Scott and Dave
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In the summer of 1973, we lied to our mother. We told Mom that we were on our way to a local park to toss a baseball. Our gloves were conspicuously displayed as we exited our house and walked to my brother’s car. In retrospect, I think it possible that she knew we had no intention of doing anything with that baseball, but with the application of a little suspension of disbelief, she could convince herself that two of her three boys were not soon to be strapped into a dangerous, small airplane together.

We are all aviation people, but have arrived at that designation by varying paths. I’m sure that many of us can point to the influence of one particular person in that regard. In my case, it would certainly be my brother Scott. In 1973, Scott was 18 and I was an 11-year-old, totally smitten with anything related to airplanes. We had that in common. In an effort to be as much like my brother as our age difference would allow, I latched onto his interest in all things aviation.

Flying magazine cover

Reading flying magazines instead of math homework: the life of a young aviator.

An astonishingly large part of my childhood was spent reading stacks of his aviation books and magazines, as well as watching him build aircraft models. On any given evening, when I should have been doing homework, I was likely to be found hanging out in Scott’s room while he quizzed me on something I had just read about the different models of the P-47, or something similarly arcane. At one point in my young life, when I should have been working on my multiplication tables, I could name a dozen or more pilots from the 56th or 4th Fighter Groups, and identify every major Allied combat aircraft of WWII.

When he turned 16 and had access to a set of car keys, we would be off to the local airport on almost every Saturday to watch takeoffs and landings while listening to a little transistor aircraft radio. Three or four times a year, the Saturday trip would be to the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, where the history in which we reveled would become a tangible thing.

But in 1973, Scott had taken the next step, the big one, by signing up for flight training. His flight instructor, freshly back from flying missions and being shot at in Southeast Asia, was cool and calm while trying to teach him how to fly one of the flight school’s brand new Cherokees. A kid as ballast in the back seat was OK with both my brother and the CFI, as long as I kept quiet and didn’t get airsick. I was able to meet the requirements and was presented with my own logbook for these flights. Before long, I had added expired sectionals, an E6B, and the latest Piper sales brochures to my growing collection of things to keep me occupied when I should have been doing schoolwork.

I was Scott’s first passenger immediately after earning his ticket, and he was mine a few years later when I did the same. Over the years, we lived in different cities, but both of us continued our flying as time and finances would allow. Whenever I had a harrowing flying experience, reached a milestone of some sort, or just saw a cool or unusual airplane in my travels, Scott was the one I wanted to share it with. Long before the “miracle” of electronic communications, we would drop each other a letter from time to time with a photo, note, or newspaper clipping… always related to aviation.

I was the first one to buy an airplane, a rough-around-the-edges, straight tail 150 with a sick engine (N7856E). My A&P partner and I came up with the princely sum of $5500 to buy her. He worked his magic on the engine, and we both flew her for a couple of years until I purchased his interest. In 1992 I decided that owning an aircraft made absolutely no fiscal sense, and sold the now recently painted 150 to Scott. It took a while before I considered it “his” airplane, but that started to change when I reconsidered my position on the sanity of aircraft ownership, and bought another 150. Thus began what I now consider to be the culmination of my days as an aviator.

First, while living in different cities, and eventually based at the same airport, we spent many of our weekends flying together. Often in formation, we would be headed to lunch at an airport restaurant, off to a fly-in, or doing it without a destination but solely for the love of it. We even enjoyed some modest fame. Once, while landing closely together on a return trip to an all but deserted country strip, a woman from the FBO ran out to the ramp and summoned her husband with shouts of, “It’s them two brothers again!”

From my early thirties into my fifties, chances were good that a nice weekend would find the two of us together at the airport. I bought and sold aircraft a few times, but Scott held onto that straight tail; through engine overhauls, engine failures, and 2500 hours logged. It had long ago ceased being my airplane, and became very much a part of who Scott was.

In 2019, after having sold my 172, I had once again decided that I needed an airplane, and had located one that interested me about a three hour drive away. It was a crummy IFR day, and Scott volunteered to drive me to inspect, and likely purchase the latest airplane of my dreams. So, with cashier’s check in hand, I got into his passenger seat early on a Saturday morning. Within 20 minutes of our destination, I knew something was suddenly and horribly wrong with Scott. After having him pull over, we were fortunate to have a life squad nearby to respond to my 911 call. His life had changed forever on that desolate stretch of Indiana roadway.

