My father was a non-flying officer in the Army Air Corps in World War II. We rented our house in Westport, Connecticut, “for the duration,” when I was 12, and the family followed him to several stateside bases. Boys my age were intrigued with all things military, and I was especially interested in airplanes. I couldn’t grow fast enough to start flying. So, when we moved back to Connecticut when I was 14, I started taking lessons in a Taylorcraft on floats.
My first instructor had flown in the Air Corps, and he soloed me just after my sixteenth birthday with about seven hours training. Then I changed to a Cub J-3 at another seaplane operation, with a new instructor closer to home. She was Ann Shaw, who became America’s first female helicopter pilot. Ann was everybody’s favorite, but I remember two things about her in particular: she had her students fly barefoot to get a better feel of the controls, and she had us practice spins every time we gained enough altitude. I learned to love spinning, and this would eventually save my life.
After 32 hours, at age 17, I took an F.A.A. flight check and was given a private pilot’s license. After this I had a number of nonprofessional civilian flying experiences that are memorable to me. I’ll share some of these as brief vignettes:
I accumulated close to 200 hours before I finished Norwich University in Vermont. We had a flying club with its own, rather antiquated, Aeronca Champion in which I was able to fly simply by purchasing the gas.
After finishing military ROTC as Distinguished Military Graduate, I was commissioned in the regular Army. Soon after starting Basic Infantry Officers’ School at Fort Benning, I was on a 40-mile forced march on a blistering hot day when two Army L-19s buzzed our column. I instantly realized the pilots’ lifestyle was better than mine, but, beyond this, with their sleek lines and amazing performance, these were airplanes I really wanted to fly.
I never have and never will lose interest in flying, but new interests later preempted more of my time.
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