There never was a day that I did not like airplanes! Looking up at the sky became a natural thing to do every time a strange noise streamed across the heavens. The sound and type were always a draw card to that mystery of flying.
Unlike some kids, I was fortunate enough to grow up in and around aviation. My Dad was a former Navy mechanic during World War II and after the war he continued in this trade and also became a pilot. In his old log book were many “TH” entries, meaning “Test Hop.” A short flight to determine that all was well and good with whatever repairs were made. I remember hanging around him at the Atlanta Airport for as far back as I can remember, probably three, four or five. I thought he was the greatest man in the world of course and that aviation was the most fascinating activity in the universe. This was in the early 50’s of the late twentieth century. Today perhaps, he would be making “IT” entries for “Internet Technology.”
It was a real privilege, at my age, to be spending so much time around these “Time Machines” of the sky. By a few years later, at Aero Sales, Inc., my dad’s new business at Brown Field, Fulton County Airport, I would come to know some of the great names in aviation like Bob Hoover, Steve Wittmam, Frank Tallman, and others who would come into our hanger for service, fuel, and repairs from all over the country. And every once and a while, I would “win” a ride in a brand new Aero Commander, or a Twin Beech, or a V-Tail Bonanza. It was an exciting time!
The most memorable occasion was when Santa Clause arrived one Christmas, all dressed up in red and white, with his bag of gifts for us boys and girls, in a beautiful V-Tail Bonanza, an airplane that I would one day own myself! It must have been a sign!
Through the years, my family would acquire a Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser, three place airplane taildragger. On several occasions we would make trips to places we needed to be. Dad would drop us out, with the engine still running, turn around and take off again heading back home. I thought I was a “privileged” child, but I never took for granted the fact that we had an airplane. As time went on, I would come to appreciate the fine art of flying more and more.
Finally, one day, almost right out of the blue, I determined that I wanted to be a pilot! So, I got myself and things in order, and got my Dad to agree to go in halves with me, if I could find and purchase an airplane. In just a few weeks, I found and purchased the most beautiful little 1946 Ercoupe 415-C, you have ever seen. Blue and white with a sunburst design and blue tinted plexiglass. We originally flew it out of a grass field called Pinewood Airport and then moved it to Cartersville Airport, where I hired an instructor, an operating duster pilot, named Walter Barnes. He was the greatest and within a relatively short number of hours, five, he had me soloed. But, the Ercoupe had no rudder pedals, and later I would have to get some Cessna 150 time to learn the rudder pedals, which I did.
I was off and flying for real! As a student pilot, what I really had was a license to learn about flying, and learn I did. Basic airplane handling, hand propping, take offs and landings, pattern work, cross country navigation, emergency landings you name it we had to learn it. I had to take a certified ground school at Falcon Field, Peachtree City Airport, make a certified night flight from Atlanta to Cartersville, Georgia, and back and a short cross country solo to Center, Alabama and back. By this time, I was based in Atlanta, at Brown Field my new “Home Field.” And I had a new instructor, Mr. Dan Emin, who instructed for the Georgia State Patrol. I was learning every day and building my time for my private ticket.
Alas, one day, I got lost on a business trip to Cartersville from Atlanta. How!!!! Does that happen?????? The trip up was clear, nice and otherwise uneventful. It was my first real legitimate business trip, solo, I might add. By the time I departed, in the late afternoon, the sky had become so hazy that visibility was way, way down, and I couldn’t fine the airport, I could not fine Atlanta, nor any of the local landmarks to find my way. On board was an old VHF-Coffee Grinder Radio, that I had not learned to use yet, and the tower controller was trying to give me instructions. It was no good! I could not learn under those conditions, so I said “forget it” something else has got to work. I told him I was going west until I found something that I recognized, maybe the Mississippi River! LOL! Finally, I looked down, and to my amazement I found “Lost Mountain,” a place that I was intimately familiar with! From there I followed the roads back to the airport and made a safe landing! Wow, the lessons you learn, when you are just having fun!
Later, I would make my big and final, long cross country trip, from Atlanta to Augusta to Americus and back to Atlanta. All in one long Friday day trip. I would be back by late afternoon, or so I thought. The day would begin out with a sign, when my left front valve was stuck and, as I often had to do, had to open the engine to pop it loose. 100 octane fuel for an 80 octane engine, would do that, if the valves had not been reamed out. But, it was fairly routine by now, and besides, it had NEVER happened while the engine was running, only on shutdown. Well, eventually I made it back to Atlanta, three days later and one forced landing! It was a heck of a trip and in another post, someday, I will tell you all about it and all about meeting the proverbial farmer’s daughter!
Next, I would take my “Check Ride” with the authorized FAA Instructor to get my private ticket. The day was clear and nice. After doing all the basic maneuvers required we approached the airport for landing. Remember the Ercoupe had no rudder pedals. Well, the Examiner, Mr. Bill Mobley, was so fascinated by the lack of rudder pedals, he wanted to see if “He” could land the airplane safely, and he did! He said, here, it’s your airplane, your all right! And upon getting out, he signed my ticket! Wow! I was a pilot! A real airplane “Pilot!”
It was just the beginning of a long, life time, learning curve with many new and exciting adventures that continues to this day!