Scott and Dave

Sometimes a short flight in a simple airplane is the most important mission.

A stroke is a silent thief. I have watched my brother, with truly inspiring effort and the help of many devoted therapists, try to regain what had been taken from him on that day. Early in his recovery, when it was important to differentiate between cognition and speech, my wife and I put together a photo-based test. I printed shots of 10 famous aviators, a few of whom would be a little obscure to a layman. I also printed pictures of 10 aircraft, with the idea of matching the aviators to the aircraft with which they were most strongly associated. I scrambled them on a table-top and asked him to match them.

Within just a few seconds, Don Blakeslee was placed on top of the P-51, Jack Broughton with an F-105, Tony LeVier with his race-ready P-38… and so on. He looked at me like a PhD candidate might if asked to put the round peg into the round hole. The knowledge was clearly still there, even if the words were difficult for him to find. There have been many successes along the way, but the freedom to strap in and take off by himself, in that machine that has so defined him, will never be regained.

I flew 56E once or twice for him, but I found myself avoiding our airport for a long while. Happily, after many months of his single-minded hard work and tenacity, he reached the point where a flight in his airplane was again possible. I got both myself and his airplane current, and as this is written, we are again making Saturday trips to the airport. We’ve switched seats, but he still knows and feels that airplane better than anyone ever will. Occasionally, he makes that point clear to me when I’m handling her differently than he would like!

I feel sorry for pilots who know and appreciate only the practical side of aviation. Yes, they can be useful machines when getting from A to B, and some of us use our association with them to put food on the family table. That’s all well and good, but I’m here to testify that practicality pales when compared to the chirp-chirp of tires on asphalt and the smiles on the faces of a couple of graying old guys inside that little straight tail. Thanks to my brother for the journey, and for helping put it all into the proper perspective.

Dave Gampfer
Latest posts by Dave Gampfer (see all)
16 replies
  1. mike harper
    mike harper says:

    Great story!
    4 years ago while thinking of something I could do for my wife, I remembered she had a pilot’s license when young. She was 70 at the time. The usual had happened in her life: marriage, children and jobs. I started talking to her about flying again and linked her to the Sunshine flight school in Auburn CA. Next thing I knew I had lost my wife to flying!!! Of course that was only one activity that I had lost her to. Riding horses, riding bikes, water skiing, snow skiing and scuba. Now she has an old boyfriend from high school she flys and skis with. On top of that as we are working with an real estate agent and he mentioned his son was working towards becoming an airline pilot and needed hours. Perfect fit. Now she has another pilot to fly with.

  2. Dale Hill
    Dale Hill says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I smiled when you said you were knowledgeable about pilots with the 56th FG in WWII. I was fortunate to command the 61st ‘Top Dawg’ squadron, a part of the 56th Fighter Wing at MacDill AFB in the mid 80’s. We were flying F-16 C and D models, but we had P-47 memorabilia throughout the squadron reminding us of our heritage. Prominent in the entry foyer was a picture of Gabby Gabreski sitting in the cockpit of his P-47 ‘HV-A’. The ‘HV’ indicated it was a 61st aircraft and the ‘A’ let you know it was the commander’s — as you probably know, Gabby commanded the 61st. While I was the squadron commander, the 56th Wing sponsored a reunion of the 56th FG one weekend and I got to meet many of my heroes, including Bobby Johnson and Frank Klibbe. Mr Klibbe was touring the squadron the day after we had a big dinner and asked if I would like something to hang on the wall. He then unrolled a print titled “Little Chief’s War Dance” (you can Google the image), depicting a Lufberry he got into with an ME-109 one day. He managed to use a few tricks with his flaps to get some angles on the German pilot and put a squirt of bullets across his adversary’s nose. They were on the treetops and low on fuel and ammo at the time and the German rolled wings level and headed east. Klibbe rolled wings level and headed west, and lived to fight another day. I had the print framed and hung it in our squadron’s main briefing room. Several years later, I was at Oshkosh when they were saluting the Tuskegee Airmen. On behalf of the Secretary of the Air Force, I was part of an escort for Benjamin O. Davis (the commander of the TA). At a reception for General Davis in the museum one evening, I was admiring a diorama of Gabby’s airplane (it was a model with a 16-18 inch wingspan). There was an elderly gentleman there and I noticed him looking at me, so I asked if I could help him. I was wearing my flight suit with the 61st Top Dawg patch and he asked if I flew with the squadron. I told him I had commanded it a few years prior and asked how he knew the patch. He said he was Gabby’s crew chief. I was honored to shake his hand!

