Slipping the surly bonds of earth. . . being at eye level with the puffy cumulus clouds that build over west Texas in the afternoon hours. . . the lazy, efficient power-off glide back to the short and narrow runway the local cropdusters used. . . the gentle touching down and the audible "chirping" of the main landing gear when they kissed the hot asphalt. . . I made up my mind on THAT day that someday, I would become a pilot.
I was blessed. My first airplane ride was courtesy of my uncle, an Air Force pilot who had just finished his Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona.
Throughout the years, everytime my uncle came to town in his airplane, I would hint about taking a flight. He always understood and almost always (unless the weather decided otherwise) took me up. He's the one responsible for me earning my wings and to this day, he remains my favorite flying passenger, mentor and perpetual instructor.
I grew up loving airplanes. All airplanes. If it had wings--I preferred fixed wings--I was fascinated and enamored by it. After high school, I enlisted in the Air Force.
I was in Valhalla. All those airplanes. . . jets, turbines like the C-130 and even a few piston engine types were held over and used by remote State Guard units. Overseas, you'd see a few piston engine aircraft still being used by that nation's military.
Air Force and Navy pilots amazed me. I idolized them. Military pilots are generally pretty cool people and the ones who were true aviators always saw in someone like me, that love and adoration of the sky.
Two fighter pilots in the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, back in the old Tactical Air Command (TAC) days, had planes of their own. One had a Cessna 210 and the other a Piper J3 Cub. Both used to take me flying on good weather days, and I loved every minute of it.
It took some years later, after the military and after college and after some hard years on the career trail, but eventually I earned my private pilot's license. To this day, I still enjoy each flight almost as much as I did when I was a wide-eyed five-year-old back in the cotton fields of west Texas.
I enjoy participating in the EAA's Young Eagles program where pilots give youngsters their first rides in general aviation airplanes. In addition, I fly for Grace Flight, which provides transportation for medical patients traveling to or from appointments or treatments. I am also passionate about helping folks experience their first ride in one of "those little airplanes."Here are a couple of pictures of such outings.
These are a couple of youngsters I took up on their first flight
as a reward for good grades.
The two young men to the left come from Ireland and
were part of a much larger group known as The Ulster Project.
If you'll note in the background, the clouds were starting
to get gray and heavy as the ceilings dropped. It rained
later that day, but we got our flights in.
And speaking of eagles. . .
I also enjoy reading about flying exploits and even though this particular e-mail exploit has been sent to me several times in the past few years, it's simply too good not to share with all of you.
It's a tale of true air superiority, told by a retired fighter pilot in only the way such an aviator could properly tell it.
(I see this almost every day but with Red Tail Hawks not Eagles, and some of the Crows I think are Ravens, but they do battle every day.)
The Hawk's sit in the tree's and watch our field for Gophers and dive bomb them and usually are successful. The Great Blue Herrons are like a CAT They walk around the field and stand like a statue then bam, they got a Gopher, I need more of them.....
This came from a gent who runs a 2000 acre corn farm up around Barron, Wi., not far from Oshkosh. He used to fly F-4Es and F-16s for the Guard and participated in the first Gulf War.
I went out to plant corn for a bit to finish a field before tomorrow morning and witnessed The Great Battle. A golden eagle - big, with about a six foot wingspan - flew right in front of the tractor. It was being chased by three crows that were continually dive bombing it and pecking at it. The crows do this because the eagles rob their nests when they find them.
At any rate, the eagle banked hard right in one evasive maneuver, then landed in the field about 100 feet from the tractor. This eagle stood about 3 feet tall. The crows all landed too, and took up positions around the eagle at 120 degrees apart, but kept their distance at about 20 feet from the big bird. The eagle would take a couple steps towards one of the crows and they'd hop backwards and forward to keep their distance. Then the reinforcement showed up.
I happened to spot the eagle's mate hurtling down out of the sky at what appeared to be approximately Mach 1.5. Just before impact the eagle on the ground took flight, (obviously a coordinated tactic; probably pre- briefed) and the three crows which were watching the grounded eagle, also took flight thinking they were going to get in some more pecking on the big bird.
The first crow being targeted by the diving eagle never stood a snowball's chance. There was a mid-air explosion of black feathers and that crow was done. The diving eagle then banked hard left in what had to be a 9G climbing turn, using the energy it had accumulated in the dive, and hit crow #2 less than two seconds later Another crow dead.
The grounded eagle, which was now airborne and had an altitude advantage on the remaining crow, which was streaking eastward in full burner, made a short dive then banked hard right when the escaping crow tried to evade the hit. It didn't work - crow #3 bit the dust at about 20 feet AGL.
This aerial battle was better than any air show I've been to, including the war birds show at Oshkosh . The two eagles ripped the crows apart and ate them on the ground, and as I got closer and closer working my way across the field, I passed within 20 feet of one of them as it ate its catch.
It stopped and looked at me as I went by and you could see in the look of that bird that it knew who's Boss Of The Sky. What a beautiful bird!
I loved it. Not only did they kill their enemy, they ate them. One of the best Fighter Pilot stories I've seen in a long time... There are no noble wars-- Only noble warriors