After starting the plane's engine, Stan quickly cut it when realizing the tail's tendency to lift high off the ground. Weight was needed on it. Someone yelled, "Your youngest brother is about 50 pounds!" Just right. So Vernon Brosky sat on the tail with his legs wrapped around the back end and people yelling, "Hang on, Vern!"
The motor was gunned and the plane started to roll down the hill. It hit a bump and bounced a couple feet into the air. That was all the crowd needed to begin shouting, "It flew! It flew!" Stan cut the motor, and Vern was relieved. His knees were shaking. We had, after all, neglected any concept of a seat belt for him.
The Wright Brothers' legacy was never quite threatened, but for days afterward in our part of the South Hills the major item of conversation was the maiden "flight" made by Stanley Brosky -- with the help of dozens of his fellow teenagers -- for Hope Hollow Airline.
George Brosky is a retired hospital administrator and Navy commander living in Honolulu.