  3. David Ward Sandidge
    David Ward Sandidge says:

    Good story, Dale. And I think most all of us know just exactly what you mean… No matter if you’re a private pilot with 300 hours or a retired airline pilot with 30,000 hours, sometimes you have to get away by yourself in a little airplane which takes you back in time to a very special, private place that you wouldn’t want to share with those who weren’t there all those years ago – even if you could. You have to put down the slick magazines with their alluring multi-million dollar dream machines and mind-blowing futuristic avionics and get back to the simple fundamentals you started with – if only for a little while. But, enough said. Too much talk will ruin it.

  4. Cal W. Tax
    Cal W. Tax says:

    Great story Dave and you really emphasize the pure joy of flying. You are absolutely right that many pilots miss the joy of flying because they are doing their “job”. I still think that flying light airplanes and gliders can really bring you back to the basics. If your job has become too routine then you should challenge yourself to bring back the “fun” part of it. You will be a better pilot when you enjoy your work.
    Regarding Col. Dale Hill’s experience with some of the legendary WW2 fighter pilots, I have to relate a personal story of my own.
    I grew up around Col. Francis S. “Gabby” Gabreski as he and his wife were friends of our family. I knew he was a famous WW2 Ace and I also read that he was a POW of the Germans. One night we were all at dinner together (I think I was about 13 or 14) I asked him how he got shot down? He very emphatically let me know that he was NEVER shot down but while on a strafing pass on a German airfield in his P-47 he hit the prop on the ground and tore it off!!! Now that is some story!!! There is a lot more to that story and you can read it elsewhere but it gives you an insight as to what kind of warrior that man was!!!

    • Dale Hill
      Dale Hill says:

      Cal, That is really neat you knew ‘Gabby’. From what I heard, he was actually not on the schedule the day he flew his last sortie. He was in his ‘Class A’ uniform and was headed home, probably to sell war bonds. I don’t know what drove him to get in the cockpit and go on that mission, but he did and after ‘pranging’ his airplane, he spent the duration of WWII as a guest of the German government. Another well known ace, Don Gentile, upon return from his last mission put on a little low-flying demo for the press that was waiting for his return and he managed to ‘ding’ his Mustang in much the same way Gabby did his Thunderbolt. I was at Hurlburt with his son Joe Gentile who was flying T-33’s at the time (the same airplane in which his Dad was killed after the War).

  5. Dave Hirschman
    Dave Hirschman says:

    What a beautiful tribute to a big brother and aviation mentor. As a sibling who shares the aviation gene with his brothers, it left me with a lump in my throat and a deep appreciation for the family members who share — or at least tolerate — our mutual obsession.

  6. Dave Richards
    Dave Richards says:

    Touching story Dave. I wish Scott all the best and continued improvement. I happen to be an older student getting close to my Checkride at KOSU.

  7. Steve Cirino
    Steve Cirino says:

    Great tribute to a brother team from Ohio. I really enjoyed and cried while reading. My brother and I started the journey about the same time and place. Northeast Ohio and my big brother just returned from viet Nam in 73. John bought a old c150 and the rest is 48 years of passion. Never a dull day has passed. Thank you Brother John and all caring Aviators. -:))

  8. Warren Collmer
    Warren Collmer says:

    Great story Dave. Having grown up in a Columbus suburb, I also went to OSU and got my primary instruction there. Later moved to Cincinnati where I finished my commercial, instrument and multi training. During the years when I was earning a living flying corporate jets there, I would meetup with my dad every summer for a day at the Air Force Museum.

    I certainly knew the practical side of flying but also knew, and miss, the fun side, especially those days of flying single engine airplanes in the midwest, and mostly southwest Ohio. Stories like yours, and those of Martha Lunken take me back to those days of flying one of Moose’s new Cessna 172s out of Blue Ash, and the great training I received from John Lane at Lebanon – Warren County in the late 70s.

  9. Jim Augspurger
    Jim Augspurger says:

    Anyone who has slid open hangar doors on a quiet Saturday morning and stepped into the dim light pausing to look at their air machine will certainly appreciate this great story.
    My mom was fine with our flying all over Florida in a worn J3 just as long as we never rode a motorcycle and were home by dark. Thank you.


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