Thursday, July 3, 2003

Memories of Flight, Part 5

Several years ago, I signed up for a flight program at NKU. After several lectures you could go up with an instructor for one hour at Blue Ash Airport. I am so happy I did, for there is nothing like it. The world looks so peaceful and different from the sky than it does from the ground.

I took lessons in a Cessna 152 and just taking off down the runway at 60 miles an hour was just as exciting as if it had been in a jet. In December of 1998 I made my first solo at the age of 63. When I landed I was so excited, yet scared. I looked like Don Knotts when he got excited and upset. I will always be happy that I ventured to take that course plus I have many aerial pictures of Cincinnati.

Joan K. Schneider, Cold Spring

From the time I first learned to walk I think I became interested in aviation and dreamed of the day I could become a pilot. When I was 10 years old, two of my friends and I pooled the money we had earned by picking strawberries and went to the old Mt. Healthy airport (now the site of Northgate Mall) and talked an old pilot into taking us for a ride in an old open cockpit biplane. I think it was an OX 5 with a liquid-cooled engine with the radiator mounted between the wings in front of the front cockpit. I was hooked on flying and could not wait to take flying lessons. WWII gave me that opportunity. On my 18th birthday in 1943 I went to Wright Field in Dayton to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Force with the hope of becoming a "hot shot" fighter pilot. It was not to be. I found out that I am color blind. To say the least, I was heartbroken.

I was discharged from the Army in 1946 and found that it was possible to learn how to fly using the GI bill. My first flying lessons were taken at the Mt. Healthy airport, flying a J3 Piper Cub. This was a very basic flying machine with no radio or navigation equipment except for a ball compass, which is practically useless. After about 8 hours of instruction, I soloed. Shortly thereafter we received some new Areonca Chaps. Not much of an improvement over the Cub, but they were new. One of the requirements to obtain a private license, besides approximately 40 hours solo and dual hours, was the need to make several cross-country flights. My first cross-country flight was with the instructor. We flew from Mt. Healthy to Indianapolis to Dayton to Mt. Healthy. We flew "dead reckoning." Draw a line on the map showing your route and check points. The first cross-country with the instructor went very well. I hit every checkpoint.

Several weeks later I made this same flight flying solo. It was a hot summer morning and I was in trouble as soon as I took off. That plane was bouncing around in rough air and the compass was swinging back and forth so much that it was useless. Oh, well. Forget the compass and fly your checkpoints. Problem! Every little town in Indiana looks alike. All have a courthouse, water tower, and in most cases, a railroad. After a while I realized I was hopelessly lost. One of my checkpoints was Rushville. What do I do? No radio-cell phone. I found a town but could not identify it on my map. I went down to 500 feet and was hoping to find a sign that would identify the town. No luck! Panic time! I slowly flew around the town and to my surprise, I spotted a barn with a windsock. Must be an airport but I don't see any planes. I decided that the field adjacent to the barn looked long enough and smooth enough for me to land the plane. Made a good landing and taxied up to the barn but did not see anyone around or any identifying sign. I was still lost. The plane did not have an electric starter. It had to be hand propped. If I shut the engine down I was really in more trouble. Since no one was around I walked out to the highway and with map in hand, I managed to flag down a passing truck driver. I explained that I was flying to Indianapolis and was lost. I asked him the name of the town we were in. He told me it was Connersville. I explained that I was looking for Rushville. He told me it was to the west. I shamefully asked him to point west. I crawled back into the plane and found my way to Indianapolis. From there to Dayton was easy. Just follow Route 40. From Dayton, fly between Middletown and Hamilton and you end up at Mt. Healthy.

My wife tells me that I am lost most of the time and can't read a map or navigate.

Al Foltzer, Cincinnati

During World War II, 1944, I was a ball turret gunner on a B-17 flying fortress in the 8th Air Force, stationed in England. Normally I flew with my regular crew, but because the ball turret gunner on a sister ship had pneumonia I volunteered to replace him on this particular mission.

Mission completed: As we neared the landing field the pilot notified us that we were in trouble. The landing gear was not working and we would have to land the ship on the belly. I crawled out of the ball turret and stood in the waist of the ship. As we slid into the field (Doephan Green, near Attelsborough, England) and when we hit the runway there occurred a tremendous, ear-shattering scraping. The pilot cut the engines at precisely the right time, or we would have blown up.

Later I was told that this was the crew's last mission before going home, and prior to this mission the plane had suffered minimum damage. Did the incident happen because I was aboard, or because I was aboard we made it home safe and sound?

The crew didn't appreciate that this was my 13th mission.

E. Pike Levine, Wyoming

Thirty years ago my friend and I flew on Delta to visit her sister in Miami, Fla. Since this was my first flight, everyone gave me advice on not being scared. I was so excited about flying, I didn't have sense enough to be scared.

As soon as we were airborne, I went to the restroom. A man was standing there with his hand on the handle. I took it out of his hand and said, "Oh, you're going into the wrong one." He replied, "No, I'm not." The door said LAVATORY. I thought it said LADIES. He went back to his seat, which was right in front of us. Later, all of a sudden we hit an air pocket. I let out a yell; I though we were falling out of the sky (nobody warned me about this.)

The man in front of me looked back and said, "It's a good thing you went in there first."

That made us laugh, and I still find flying very exciting.

Gloria Kitch, Florence

The Pearl Harbor attack caused me to think of becoming a naval aviator. I was 10 years old and living on my parents' Iowa farm. Application was made for the flight program. After a series of examinations, I was accepted and ordered to the Minneapolis E-base, June, 1942.

Following a month of ground school, the big day arrived for my first ride in an airplane. My instructor was Marine Captain Kipp. Before his arrival, I admired the open cockpit navy trainer, a plane commonly referred to as the Yellow Peril. The instructor walked up and said "I'm Captain Kipp and you WILL be successful in the flight program. My students don't fail."

