Ride of a lifetime

I have been flying for over 50 years, primarily as a USAF fighter pilot instructor in the F-4 and F-16. Once I retired, I loved to fly so much I decided to get some airplanes that were affordable, relatively high performance and safe. I settled on the Jet Provost, a trainer primary flown by the RAF.

Provost
A fun airplane for giving rides.

I have given hundreds of rides since I bought it in 1997. I have given rides for fundraising travel agency vendors who support the airshows, such as Make-A-Wish, attaboys for military shows as well as rides for vendors who support the airshows.

In October 2005, I was giving incentive rides in my MK 4 Jet Provost from Friday through Sunday in support of the Celebrate Freedom airshow at Camden Air Field, South Carolina. Later on that Sunday afternoon, as the airshow was winding down, I had spent all Friday, Saturday, and Sunday giving rides to support the event. I was seriously exhausted, as the plane is 1960 vintage and has no modern creature comforts like air conditioning, hydraulic boost, or cabin pressurization.

I was approached by a middle aged gent asking me to give a ride to his dad. I apologized and explained that unfortunately, I had to fly 100 miles away to take the jet for its annual inspection and then drive 2+ hours back to my home.

Suddenly, the retired general in charge of the airshow (the air boss) begged me to fly this guy. As I was sitting in the jet ready to crank it up and go, a jeep showed up and about five beefy guys showed up to lift the old frail guy up to the cockpit. The man was old and hunched over and sickly looking—what could I do but fly the old, frail guy?

In the Jet Provost you sit side by side, so I could easily see him. We flew to a nearby lake and I asked him if he wanted to fly, fully expecting him to say no. He nodded his head yes, which shocked me, and I let him have the stick and he took control. He sat straight up and fully alert, like a warrior of old, and flew the plane like Steven Canyon. It was as if 60 years were taken away from his age instantly—he did loops, aileron rolls, and lazy eights.

McClurg
When you’ve flown with Pappy Boyington, you’ve seen it all.

I was stunned. After about 10 minutes in the air he looked over at me, gave the stick back, smiled and went back to hunching over and being 85 years old. He never said a word to me. For a few minutes his face said everything. For a few minutes he was alive and excited!

I was not aware who the guy was. When we landed, the local TV stations were filming the show for the nightly news. I felt like Charles Lindbergh with all the attention. He then signed a book for me. See, this guy did gift me a ride of my lifetime, as he was the WWII ace Robert W. McClurg, Pappy Boyington’s wingman and a member of the Black Sheep Squadron, who shot down seven Japanese airplanes in WWII. What a guy! He died 2 years later.

I will never forget this fighter pilot from the Marine Corps. A true ace. He was truly from the “Greatest Generation” that ever lived!

6 Comments

  • About 15 years ago, I took my late grandfather, The Colonel, to his Massachusetts Army National Guard retirement group. He was about 90 at the time. He had been in 42 years and had first enlisted for horse cav. That was a memory when he reported in 1932, lol, so he went to artillery. As I was pushing him towards the conference room, I saw one of my distant cousins at the door. My cousin barked out “Damn glad to see you, Colonel!” My grandfather responded “Glad to see you, Sgt. Major!”

    With that, his back straightened and 40 years came off of him. I didn’t realize until then that my cousin Arthur had been his sgt. major. I just knew him as a nice old guy I saw at weddings and funerals.

    When talking to several of the old bucks, mostly in their 60s-70s, it was interesting to find out the high esteem they held grandad and my cousin in…and what warriors they were…this story reminded me of them and several other Greatest Generation vets I met over the years…

  • Thanks for that story, brought tears to my eyes.
    I don’t think we can ever forget that wonderful feeling of flying.

  • One of my more memorable rides as an Army Pilot 40 + years ago was several hours in an F-15 backseat flying out of Bitburg AFB in Germany. We flew to the North Sea engaged some Swedish Vigens, refueled, returned to Bitburg. The G suit was interesting constantly squeezing and releasing. Before we departed I asked the pilot if there was any way I could adjust the AC outlet blowing directly to my crotch. He said don’t worry after we takeoff you won’t even know it’s on. He was right. I got to fly (steer the airplane more like it) and did a few maneuvers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *