The Cycle that Dropped from the Sky
Words & Photos: John Gunnell
About 200 car and bike enthusiasts made it to RVM Classics’ open house in Madison, Wis. this spring. Twice a year, Dick Munz opens up his collection to share his “stuff” with other hobbyists and raise some donations for his favorite charity. All the bucks, and fives and tens and twenties that go in the bucket find their way to “Cars Curing Kids” to benefit pediatric surgery and research at the American Family Children’s Hospital.
RVM includes 50-60 cars, but there’s also a bunch of motorcycles in the collection. Biker Hotline was walking along looking at all the neatly-arranged motorcycles and memorabilia when we noticed a large piece of cloth draped over a khaki green machine. Our first thought was, “Who messed up that display?” However, the cloth turned out to be an authentic World War II parachute.
The parachute was draped over a 1944 Cushman Model 53 Airborne Scooter. It seems that in the late stages of the fighting in Europe, Allied paratroopers used scooters like this one to help maintain contact between units. The Cushmans increased the troops’ mobility and enabled them to carry small loads on an accessory trailer that could also be airdropped.
Cushman Motor Works designed the Model 53 Airborne Scooter to be delivered by parachute or carried by glider. It had a hitch to pull the model M3A4 general-purpose utility cart. By adding certain equipment, the cart could be converted to carry a .30-cal. or .50-cal. machine gun or an 81mm mortar, though the scooter often could not pull a heavy load.
Cushman made nearly 5,000 airborne scooters for the military beginning in 1944. The rugged, simple Model 53 could travel through a foot of water, climb a 25 percent grade and travel about 100 miles. The “mini bike” was powered by a one-cylinder 16M71 engine that generated all of 4.6 hp. It weighed in at 255 lbs. and had a top speed of 40 mph when not pulling a trailer and hauling lots of gear.