Flying in Small Planes
SMALL AIRPLANES HAVE BEEN PART OF MY LIFE for nearly every decade of my existence. I realized this recently while I was taking a commuter plane out of Manistee to visit my youngest son David and his family in Chicago. I smiled, thinking the airplane was a bit long in the tooth. Thank goodness for well-paid mechanics was my quick assessment as I peered out the small window hoping the craft had one more flight left in her.
My first experience riding in a small plane was in 1962. I was a newly minted thirteen-year-old and I joined my second oldest brother Dick, for plane rides out at Berz Airport in Troy, Michigan. For $6 a person, you could double-up and enjoy a twenty-minute ride in a single-engine Piper Cub. Our instructor, George, was the airport owner’s youngest son. He looked like a pilot, always with a swagger wearing his aviator sunglasses strutting about the office and hanger. Was I ever impressed!
Dick’s hobby was building and flying model airplanes. This served as his stepping stone to taking flying lessons. For me, I was keen on the adventure of it, but mostly I enjoyed hanging out with my older brother. Dick had earned his driver’s license that same year and on that warm day in July we climbed into Mom’s light green Buick Special station wagon and drove to the airport, a mere four miles from our house. This was during my paper route days and it was the only time I remember having extra money allowing such recreational pursuits.
I arrived at the airport armed with a permission slip from my dad and nervous anticipation. I recall Dick starting a written log to keep track of his flying hours.Within minutes, we would be up in the air and George would begin banking the plane this way and that trying to get us hooked on the thrill of flying. Frankly, the flights scared the hell out of me. Being stuffed in the back of the plane led my list of concerns. I do not like tight spaces. The engine noise bothered me too, much preferring the steady hum of jet engines, something I had experienced that spring onboard a new Boeing 707 that took me to Florida to visit my grandfather.
It was during my second plane ride that I decided piloting would not be in my future. The previous week, I had already decided not to become a jet fighter pilot. I had just started wearing eyeglasses and rumor was the Air Force would blackball you if you did not have perfect 20/20 vision. Rejection was not something I looked forward to. On the other hand, I would have given a month’s worth of paper route collections to have had a plane equipped with a working machine gun. That was more my fantasy interests, at least when I was thirteen.
During the second flight, we flew over our house and I remember the sea of light gray shingles that covered the roof. The cupola on the garage matched the house’s white and green trim, something I had not been aware of. I was taken with my new perspective from a few thousand feet up and proud I had learned to read the altimeter from the back seat. All around the house was my yard full of trees, gardens, and green lawns. I remember also peering out the back window of the Piper noticing two nearby golf courses just to the west of my house. The golfers appeared like ants. This is when it hit me, I’d rather be down on the course, and more to the point, on the ground. When I finally put my two feet back on the runway I smiled knowing it was over. Such relief. Steve Canyon would have to move on as someone else’s hero.