My first flying lesson

I graduated from high school in 1960, joined the Naval Air Reserve and crewed on Grumman S2F Trackers for ten years out of NAS Seattle (Sandpoint). We flew antisubmarine patrols off the coast of Washington and many training flights where I accrued 800 – 1200 hours. Over a number of years, I acquired my Private, Commercial, Instrument and Instructor ratings and accumulated 2,000 – 3,000 hours. After ten years, I left the Navy to obtain a commission in the National Guard and ended up in the Army Reserve. That is my basic background and now on to my first flying lesson.

My squadron, VS-891, was activated October 2, 1961, for a year after the Berlin Wall started going up. I was still in the Army Reserve when the Wall came down, which I never thought I would see in my lifetime. During that year of active duty I had the opportunity to take flying lessons from “Hal,” one of our pilots who had an instructor rating. We joined an Air Force Flying Club at Paine Field just south of Everett, Washington, and used their Piper J-3 with standard tires, not the big tires used in bush operations. I was able to rent it for $3.00/hr. wet and paid Hal another $3.00/hr.

Piper Cub
Not the world’s greatest aerobatic airplane with two people.

We met at Paine Field one Saturday morning for my first lesson and after walking me through a thorough check of the airplane, he hand propped it and away we went. After spending some time doing basic airwork (turns, stalls, etc.) Hal said he was bored and took control of the airplane. First he tried looping the Cub, which did not work out as his 200+ pounds plus my paltry 115 pounds made the maneuver impossible. He would nose the plane over, build up airspeed and pull the nose up with full power and, somewhere near vertical, the plane would fall back out of the sky. It has been many years and I do not remember if the plane actually was on its back ever or just nosed over and went vertical the other direction. After trying that two or three times, we went on a river cruise.

We were north of Paine, north of Arlington, and pretty soon we were flying down the Stillaguamish River and between the trees that lined the river banks. We passed a gravel bar and Hal asked if I thought he could land on it. I replied that I had heard he had been a bush pilot in Alaska so I would not be surprised if he could do it. No sooner said than the power came off and we did a 180 and were on a short final to the gravel bar. We touched down and Hal added power to keep the tail up and the Cub rolling. When we reached the end of the gravel bar, he kicked the tail around, never quite stopping with the tail, never quite touching the ground, added full power and away we went, taking off with no difficulty.

We then returned to Paine Field, ending my first lesson.

I have thought about the flight many times over the years and wonder if we were really in any danger. I know the hazards of flying down rivers (unseen cables, etc.) and issues with recovering from unusual attitudes, but I can honestly say I was never afraid on that flight which may have been from youth, lack of knowledge, stupidity, or denial.

I do know what real fear is as I experienced it in an S2F returning from a patrol off the Washington coast. We were climbing out of Hoquiam in the soup, packing a load of ice and the pilot(s) forgot to turn on the pitot tube heat. All of a sudden I was off my seat, pressed up against the shoulder straps as the plane went into a dive, but that as they say is another story.

5 Comments

  • I learned to fly (started to learn, is the best way to put it) when I was 31. So anything out of the ordinary would make me unconfortable. Specially if totally not necessary or a mere show off by the instructor. But I was fortunate enough to not have any instructor like that, and when it came to the time for the timeshare, yes some younger colleagues would suggest this or that, but I would discourage them and in the end I probably have only two situations, through the years, when to my taste a colleague on the flight deck have gone too far. One, in general aviation, I decided not to fly with anymore – a though one, because I needed the hours desperately at that time. The other, already in the airlines, I wrote down – and never had to fly with him again, but heard the company had taken disciplinary action against. Mistakes are one thing: everybody does them, from small – in nearly every flight – to big ones, fortunatelly not that often. But violations are a completelly different animal, and in my point of view, there is an adequate arena for every kind of operation, no matter how rogue it might look. Thefore, forcing things you know are wrong are, for today’s standard, not something we should allow. I’m glad your little adventure – including trying aerobatics without aparently knowing what to expect from the acft performance – didn’t end up on a crash investigation.

  • My high school was directly across from a grass strip and I would daydream watching the planes takeoff and land while getting in trouble with the teacher for looking out the window. How could I not look? I took my first lessons there at the age of 16 from an old man in borrowed aircraft. First one was a Taylorcraft. It wasn’t until my 30’s that I finally got my license after a friend and I purchased a 150. I had gotten my A&P in the 70’s so I rebuilt the high time engine and we had good times flying my young daughter. Now at 66 I just purchased a plane and my daughter is excited and, of course, so am I. I have some work to do on it before I fly it and need to get some time with an instructor since I haven’t flown for 25 years but I was hooked as a kid and still am.

  • I was Born on July 4, 1934, living on Staten Island, when at the age of 9, I knew I wanted to be involved in Aviation. I graduated Curtis High School in February 1952…went to RPI to become an Aeronautical Engineer and in Air Force ROTC… Graduated… was in the Air Force pilot training class of 57-H…. First flight in a ‘souped up’ Piper Cub was on February 2, 1956…. (just like the one you first soloed in). Became a pilot after almost being ‘washed out’… flew B-47’s with an Aircraft Commander who flew B-17’s in WWII…. flew F-86H’s and F-84’s in the Mass. Air National Guard…worked at Pratt & Whitney, division of United Technologies, Inc. for about 40 years….. Now retired mentoring and ‘teaching’ aviation related subjects with elementary, junior, and senior high school students, and previously adults in Dartmouth’s ILEAD program, having a GREAT time…and still learning sooo much!

  • When I was a beginning acrobatic instructor, the only advantage I had over the students was a copy of Duane Cole’s book. I do recall trying to show a student how to loop our low powered Citabria unsuccessfully 3 times. Turns out that it was not the fault of the airplane. Turns out that book reading does not teach finess.

  • I learned how to fly in one of those “low powered” Citabria’s. I didn’t realize how low powered it was, until the instructor turned me loose for my first solo. Without his 180 lbs. I felt like I was in a Corvette on wings. Learned to fly at the South Dayton, OH Airport. A short, narrow grass runway flanked by the river on one side, woods on the other, one end with constant convection, the other end with a sewer pool facility. I learned how to fly that puppy in a hurry…. and always with intense concentration… LOL

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