This story is not as old as I am, 74 years young. I suppose 1975 in Hawaii is ancient history by now, but it is as clear in my mind today, as it was then. At 29 years of age, the idea of flying an airplane was very exciting.
It all began at the Hawaii Country of the Air, based at Honolulu International Airport. I was scraping oxidation off airplane wings to help pay for lessons. One fine weather day, having acquired 10 hours of dual instruction, my instructor decided I would fly to Ford Island in Pearl Harbor for touch and gos.
The short hop to the island took no time at all. When I entered the traffic pattern, he said, “OK Steve, it’s time for you to solo.” I thought, well isn’t that just no warning?
After permission from the tower for a full stop, I landed and he got out. I went through the procedures and got airborne. This was my first solo trip around the pattern, or anywhere else solo for that matter.
This is where things got unusual. Turning final, the tower controller called me as I was descending and said go around. Someone had just landed ahead of me and broke something and had to taxi off the runway under duress. But the best was to come.
After pulling up, I went to the right, toward the navy base out over the harbor. While in a tight turn to reenter the downwind leg, I was flying right over the USS Arizona, in about a 45-degree bank, looking down at the sunken ship, thinking about what the Japanese pilots were looking at on December 7, 1941.
What made it special for me was the fact that my father was a survivor of the Arizona sinking, and later the sinking of the USS Lexington on the Coral Sea. In 2001, my family and I brought back his ashes to be interred on the Arizona with a full military funeral.
Finally getting around to completing my three landings, it was all done. My instructor must have been overly excited about everything, as he never signed my solo shirt. Good thing he signed me off in my logbook. Maybe he was worried about the rules I broke flying over a national monument. Truthfully, no one mentioned it, probably due to multiple special circumstances. Even now, the Navy invites my family every year on December 7th.
Just to mention, I was flying a Grumman AA-1B, the perfect plane to do tight turns over a battleship—open cockpit.