I am not the typical pilot that you meet at the airport or during hanger talks. I did not grow up with any family member who was a pilot, had planes or spent the weekends going to the local airports. Although my Dad was in the Air Force, most of his time spent was with communications and the defense system.
There is always one story he would tell all of us over and over and that was how he had the opportunity to sit back seat in a fighter jet during his enlisted period. The excitement as he told us how the pilot inverted before landing, the speed, but there was on regret he had during the flight. When asked by the pilot if he wanted to take the controls, my Dad said yes but held the yoke loosely allowing poor control and the pilot quickly took over. You could see how he wished he had that moment back in time.
It was not until I was 40 years old that I took up aviation. I did not tell anyone in my family,mostly because I knew my Mom would not like the idea. My dad would be an enthusiast but in due time they would discover what I was training. After VFR training, I went right into IFR training and purchased a share of an archer. Well it’s very hard to hide a plane from family so the best thing to do is take them up for a flight. Surprisingly enough my Mom was calm and my Dad was beaming. Looking back I think my Mom was calm because she saw the excitement in my Dad.
Getting back to My Dad’s fighter jet story. For Christmas one year I met him in the hanger to go flying and arranged for an instructor to casually show up. I briefed my Dad how to preflight and when the instructor arrived they sparked up a conversation. After that awkward moment of silence, when two people talk and there is nothing more to say, I tossed the keys to the plane to my Dad and told him “you need to be pilot in command once in your life so the instructor is here for you”. I think his heart skipped a beat at that moment. The flight was great and I can still see how happy he was holding the yoke. After landing he told me thanks with a big hug and said from now on he is happy to be on the right seat. Funny thing, he rarely tells the fighter jet story, now it’s all about the Archer and how he flew it.
A year later our partnership changed and a new pilot Rich Simeon came aboard. He introduced me to Angel Flight East and we went on numerous missions together. Unfortunately after a brief period his jobbed changed, he moved but we still keep in contact. We keep saying to each other that if there is ever an mission from Kansas to PA we will make it a connecting mission, and how cool would that be. If you ask my wife about this, she would smile with a look of ohh pilots.
I never knew or had a plan of what I was going to do with a pilot’s license. It is incredible taking your kids and family, showing them the views but after one mission with Angel Flight East I knew what I wanted to do. Now life does not always allow me to do as many missions as I would like, but I have also realized that bringing awareness to the public, that such an amazing organization exists is equally important. There is probably not a day that I do not talk about AFE to someone on the ground. After awhile of doing this, it is awesome to have someone approach and ask “hey what is that organization you fly for because I have a friend who needs help”.
The world of aviation has certainly surprised me. Before the age of 40, I I never knew about such caring people that take their time out of their busy family lives to help others.
I saw an interview of an AFE pilot once and he sums it all up in one statement when asked “how does he find the time”. His comment: “Well these people did not wake up one day and say, today is a good day for me to get sick. They do not have time for this either”. I am very proud to be a small part of AFE and give back to what aviation has given to me.