I’ve taken a few flying lessons and always wanted to get a pilots license. Too many things got in the way and I’ve never pursued that goal. Gayle has always discouraged me, because she thinks I’d forget to put gas in the plane and not bother to go through the check list and prepare for a flight. She thinks I’d just hop in, crank the sucker over and take off. She thinks I’m too impulsive and unorganized to be a pilot.
I’ve lost friends in plane crashes and don’t mean to minimize the importance of proper flight training and the discipline and caution necessary to be a pilot. But I have to admit to some stupid behavior when I was a kid.
My brother Tom is the best pilot I’ve ever known. I’m not saying that because he’s my brother. I’ve flown with him and he is an excellent pilot. He retired as a Captain with TWA and was known for his landing skills, among others. They say he can land a commercial airliner so gently that the passengers can’t tell when the wheels touch the ground. He was contacted by the
Clinton administration to investigate a well
publicized plane crash and earned the respect of the big shots at TWA,
including the CEO, who came to Tom’s retirement party. Tom is the real deal.
I was just a “wannabe” pilot. The first time I flew a plane was with an old bush pilot who was mentally deranged. He was going to teach me how to fly. I sat behind him and followed his instructions, placing my feet on the pedals and holding onto the stick. “Just feel what I do as we take off,” he said.
We took off and gained altitude very quickly. When we leveled off this maniac flipped the plane upside down. I thought it was fun and, as dirt and debris fell from the floor in my face, I noticed that both of us had our hands on the roof. We were upside down and the pilot wasn’t flying the plane. “Okay. It’s your turn. Fly the plane,” the maniac ordered. He had no intention of taking the controls.
Somehow I managed to coordinate the pedals with the stick and got the plane back on the level. We both got a laugh out of that, but I’m not sure that’s the best way to learn to fly. It’s like tossing a kid in a lake and saying, “Okay. Now swim.”
In another act of youthful foolishness, I was in
where a good Canadian friend managed a small airport. He didn’t have a pilot’s license either, but had
taken a lesson or two. So one day, when
the airport was empty, we “borrowed” a plane and flew over to the . We made it without incident, loaded
the plane with pineapples, and flew back to island of Lanai Maui.
Another thing I remember was when my brother turned the controls over to me as we flew a small plane over
. I spotted a party boat loaded with
fishermen and decided to dive-bomb the boat.
The fishermen heard the engine screaming from the sky and seemed to be
running back and forth on the deck in panic.
It looked like a nest of ants when you lift up a rock. The older fishermen probably thought it was a
Kamikaze pilot caught in a time warp. Monterey Bay
Tom and I were both laughing until I yanked back on the controls to pull out of the dive. Tom grabbed the controls to prevent the wings from breaking off. I guess you need to be gentler when pulling out of a dive. That’s the only time I ever saw fear on my brother’s face.
I’ve told Gayle some of these stories from my youth. Maybe that’s what undermined her confidence in my potential as a pilot. For some reason Gayle thinks I would be better at barbequing burgers than flying a plane. I have no idea why she would think that way.