Over the years Iíve had many great flights, the very best of which were ones Iíve sha
This past Friday was one of those. A two-hour, fifteen-minute flight from CMX on the extreme Northwest of Michiganís upper peninsula to PTK in SE Michigan in the right seat of my brotherís RV6. I never once touched the controls. That was OK. No, it was actually great. Minimal radio chatter. Brother/brother noise in the cockpit. Engine humming. Are we the luckiest guys in the world or what?
Arriving home, Peg hands me a package from our youngest daughter, Lauren, who is in the midst of a family PCS from the Scofield Barracks on Oahu to Garmish, Germany. In spite of an extremely busy year as a mom and wife of a Brigade XO, Lauren decided to put together a book highlighting my 50 years in aviation. She managed to reach not only many of my current friends and fellow pilots, but former colleagues, strangers Iíve given rides to who can now call me friend, ďvolunteersĒ who helped me build N323TP, members of Vans Airforce, and others too numerous to mention. Some sent pictures. Some sent words. Some pages. Imagine for a moment being handed a book containing a lifetime of memories from those that youíve loved, respected, and admired. Overwhelming. Canít pick this up without smiling. Without tears. Thank you, Lolo.
Lauren wrote the first entry, followed by her sister Leah. With words and pictures, I get to see aviation through the eyes of two little girls, now women with families of their own, who grew up with airplanes intertwined into their lives. I now see clearly why they so eagerly put their own children into the cockpit with me at ages earlier than their own first flights. I had forgotten how magical an airplane is to a little one. Imagine for a moment a seven-year-old who hasnít been near an airplane in over three years telling you very pointedly that she doesnít want a ride, she wants a lesson. I think in just a few more years, weíll have another pilot in the family.
Laurenís and Leahís husbands both supplied entries as well. Josh was not a pilot, but my initial ďinterviewĒ of him included a primary flight lesson. Looking back, it was probably not the kindest thing to do and Iím sure it was a bit stressful, but ****, sheís my daughter and he better be able to handle some pressure. Actually, he did quite well with the flying and was able to hold onto his lunch thru simultaneous stalls and questioning. Josh is a soldierís soldier. Nuff said.
Tyler, on the other hand, was a Marine pilot and commander of a KC130 when I first met him. I knew going in that my ďlessonĒ would not likely have the stress/distraction impact that I was looking for, so my recollection was that I just tried to maintain a posture of zero tolerance for any imperfections in his handling of the aircraft. Must have left an impression as Tylerís write-up is 5-6 pages long, and precise enough that I could likely use it as a mission planning draft. Of course, he too passed with flying colors.
The most important entry in the book is the last one. I met Peggy in college shortly after I earned my private license. Over the years, sheís never really questioned my skills or judgement (or lack thereof). I have however learned that whenever she gets a little anxious, she tends to look at me to see if my demeanor is showing signs of concern Ė this is one of the reasons I tell other pilots and students that if you think youíll be sweating, you shouldnít be in the sky. At the same time, Peg can also tell anyone in a most matter of fact manner, that ďif you fly into the purple area on the radar screen, youíre probably going to dieĒ. In honor of Pegís support and tolerance of my work and hobby, N323TP was registered with our anniversary date and initials.
To everyone that wrote in or provided pictures, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Iím honored. Iím humbled. Iím proud to call you friends.
Lastly, I have to offer a confession. One of the contributors to Laurenís book was my best friend from High School, Murray. Murray is certainly not a pilot, and his entry was kind and congratulatory, but there is a long-buried truth I must share. He was my first passenger as a newly minted pilot in the summer of 1971.
I had just finished my second year of college and was on an athletic scholarship. Full year tuition back then was around $500, and between my scholarship and a part time job provided by the athletic department, I was clearing over $2,000 a year. I was rich! I needed to be smart about this new found wealth, right? Yes, Iíll buy a motorcycle and take flying lessons.
Before the summer is over, Iíve got 44 hours in the log book and an FAA certificate. Iím feeling pretty **** good about myself. Iíll feel even more important if I can share this with someone. Hey Murray, do you want go for an airplane ride? Whaaaat? Iíve never been in a plane!
No sweat. Itís like driving a car. Youíll get a kick out of it. Even better, weíll do a night flight (this will not only be my first night flight with a passenger other than my instructor, it will likewise by my first flight period with my new ticket). Weíll be flying a Cessna 150. I play offensive line on a college football team and Murray is not too much smaller than me, and yes, we are well over gross, even with minimum fuel.
The story gets much worseÖ
Warm summer night in Michigan, lining up for takeoff on a 2900-foot runway, I tell Murray, ďyou do the takeoff, itíll fly itself offĒ. Power in. Speed building. Weíre stuck to the pavement. I glance over and see that Murrayís got a glazed look in his eyes and his forearms are locked. Pull back. PULL BACK! Almost instantly weíre looking at total blackness and the stall horn is blaring. I hammer the yoke and now weíre looking at pavement. Iíve got the controls. OK, stable. Arenít we having fun? After about 30 minutes (remember, minimum fuel?), I holler Murray, MURRAY DO YOU SEE K MART? WHY? IíM TRYING TO FIND THE AIRPORT. Even in the dark cockpit, I notice an odd look in his eyes.
We finally land. Weíre rolling out, and the right door pops open. We arenít off the runway. We arenít stopped, but Murray is bailing. Over the past 50 years, I hope to God that Iíve come a very long way from that inaugural flight. Divine intervention spared two lives that night and since then, Iíve endeavored to make fewer mistakes every time I take to the air. Just as importantly, I recognize that THE FIRST IMPRESSION WE MAKE ON OUR PASSENGERS OR THE PERSON NEXT TO US IS INDELIBLE. WE ALL NEED TO REMEMBER THAT. Murray and I have remained friends to this day, but in spite of my ratings and many hours in the air, he has not entered the cockpit of a general aviation aircraft since that night in 1971.
So, if you happen to be one of the many people who have ridden with me or beside me at some point and somehow felt I ďwent out of my wayĒ for you; it was my pleasure. Certainly, it was for you, but it was also for Murray.