I remember the first time I got to fly in a plane. I was traveling with my grandmother up to Little Rock and we were flying aboard a big jetliner, at least it was big to me. I wanted to sit next to the window so I could take in every bit of the flight. I don’t remember much about the flight, but I do remember that I was excited for days before the flight actually took place.
I imagine Andy’s excitement Saturday morning as we boarded my father’s Cherokee Piper for a short flight over the Texas countryside. Andy had to make a choice for Saturday morning. He could either ride Birthday Girl, Pop’s aging horse, or go up in Pop’s airplane. He chose the airplane after much deliberation. As he put it, he got to spend time with Birthday Girl on Friday evening when he helped Pops round her up and put her in the stall for the night. He had never been in Pop’s plan. He actually has, but he was about 4 at the time and just doesn’t remember it. In fact, while sitting in the back seat on that flight, he fell asleep.
Three years makes a difference. He couldn’t wait to go flying Saturday morning. Not that he was so excited that I had to peel him off the walls or anything like that. He was handling his excitement and the trip very well. He was listening to us and patient as Pops rolled the plane out of the hangar. He was amazed at Pops’ strength too. He waited to hop up on the wings, and then listened to the instructions once inside the plane. He even allowed me to put the ear plugs in his ears, which he didn’t like, but wore them nonetheless. He wanted to go flying.
Flying with my Dad is always a joy because I trust him as a safe pilot. All my life he has been interested in boats, tractors and now planes. Since I was a small boy I have watched him handle such vehicles with the utmost of care. I grew up in Houston, and just about every other weekend we were down in Galveston where my Dad kept his boats. The first one that I remember was the Velda Rose. The next was the Roebuck, and after that, the Oleek. With each boat, safety was always a priority and making sure the boasts were sea-worthy was never far behind. He took safety seriously, especially given that we had seen so many boating accidents that could have been avoided with just a tad bit of safety. That is why he took the essentials courses from the Power Squadron and was a member for years. He was going to do everything he could to keep us safe.
My father applies the same principles to flying. He didn’t start flying until he was 72 years old, and got his license by the time he was 74. Safety is everything. He follows the pre-flight check list to the letter. He is going to do everything he can to make sure we have a safe flight and get back down on the ground.
That is one reason why I have no reservations about flying with my Dad. At 81 years old, he is still just as fit and safe flying as he was with his boats so many years ago.
We sat on the tarmac while he went through the check list. I listened into the radio chatter on the head phones and noted the increase in planes coming in for a landing. The tower attributed the increase to “lunch time.”
After things were ready, we taxied to the end of the run way and watched as plane after plane landed. It wasn’t bad, but enough that my Dad made a quip about not beting able to get off the ground until sundown. The tower quipped back “Gene you have to get earlier in the morning than this.”
No call sign. Just his first name. That’s how well the people at the airport know him. He’s Gene. I couldn’t help but chuckle. When my Dad throws himself into something, he does it with both feet and does it well. That means knowing as many people as he can at the airport, especially those in the tower. I should have expected that.
The last plane landed and we saw our window. He increased the throttle and we crept out onto the runway. Sitting in the front seat gave me direct view of the runway. I could hear him call into the tower stating his intentions. With all things clear, he gave the engine full throttle and we moved forward much quicker than I anticipated. Within seconds I expected the wheels to lift off the runway. A few more seconds and we popped up off the runway and were air borne. That is what I admire in Dad’s Cherokee. It doesn’t take much to get up to speed and to lift off.
I turned around to see Andy in the back. He was grinning and gave me the pilot’s thumbs up! He was loving it as much as I was.
Then the bottom dropped out. We hit an air pocked and dropped a few feet. Nothing serious, just enough to give me that roller coaster thrill. Those of you who know me, know I don’t like roller coasters or the thrill they produce. Since we were so late in getting up in the air, the afternoon thermals were upon us. Dad says no pilot likes the thermals. Thermals make for a bumpy ride and bumpy rides in airplanes are not a lot of fun. We climbed to 2,500 feet and settled in for the flight. We were going to head over to I-10 in the El Campo area, turn around and come back. Just a short 45 minute flight in all. But then there were those thermals.
After about 15 minutes, my Dad made the suggestion that we head back to the airport. The thermals would do nothing but get worse until later in the day. I quickly agreed. Not that he couldn’t handle the thermals. But if we got enough of them, I didn’t want to get motion sickness.
It is one thing to take off in an airplane. It’s quite another landing it. It’s actually a controlled fall. Dad made the huge arc to come in line with the runway. He was coming in a bit hot, a little too high and a bit fast. But the good thing about the Brenham airport, there is plenty of runway and the Cherokee Piper doesn’t need much.
The runway grew larger and larger and when I expect the wheels to touch down, I had to wait a few more seconds. The plane touched down and the tribulation of the tires catching up with the speed vibrated the plane. Dad did just fine. It was a short, uneventful flight, exactly what every pilot wants.
Andy loved it. Up until that point, it was his favorite event of our Father/Son weekend together in Texas. I’m glad he enjoyed it. I think he will remember it for the rest of his life, which is exactly what I was hoping for.