Monday, September 10, 2007

Family Flying 4 - Dad

When I landed, returning my mom to terra firma, I finally flew with my dad!

My dad and airplanes. Airplanes and my dad. My dad is not a pilot, but he has been talking about airplanes my whole life. There's the story of a neighbor in rural Charlestown, New Hampshire, where he grew up. That neighbor flew an airplane out of a backyard strip. Then there was the guy who built an airplane in his garage and couldn't fit it out through the door after the wings were installed.

My dad was working on airplane radar when he was 18 and in the Navy. For most of my life, he was in the Air National Guard and then the Air Force Reserves out of the now-defunct Pease Air Force Base in Newington, New Hampshire. KC-135s and F-111s flew out of there, and old bombers were set up as static displays near the entrance to the base. We would go to air shows and special events for the families of the soldiers, often walking around various airplanes and talking about how cool they were. I remember being in the back of our old station wagon on Interstate 95 at night, driving past the end of Pease's runway and seeing fighters take off overhead, twin tails of sharpened flame stretching from their afterburners. Or meeting my dad at the Newington Mall on one of his duty weekends, and hearing the periodic thunder of KC-135s doing touch 'n gos over at the base. That's how I learned what a "touch 'n go" is -- my dad told me as we listened to the big planes do it at his air base.

Then the wind tunnel.... My dad explained Bernoulli's principle to me and helped me build a wind tunnel out of wood and glass. We went to the dump (remember those?) and found an old metal fan that we put at one end. I made a wing out of balsa, laminated it with plastic wrap and scotch tape, and we made it fly.

I think there are a lot of people like my dad, who love airplanes and flying, but just haven't ever done it. The money and time and responsibilities of raising a family, following the contours of a career, and caring for a house, barn, various pets, and a stable of cars, tractors, and boys.... Time goes by.
* * * * *
When I started learning to fly, my dad was just about the first person I wanted to call. When Oshkosh came around last year, I decided to go at just about the last minute. I called my dad to ask if he wanted to go, and he immediately said yes. We flew out by airline, rented a car, and camped at Camp Scholler. We had a great time, and I've been negligent for not blogging about the experience. In some ways, the whole experience was just too "big" to put up on a blog. Time with my dad (I've lived 500 miles away for the last five years), airplanes, me learning to fly, etc.....

We walked for miles, looking at all of the airplanes tied down around the airport and ogling some of the beautiful restorations.

We watched the airshows every day we were there.

And we relaxed by our tents every evening in Camp Scholler, enjoying our books and the comfort of my camp chairs.

Behind it all was the theme of what I was going to do when I finally had my license, and what he could do if he got his. Somehow I'm not surprised that my dad has shown up in so many photos of my young nephew Emerson falling in love with airplanes. I think I have vague memories of him lifting me up to look in airplanes thirty or so years ago.

So my dad was one of the first people I wanted to take flying. But months went by. It took me a few months after my checkride before we even got into the same state. Then there were other obligations and just not enough time to get to the airport, checked out in a rental, etc. Short of coming down to Maryland and parking himself on my couch until I took him flying, there's not much more my dad could have done to get into the air. We've come close, as I've written before, but it just never worked out.
So it was with a LOT of anticipation that I walked up to my dad at the fence after flying my mom around the beach. I briefed him, making sure he knew how to latch and unlatch the seatbelt and door, the climbed in. I told him about the flights I'd taken with my Nana and mom, and asked if he'd like to do the same or head inland. He didn't really have a preference, so I figured we'd head inland toward lake country.
I talked through my runup so he could follow along, asked him if he was ready, and we rolled down Runway 14. I climbed higher as we headed toward my parents' cottage in New Hampshire about 30 NM away. There were some hills at about 2,300 feet, so I climbed to 4,500 as we headed West. It was beautiful. The sun was low, the air was clear, and there was no turbulence.
Surprisingly, though, there WAS a significant headwind of 20-30 knots. As the duration of our flight to the cottage grew longer, and looking at the lowering sun, thinking of the people still on the ground hoping for a ride, I decided that we didn't have time to go all the way to the cottage. I explained the situation to him and asked if he minded if we headed back to the airport.
Other than asking a few questions, he had been pretty quiet the whole flight. I had done most of the talking, prattling on about the different instrument indications, what I was doing, things we were seeing, and so on. He said he wouldn't mind if we turned back, so we did.
I was high as we approached the airport, and on the wrong side of the runway, so I announced that we would overfly the airport 1,000 feet above pattern altitude. As we approached the airport, I flashed my taxi and landing lights at the small group of family on the ground, then I circled around and we entered the pattern to land.
Since he had been so quiet, I hadn't bothered to give him my usual spiel about avoiding non-essential conversation during the landing phase of flight. As I was about to turn base, he asked a question. I gave him a quick answer, then asked him to hold other questions until we were on the ground. There was a light crosswind, but I turned in another great landing.
As we taxied back, I said, "So, what do you think?" He said, "I think it's great!" Later that night, I gave him my logbook to sign. He wrote:
"Flying like clouds, floating like a feather, and just as smooth!
Well done! Dad."

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