I was 13 years old when my mother saw the local flight school’s ad in the paper offering five dollar rides. I remember her driving me and my younger siblings to the airport after church that day in our dark blue Chevy Caprice Classic. I was still dressed in my 1980’s “Sunday best”. It was a hazy summer day in late June and I was excited at the prospect of an airplane ride. I waited anxiously for my turn. The rides were being offered in four seat Piper Warriors, one seat occupied by the pilot and three seats for passengers.
I watched people go on their rides ahead of us and strategized how to get the seat in the front next to the pilot. As luck would have it, my mother asked me if I’d be OK going with another group of people while she went for a ride with my two younger siblings. I figured I’d have a better shot at getting to ride in the front if I did, so I jumped at the opportunity. My strategy worked. I was teamed up with two brothers about my age. As I boarded the airplane with them, the pilot asked me if I wanted to sit up front. “OK” I replied, barely able to contain the adrenaline rush from the excitement.
The airplane was white with one black and two green stripes. It had tail number ending in 73X-ray. I stepped up onto the wing, the last one to enter the airplane through its only door on the right side. The pilot gave us a briefing and fired up the piston engine, but not before my mother snapped a picture of me in the co-pilot’s seat.
We taxied out to the runway and our captain pushed the throttle full forward. I still get the same excitement every time I fly as I had that day when the airplane lifted off the runway freeing itself and its passengers from the bounds of earth. There is something magical about it that gives me a great sense of freedom and accomplishment.
We flew around for 15 to 20 minutes, much longer than I expected for the price. After the first five minutes, the instructor pilot turned to me and said, “Would you like to fly?” Trying to keep my excitement contained, I replied, “sure” in the best casually cool “pilot tone” I could muster. Over the next 10 minutes, the pilot let me fly the plane. It felt as though I were giving him a break while he guided me. The yoke of the airplane felt good in my hands, intuitive, as I imagined it would be. Something I had lots of practice with while pretending to fly X-wing fighters made of card board boxes with my older brother Mitch.
After we landed and taxied back, I thanked the pilot as I climbed out of the airplane. My grin was so big my cheeks hurt. I enthusiastically told my mother that I got to fly the plane. She was quite surprised. Without a doubt, that day was the catalyst for my passion in aviation, all because my mother decided to take us to the airport after seeing an ad in the newspaper for a $5 airplane ride.
I’m happy to say that seven years after that fateful day, I had the pleasure of piloting 73X-ray, with my mother in the co-pilot’s seat next to me.