Click play below if you’d prefer to hear me tell this story, rather than reading it.
My Dad had been flying for a couple of years, renting a plane or paying a teacher from the various airports that he was taking lessons at, before he decided that he’d be buying a plane of his own.
I’m not sure how he met the guy, but he was splitting the cost with a guy named Dick. Dick already owned his own plane and this was a secondary plane for him. Clearly neither Dick or my family was hurting for money when I was growing up. Dad did okay money wise.
I’ll guesstimate I was about 8 or 9, 10 at the most when we flew to pick up the plane from its seller. We piled into Dick’s tiny plane — known as a tail dragger, because it had a tiny wheel in the back that sat firmly on the ground at the tailend of the plane — and flew to get it.
The photo you see up top there is actually the plane as we picked it up that morning.
I remember flying back to Lawrence airport, conveniently located in North Andover (as if that’s not confusing) where Dad would store the plane, have it serviced and fueled and whatnot.
Once we got the plane, all bets were off. We used it a lot, flying all over the place. Some of my favorite memories were just my Dad and I flying somewhere for breakfast or lunch on a Saturday morning.
He joked that it was our trip for the “$100 hamburger”. Not that we paid that much for a burger, but when you factored in the cost of flying to get it, the cost came out to around a hundred bucks.
We flew as far as Plum Island, Maine, to Martha’s Vineyard from time to time. Most of the little airports had little diners situated right by the runway, so you could fly in, hope out of the plane, walk a few feet, eat, and then leave. It worked out pretty well for most of the places that we’d go.
I remember one time we flew to Pepperill Airport, a common place where people skydive from. We were going to see my Uncle Jim skydive, something he did quite often.
We were coming in for a landing, just zipping along, when I recall my Dad saying “I wonder where the skydivers are.”
When all of a sudden, out of the blue, one of them flew by the front of the plane. We almost chopped him to bits with the propeller. We learned, pretty quickly, that they just fall from the sky and that you have to be incredibly careful about hitting someone. Thankfully, we swerved and didn’t hit him.
I took a few flying lessons when I was around 15, but was too young to see it through and get my license. I logged a bunch of hours and stopped going around the time my parents split up, maybe a little longer after that.
One of my favorite locations to go was Plum Island. It was a tiny little airport, just a long strip of pavement for a runway stuck in a long field of grass. A tiny little shack, presumably where the radio controls were, as there was no tower, sat about halfway down the runway.
I loved flying there specifically because it was where the ultralight planes flew out of. They were little tiny planes made of fiberglass and nylon, powered by lawn mower engines. They could fly pretty low, holding the weight of a full grown man, zipping around in the sky, in an open cockpit. They were just so cool to see when I was a kid.
Later in life I decided to try flying again. That was about 3 years ago now. I took a few lessons and really enjoyed it while I was up in the sky, complete freedom to go where I wanted, do what I want. It brought me back to my childhood and all of those hundred dollar hamburgers. When I told my Dad about it, he joked that with the price of inflation our hamburgers would cost $300 nowadays.
I don’t know if it was because I didn’t really enjoy it, or because I didn’t like the teacher I got, but I eventually stopped taking lessons once I’d burnt up all of the money I’d prepaid. I logged a good twenty hours and could probably have passed the test to get my license, it just didn’t feel right. It was a lot more complicated than I’d remembered; push this, pull that, tweak this, tell the tower where you are, watch out for other planes. I think I just didn’t like my teacher, he wasn’t really teaching me in a way that made me want to keep learning.
It was a great experience as a child to get to enjoy that freedom with your Dad. Even if your sister threw up in the plane from time to time and made it smell like puke.