Fifty years ago, I took my very first flight lesson in N3212J. She’s a 1966 Cessna 150, currently living in California. I was a freshman student at Colorado State University (CSU) and had joined the CSU Flying Club just a few days before. I had wanted to fly since a very young age, and it was about to happen!
My love of flying started as soon as I first noticed an airplane in the air, I think. I remember going to the county fair and riding on the kiddie rides with cars, boats, motorcycles. But I always wanted to ride in the airplane. I think it was 2nd grade when I started looking in our World Book Encyclopedias in the classroom and found AIRPLANES! I knew what did what including the ailerons, elevator and rudder. In my young mind, I flew those drawings in the book.
My Great Uncle, Paul Tatman, flew P51 Mustangs during WWII. When she discovered my infatuation with flying, Grandma Hallie started telling me stories about him and how he would take her flying, performing chandelles and rolls while flying her over the farm and waving at the neighbors. Grandma was a good storyteller. We can blame her for planting the aviation seed so deep.
A few years later, a new teacher moved to town, Bob Klein, and guess what? He was a pilot and airplane owner. Bob took me for my first airplane rides and to my first airshow. The very first takeoff was from a pasture, just south of Haddam. I believe the hangar was used by another local businessman in town, Bob Adee, before Bob Klein stored his Cessna 120 there. Well, it had a hangar and a straight enough piece of land for a runway, so in my mind, it wasn’t just a pasture, it was a ticket to anywhere! There is a quote that pilots learn early on: “A mile of road will take you a mile, but a mile of runway will take you anywhere!”
Fast forward to October 13, 1973. I went out to Chrisman Field in Fort Collins – a small, paved airport right at the foothills. The airport used to be the main Fort Collins Airport and home to some airplane manufacturers such as Luscombe and Forney Ercoupe. Now it belonged to CSU for their atmospheric research department and the CSU Flying Club. There, I met my flight instructor, Larry Lukoic. We walked out to N3212J and she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen! She looked just like she does in the pictures, even the same paint scheme. Larry walked around the airplane, showing me how and WHY we preflight an airplane. Then it was time to jump and fire her up!
We had to taxi the entire length of the runway to get lined up for a takeoff into the wind. Larry had me taxi with my feet! I didn’t realize back in the encyclopedia days that you didn’t use a steering wheel on the ground, but rather your feet on the rudder pedals. Yep, I looked like I was drunk trying to keep that thing moving straight down the runway! Then I realized I still had to keep this thing straight down the runway at about 55 mph to takeoff! Fortunately, Larry preformed the takeoff with me on the controls, just following what he did.
We flew around for just over an hour, with me trying to keep the thing straight and level, then moving on to a few shallow turns and eventually tracking a straight road. The logbooks entry says, “Introduction, pre-flight, fundamentals, trim, follow road.” Then came the landing. With Larry doing most of the work of keeping us on centerline and glidepath, I was “following him” on the controls. He talked me through the final “flair” and touchdown and I landed the airplane. At least, I like to think I landed it. Truth be known, Larry probably had a lot more to do with it then I did.
In more than 50 years of flight, I’ve flown just over 400 hours, with quite a few long trips and a lot of short ones. I’ve flown back home a number of times and given rides to my family and friends. My longest cross country flight was just over 1,700 miles, from Fort Collins to Martha’s Vineyard. My shortest flight was about 500 feet. I took off and didn’t like how the airplane was climbing, so I landed on the remaining runway in front of me. I’ve flown a lot of different airplanes including two hours in the left seat of a DC-8 full of horses, over the Atlantic, as a Private pilot.
Flying is something that non-aviators just don’t get. It’s a calling….almost. I cannot be outside and hear and airplane without looking up to find it. It just seeps into the soul. It’s a task that requires concentration, yet allows me to totally relax. The world goes away for me when I fly. There are no troubles, no worries, no fears. It’s just peace. I logged a lot of solo flights after my parents were killed in that car wreck. It’s where I could forget that I wouldn’t see them again. It’s where I wasn’t worried about what would become of me. It’s where life made sense.
I’m 68 now. How many more years will I be physically able to fly? I don’t know. I may have already taken my last flight, but I hope not. I REALLY want to fly N3212J. Just one more time!