I was ten for my first flight.
It was August in Tennessee and it was hot. I had been watching “Tailspin” after school at my grandmothers house when my cousin stopped by. I didn’t know it at the time but he had bought a small plane, a Champ if I remember right. He asked if I wanted to go up.
After calling mom and a lot of convincing,we headed out in his truck. I thought we were going to the local airport, instead we headed out to a small shed beside a hay field.
As a boy this plane was the coolest thing I had ever seen to date. White with blue stripes, 2 seats one behind the other, and the worn paint showed a long life of use and care. The door was leaning up against the back wall of the shed, which I thought was odd.
He showed me where to push and I helped him roll it out (as much as my 10 year old muscles could ) onto the grass.
I watched him doing his walk around, checking the oil and fueling it up, then he told me to get in the back. I crawled in and buckled the lap belt while he grabbed the prop and gave it a sharp pull to start the engine, then ran around and jumped in.
We taxied to the end of the field and turned to takeoff, he looked back and yelled “HERE WE GO” over the engine noise. I had controls identical to his and I remember watching the white knob of the throttle slide forward to the stop as we started rolling.
To be honest I was a bit concerned. We left the door sitting in the shed so the whole right side is open. As we started picking up speed everything started rattling and the engine was screaming as we bounced down the field. Then the wind noise starts to add to the chaos.
About the time I started to get scared, everything smoothed out. I looked down to see the grass dropping away under the landing gear. WE WERE FLYING!!!!!
My breath caught and my heart skipped a beat, then I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. We climbed out over the trees and headed West for the Mississippi River. On the way he showed me how everything worked, holding onto the controls to feel how to move the stick to make a turn or climb and descend.
We flew low down the river. So low that at times we were looking up at the river bank. Then landed on a dirt road in someones field. I was on top of the world.
On the way back something happened that changed me forever.
We had no headsets, and between the engine noise and air blasting through the cabin you had to yell as loud as possible to be heard. He turned his head and yelled “TAKE THE CONTROLS”. We had done this several times already. Then I heard “OK IT’S YOUR AIRPLANE”. I came back with “WHAT!!!!???”, then I saw him raise his hands over his head, “IT’S YOUR AIRPLANE, FLY US HOME”.
At that moment I stopped being a ten year old boy. I was Maverick in an F-14, Luke Skywalker flying my own personal X-Wing. I was a pilot.
I was too scared to do anything past the smallest control inputs, but I was controlling this amazing machine. I could do anything.
When we got back we didn’t land in the hay field, instead we landed on a hilltop ringed with trees on three sides behind my Grandmothers house. I jumped out and ran to the treeline to watch him spin around and dive off the hill, gaining enough speed to climb out and get back home.
I think I ran all the way back home without touching the ground, and I haven’t stopped looking up since.