Like Mother, Like Son


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May 9, 2022 by Scott Crosby - Views: 24

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Like Mother, Like Son

S324-4.jpgWhen she was 19 years old, my mother learned how to fly.  Her first flying lesson was on the 9th of April, 1946.  It was the first Spring after World War II, and flying still had a reputation of being something best left to daring and adventurous young men.

Forty-one years later, on an April evening in 1987, I called her up on the phone.  At my encouragement, she reminisced about those times.

“I used to do spins over my parents’ house,” she said.

“Spins?  Oh, you mean flying in circles.”

“No,” she replied.  “A spin is when one wing can no longer fly, and it stalls.  The other wing is still moving fast enough through the air to make lift, and so the plane goes into a spin.”

You never forget what you truly love.  It may have been forty years ago, or was it just yesterday?

“But why?”  I asked.

“Because it was so much fun!”

Then she paused, as a certain thought suddenly occurred to her.  

“You know, I bet they were scared to death when I did that.”

Thirty-five years of being a parent had brought her a realization that a 19-year-old girl had never considered.

S324-3.jpgHer first flight was as a passenger with a young man, in his Stinson airplane.  But soon she began taking lessons, paid for with a job at a department store.  Every pilot is required to keep a logbook, and the first entries in hers would sound very familiar to any pilot alive today.  

“Familiarization - straight and level - turns.”  

“Climbs, glides, turns, stalls.”  

“Pattern and take-offs and landings.”  –  As for every student pilot, that entry is repeated again and again.  Being able to take off and land an airplane is a necessary prelude to the next step.

“First solo OK,” wrote her instructor, in a log entry dated June 9th, 1946 – a classic log entry, and an unforgettable achievement.  

Unbeknownst to her at that time of the phone conversation, I had begun taking flying lessons in September of 1986, and had soloed on October 22nd.  After landing and even while driving home, I had an ear-to-ear grin that just would not stop.  When you first leave the ground, all by yourself in an airplane, you realize that nobody can get you back safely on the ground but you.  But all that practice pays off, and your actions are automatic.  The standard procedure is three take-offs and three landings.  By the end, you not only have done it, but you know you can do it again, any time at all.

But my mother’s solo included a small side-issue.  

“It was a grass airstrip, and my first solo flight was just a few takeoffs and landings.  The instructor kept waving to me each time I came around.  When I finally stopped, he asked, ‘Didn’t you see me waving?’  “I told him, ‘Yes, I did, but I thought you were just waving encouragement.’  ‘No,’ he said, ‘I wanted you to stop.  On your first take-off, you caught some of the bushes along the runway with your wing, and they were still there dragging along!’”

S324-2.jpgThe log book entries continue, recording all the same kind of training still required to this day.  A number of the last entries include “Check out”, which means training and review in preparation for a check-ride with an FAA flight examiner – the last step to becoming a pilot.  

The next-to-last entry is on September of 1947.  Flying in that unheated Piper Cub paused during New Jersey’s cold winter weather.  

But by the next Spring she was married, and headed off to Colorado with her new husband, to pursue his college degree on the GI Bill.

But she could not quite give up her flying:  on the 22nd of March, 1948, one last log entry was entered by a Colorado flight instructor:  “Take-offs, landings.  Check-out.”

S324-1.jpgShe spent most of the next thirty-nine years raising four children.  No longer a pilot and only that one flight as a passenger, she stayed land-bound;  no more flying.  The log book was tucked away, a carefully preserved memory.  Flying and spins were only topics for phone conversations, like that call in April of 1987.  They seemed to be of no importance to anyone.  

But in that very same phone call, she was talked into making plans to drive the 600 miles south to visit her son in South Carolina for the week of Independence Day.  

She arrived in rainy weather, but bright and happy to be spending a week with me.  Two days later, the rain finally cleared out.  I came home from work as usual, and changed into casual clothes.  Day was turning into evening, calm, quiet, and refreshing.  

“Come on; I have to go take some photographs.  Where’s your camera?  Bring it with you.”

“Where are we going?” she asked.  But I was rushing about, concentrating on my camera bag, and did not answer.

The ride in the car took less than twenty minutes.  She noticed a sign: “Greenville Municipal Airport”.

“Where are we going?” she asked again, now a bit nervous.  Still I said nothing, and just focused on turning onto a small, tree-lined lane.  

Seconds later, we could see airplanes, tied down in their rows.  I parked the car.

“Come on,” I said, heading across the macadam.

“Where?”

“Just over here.”

The rows of airplanes included many makes and models, but as we walked across the ramp, she pointed to one little airplane in particular.  It was just an old, high winged, fabric-covered, two-seat taildragger.  It looked a little lost among its newer, metal-skinned cousins.  But you could hear the greetings of an old friend when she cried out,  “Oh, look!  An Aeronca.”  

We kept walking, and the rows of planes began to thin.  

“Where are we going?” she asked again, her tone more nervous than before.

“Just up here.”

“I’m not going flying,” she said, working to keep up.  “I wouldn’t trust another pilot.”  

We passed every airplane but one.  This moment had been months in the making.  I pulled my keys from my pocket and unlocked the doors.  

“What are you doing?!  Whose plane is this?”  Her voice sounded like she had lost her balance.  

“Get in.”

“What?!?”

“Get in!”

“Oh, no, I can’t go flying!”  But she needed no coaxing to jump in and buckle her seat belt.  

I got in and put the key in the ignition.  “What are you doing?  You can’t fly this!  Are you a pilot?”

I did the only sensible thing:  I showed her my log book in answer.  

The evidence was there, in the same old simple entries.  September 12, 1986:  “Orientation, preflight and aircraft familiarity.  Climb, descent, turns.”  October 22: “Touch and go; first solo.”  The entry for November 29 is the first to record aircraft N6673S, the Cessna 150 I had bought.  And finally, on April 25: “Private pilot certificate issued.”  

I had known all along that a spin is not just flying in circles.

On a beautiful July evening, above Greenville and the surrounding countryside, two pilots went flying.

Mr. Crosby has logged over 2600 hours of flying time in the 36 years since he began flying in 1986.  He is a member of the Executive Team for the Upstate Aviation Club, and Vice President of the South Carolina Breakfast Club.  

For more information about flying, visit his webpage, ”http://flying.scottcrosby.info”.■

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