Saturday, June 17, 2006

Why My Dad Flies



Career military life is no picnic. I am an eyewitness to that. We lived at six different places between when I was born and when I graduated high school because my dad’s career as a pilot demanded it. Despite all the moving, I don’t think our life was any better or worse than any of the other suburban middle class families we always lived around. I know a lot of children of civilians that moved much more often than I did. And I can't say I ever truly wanted for anything I genuinely needed.

Why did my dad do it? Simple, he loves to fly. He was an F-4 Phantom II fighter jock through and through. In junior high, my friends and I would drop in at the squadron building and mooch sodas. The only price was having to watch grainy gun camera footage from his latest exercise.

My dad served a year in Vietnam and had friends shot down and taken POW. Before the Shah fell, he delivered an F-4 to the Imperial Iranian Air Force and brought home an impressive samovar. I like to call him has an Iranian gun-runner, which is only true when taken entirely out of context. He also had a one year unaccompanied tour in Korea while I was in tenth grade. All my friends thought my mom was a single parent, which in a way she was.

When he was assigned to fly a GSD (Gray Steel Desk), he used his GI Bill benefits to get a commercial pilot's license. On his last tour of duty in Hawaii, he moonlighted as a pilot for an island hopper service. As soon as he was retired, he drove cross country and interviewed at every airline and eventually got hired by TWA, where he flew 747's and 727's for another ten years.

When he was laid off from TWA for six months, I hooked him up with a pilot buddy of his I had met who ran a small courier flying service. Now that he is truly retired, he owns a vintage Stinson Flying Station Wagon (flying VW Beetle would be a more accurate size comparison), which he takes to flying shows. He has shown it at Oshkosh, and he volunteers at Sun-N-Fun in Lakeland every year. On the weekends, he flies the tow-plane for a soaring glider club.

He has spent his life doing what he loves and raised three children at the same time. What more can a man ask for? And what better dad could a son have?

For stories about dads and roadtrips, read Joel Achenbach’s Father’s Day post. Be sure to read the follow-up stories and anecdotes along with the usual foolishness and fooforaw in the Boodle (comment section for you non-Achenoscenti). I even contributed one tale.

13 comments:

Mooselet said...

I love to fly. Not that I have a license, nor have I been in years, but the feeling never leaves you. If your Dad wants to encourage flying in young people, he should check out his local Civil Air Patrol. Your dad sounds very cool.

Paige said...

I'm not crazy about flying. Please send my thanks to your dad for serving our country.
Hi here by way of Michele's today. Happy weekend

Curmudgeon said...

Hi, yellojkt. Curmudgeon here. I, too, posted a long piece about my father over on the Achenblog, but have a Dad/flying story for you here.

My father was in the Navy during WWII, and was quartermaster on a subchaser in the South Pacific (he and his PC1135 sank Japaense sub I-26 near Wotje). I was born 9 months and 20 minutes after my father got home from the Navy; my brother followed 16 months later.

Soon after he returned home, my father started taking flying lessons in small airports around Philly, and soon got his license. When I was 5, the company he worked for had some sort of vacation house in Ft. Lauderdale, as well as a corporate plane--a Beechcraft V-tail. With the company pilot on board, my father flew my mom, brother, and me to Ft. Lauderdale (I believe we landed in Opalocka). Great trip--saw the Everglades, etc.

Every now and then, my father rented a plane for a local flight here or there, to keep his hand in: Aeroncas, Piper Cubs, Aircoupes, and Taylorcraft (I don't remember any Cessnas, but might have been). Every year on our birthdays, he would take the birthday boy up for a flight--that was supposedly "our" birthday present, but I suspect my dad enjoyed it even more than we did.

Then came the year he took me up (I was maybe 7, don't exactly remember how old I was) and flew along the Delaware River in Philly. He flew UNDER the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge (north Philly to Jersey). I actually don't remember it. But somebody got the plane's registration number, and complained to the FAA. A few days later, somebody called the house and asked who it was who flew under the bridge. Unfortunately, it was my mother who answered the phone. Between my mother and the FAA, that was the end of my father's flying career--one or the other yanked his license. Though he never flew again, we still continued to visit local airplanes in the Philly suburbs to watch the planes take off and land. By the time I was 8 or 10 I could identify every kind of small airplane there was by make and model type, and all military planes as well. And of course as a kid I only built about a thousand model airplanes.

Happy Father's Day, yel, and see you at the next BPH.

Karen said...

I posted a reminiscence on the A-blog a few days ago about being a co-pilot in my dad's Piper Cub when I was too small to see out the windows. At age 3, I'd already been flying for years. Once when my parents hadn't been married too long they flew the Piper Cub from Oklahoma to Baltimore to visit my mom's family. There was a storm over Kansas that necessitated an emergency landing in a farmer's field. The farmer and his wife came out to see who had landed on their property. My dad got out with my brother, then age 3, and they were amazed: "You are flying that plane with this baby?!?" Then my mother got out with me (age 8 months) in her arms. Once they got over their double shock, they gave us shelter for the night, and our two families exchanged Christmas cards for the next 40 years or so.

The Piper Cub was an unjustifiable extravagance, at a time when my parents were eating off a folding card table because they couldn't afford a dining room set. My mother never has completely gotten over it. But my dad really enjoyed the plane and used it as much as he could for practical purposes, not just flying around aimlessly. He later had a Cessna 150 for many years.

yellojkt said...

Thanks for the great stories, kb and 'mudge. I have a lot of great flying stories I should get around to telling too.

SonofCarl said...

yellojkt, great stories. Many of the base brats I know are better for the experience of moving around - much more adaptable and with a broader range of experience.

I loved your copyright notice.

Flyboy said...

Thank you for the nice blog on fathers' day. And here is wishing you a great Fathers' Day also.

yellojkt said...

Mission Accomplished.

Adouble said...

For a depressing father's day roadtrip story, check out the most recent This American Life. It starts around the 14 minute mark.

Harmonica Man said...

Sounds like you led an exciting and adventurous life. It's funny how those of us who grew up on the same street always dreamed of living a more exotic life and those of you who moved around a lot always yearned for more stability.

I think it's one of those you always want what you don't have kind of things.

Star said...

Wonderful Father's Day post.

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