Too bad you’ll never be a pilot as much as you love airplanes.
I heard that many, many times as a young man. You see, I was born with 20/400 vision in my right eye. Today we call that a lazy eye condition. It could have been corrected before the age of five if only they had known. In school when I took a vocational aptitude test, pilot came out on top. Surprisingly enough, minister and funeral director came out on the bottom. I wonder how many pilots would like to make their avocation the church or a funeral parlor? So, I was doomed to a life behind a desk, or so I thought.
In the summer of 1957, I worked in the flight test engineering group at Sikorsky Aircraft. Can you believe that? An irresponsible and immature 21-year old with three years of engineering behind him and an attitude that would get you fired at Sporty’s! My boss was a member of the Sikorsky Flying Club. After telling him about my eye and how much I wanted to fly, he told me there was a waiver process. He took me to see an FAA person in the building who had a pilot’s license and sure enough, it was true.
When I got back to Purdue in September, I went to a crusty, old, ex-military flight surgeon who was practicing in Lafayette, Indiana. After my eye examination, he laughed and said, “Son, you’ll never be able to be a pilot.” I told him there was a waiver process and he said to forget it. I convinced him to complete the physical and send it to the FAA. As I was leaving he said, “Son, if you get a medical, bring it down here, I want to see it.” He was sure he would never see me again, but three weeks later one brassy kid, even brassier than I am now, showed up with a third class medical (for student pilot purposes only) and bragged to this crusty, old (like 45 or 50) flight surgeon.
That was a mistake!
He essentially lost his cool, told me I was a smart-ass kid, and never to come back. That’s when I learned that people in general don’t want to learn the facts — especially if they have been wrong. Four months later I was a private pilot.
This is how my flying career got started. As a kid my family would take Sunday afternoon car trips to destinations one of us would pick — I always popped up with “an airport.” We went to such airports as Flushing, Armonk, LaGuardia and a few others I can’t remember. I think my mother was bored as hell, but Dad seemed to enjoy it. Not until Dad passed away, and I found stock certificates for Brunner Winkle Aircraft Company on Long Island, did I realize he had invested in the company in the 1920s. I also have vivid memories of a blimp flying over our home in the late 1930s and seeing the people in the gondola waving to me. It may have been just before the accident in Lakehurst.
As you can see, flying is in my blood. That’s why “having to” go to the airport every morning for the last 50 years is something I looked forward to. And you know, I hope I “have to” do it for another 50 years! Don’t tell the FAA that my right eye is 20/400….my waiver states 20/200! I can almost see the big E.