Whatever else he was, Gill Robb Wilson was most definitely the inspiration for one awkward, gawky, Midwestern teenager who wanted to be a pilot more than anything in the world. Recently I was rereading his poems and the one about Christmas in “The Airman’s World” reminded me of my best ever Christmas flight… a flight where I wasn’t even the pilot.
The first big cross-country flight I made in a light airplane was in 1976. A college buddy and I thought it would be fun to fly from Ohio to California and back over Christmas. Being young, single, and invincible at the time, we did not think too much about what the weather might have to say about it. We departed Springfield, Ohio (KSGH) on December 20 in a borrowed 150-hp AA-5 Traveler.
It was December 1978, and I had been a private pilot since July 11 of the same year. Christmas would be our first trip – to Gulf Shores, Alabama, from Austin, Texas, to visit the wife’s parents and show off the four-month old baby girl.
On Cay Caulker, Belize, the conch shell Christmas ornaments hanging on palm fronds marked the season as Christmas and my wife and I felt merry. It got even more Christmassy a few days later in Antigua where the ancient buildings that lined the large plaza were lit with small white lights. A band played Christmas music of all types. It was Christmas season 2015-2016.
I hadn’t wanted to work on Christmas Eve; my family had its own plans, and I had wanted to be a part of those plans. Nonetheless, I was fortunate that the three-day trip I had been assigned was scheduled to end at nine o’clock p.m. on the eve of Christmas that year instead of late on Christmas Day. I had to steel my resolve and think stoically. After all, it was my job; it was my responsibility.
For my 80th Angel Flight, the MVFR forecast turned into reality, but out over the water, it was even lower than advertised. I was in the clear at 1500 feet, but “clear” was all relative. There was nothing to see. No horizon. No water. Nothing at all, really. “JFK, Jr.” type conditions.