My earliest memories of airplanes include seeing Top Gun when I was 3, C-130’s flying over my house, and my first airshow when I was 6. While I was immediately in love with the airplanes, and the maneuvers, I was missing the biggest part. The people! As an impatient youth at his first airshow, the people were little more than an obstruction to looking in the A-10 cockpit and talking with the pilot. They were crowding up space inside the C-5 Galaxy when it started to rain. Rain may not be the most accurate description, this was an Ohio storm. Heavy rain, but not exciting with lightning which would cancel the show, just enough to postpone activities, delay the F-117A, and pack all these aviation fans into the largest US Military aircraft like sardines. How many of these folks were pilots? Maybe their parents or grandparents flew in World War 2 or Korea, or met Charles Lindbergh! Not things that 6 year old me was concerned about, but 35 year old me wonders what I missed…
Willard Richards was at my first airshow at the Youngstown Air Reserve base and he was selling his book detailing his experiences as a B-17 waist gunner during WW2. Fear, Faith, Courage : A Love Story by Willard Richards and I read it a hundred times, using it to the point it fell apart at the binding. I don’t know what happened to him after this, the internet doesn’t have much info, and as I write this, I found a copy on eBay.
Hanging around my hometown airport, I discovered that the owner used to be a United Airlines pilot and was an instructor for them in the 727 when they used to fly the actual airplane, empty, for training. He would have the pilots shoot approaches to a 3400 ft long, 50 ft wide runway. No they wouldn’t land, but I can only imagine the sound of the “3 Holer” roaring away over the corn fields that surrounded the airport. I later had the opportunity to teach his grandson how to fly. He was actually my first solo’d student, and it was a family affair at the airport that day. Even the dog was there!
My journey through aviation has been amazing so far. I mentioned Charles Lindbergh earlier, and while I haven’t met him, I was returning from Oshkosh 2017 and stopped at KVSF Springfield to pickup some chocks I’d left at a contest the previous week. As I taxied onto the ramp, I noticed a large crowd had gathered and knew they probably weren’t there to see me. As it turned out, I had stumbled into the 90th anniversary of Lindbergh’s national tour stop at KVSF after the Atlantic crossing. It also turned out that his daughter, Reeve Lindbergh, lived in Vermont and she was to be the featured guest! Oh the people you’ll meet!
There have been many more people of course, too many to list. But definitely some highlights include heroes of mine Sean D. Tucker, Patty Wagstaff, Jeff Skiles from The Miracle on the Hudson, fighter pilots, helicopter pilots, blimp pilots, test pilots, air traffic controlles, and all the people behind the scenes. Everyone has a story. Most of you out there have an airport nearby, and most of those have some kind of pilot lounge. There’s a wealth of information and experience sitting in those rooms. Don’t be afraid to ask others about their story. And I hope you find a way to share your own.