"Yes, sir."

"Since you have flown before we will do a familiarization including a few aerobatics and then you start flying."

"But sir..."

"OK, climb in the backseat."

The na‘ve farm boy was completely rattled and as a result, forgot to fasten the seat belt.

Climbing to altitude, I was thrilled with the new experience. Suddenly Kipp flipped the plane on its back and I found myself falling. I grabbed the side of the cockpit, the windshield, and whatever else my hands would grasp. Looking straight down at the ground petrified me. Suddenly, the plane righted itself and into the seat I plopped. Grabbing the belt, I fastened it securely. My navy career almost ended with a tumble into space.

Kipp spoke, "OK, take us back to the base."

I didn't have a clue where we were, let alone knowing how to fly. After a moment it was obvious that I had never had my hands on a plane before.

"OK Glass, I've got it," he said and back we went, ending my first flight.

Ken Glass, Oxford

In 1965, at Lake Wawasee, Syracuse, Indiana, airplane rides were available above the lake for a small fee to daring riders. The experimental plane was constructed of thin metal struts with a 40-foot fabric-covered wing. The single passenger sat at the front nose of the structure on a flimsy seat topped by a square boat cushion. The pilot sat behind the passenger with a large, push-type propeller mounted on the frame behind him. The only fabric on the plane covered the wing and both pilot and passenger could be clearly seen from the ground.

As I sat down in the passenger seat I read a small brass sign which read, "Notice: Your life insurance is not valid for this experimental aircraft." I gulped, but decided not to chicken out and buckled the narrow seat belt. I put on a World War I leather flyer's hat and goggles.

The pilot started the motor, which sounded like a riding mower tractor engine. I grabbed each side of the seat airframe and off we went. We taxied over the bumping ground of the grass airstrip preparing to take off. We accelerated to 80 miles per hour and slowly lifted off the ground.

It was like riding on a magic flying carpet. Since I was at the front of the plane, all I could see was the clear air ahead of me. We slowly rose upward in the most thrilling ride I had ever experienced. It was like riding on just a seat but powered by a noisy, huge fan that pushed the aircraft ahead rather than by conventional means. The view was spectacular with nothing on either side of the me. I couldn't see the rest of the plane, and the wind was unseen by me as we flew up to 800 feet above the lake.

The pilot knew where my friends were on the shore and circled them. He tapped me on the shoulder and indicated I should wave to them by waving himself. I shook my head with a decided "NO." I certainly would not release my grip on that airframe!

During the 30-minute flight we experienced a lot of bumping up and down. It felt like I was on a big kite with a motor attached. It was the most thrilling, unique and memorable 30 minutes above ground in my life!

Robert J. Priebe, Mason

Many years ago I was flying with my son, age 4 1/2 and his sister, 7. The hostess came by and asked if they would like to see the cockpit. Of course, my son eagerly accepted. Upon his return with a "wings" pin he told us they put the plane on automatic pilot, he sat in the co-pilot's seat and flew the plane!

His teachers at pre-school had told me that when he told "tall tales" I was to try to show him the difference between fact and fiction. After hearing about his trip to the cockpit I felt it would be advisable to send a note to the school explaining that whatever he said about "flying the plane" was fact and not fiction as I had verified it with the stewardess.

And now he has racked up many, many frequent flyer miles ever since.

Emily J. Backrach, Cincinnati

A Flying Memory

Flying over the Bitterroot Mountains on a clear September day,

We could see forever, forever and a day.

Blue sky wrapped around us,

Snow capped mountain peaks below.

Deep valleys, ribbon-like Missouri flowing,

What a spectacular show!

Magnificent old mountains standing tall with dignity and pride,

Sculptured and carved by Mother Nature and Father Time.

Flying anywhere, night or day,

Is the safe and expedient way.

If the Wright brothers could only return and see,

The miraculous progress aviation has achieved today.

What would Orville and Wilbur say?

Bertha Hammons Pittman, Batavia

My story about flight is different. It's about miracles that came about in the life of a 12-year-old boy. His father died suddenly that year of a heart attack. The following year I met a man who flew radio-controlled airplanes as a hobby. I thought that would be a great birthday gift idea for my son. I wanted him around men as there was only his 16-year-old sister and myself. So I bought him an airplane.

I was sitting at a desk at a hospital where I volunteered and was telling the girl I worked with about my son and his birthday present. His 13th birthday was a week away and I had to find out about this airplane club. Our of the corner of my eye I saw a gentleman had come up to the copy machine behind our desk. He said "Excuse me, but I couldn't help but overhear your conversation. I'm the president of the Greater Cincinnati Remote Control Airplane Club. Bring your son over next weekend and we'll teach him how to fly." For the next three years, we loaded airplanes in my car and I drove him to the airfield every day we could fly.

After three years he learned to drive and hung out at the airfield more. The men in the club were very nice to him and he is still friends with several of them today.

When he was a senior in high school I walked into my bank one day and a teller friend asked me what my son was going to do after he graduated. I said he is interested in flying and wants to go to flight school. She said a customer friend of hers is a pilot for ComAir, and maybe he could talk to your son. I asked for his number, and at that moment, the man walked into the bank! He told me his son was a flight instructor, and he offered to have him take my son up in a plane to see if he liked it.

Well, he loved it, of course. He went on to flight school and got his degree. He now teaches at a flight school.

When he did one of his first cross-country flights along, he flew to Michigan. I was there emptying things out of our summer place. He dearly loved it there; we bought it when he was two years old. He spent many of those 12 years there in the summer with his father. He hated it when I sold the house because he felt closest to his dad when he was there. So he told me that day what time he would be flying over the house. I ran out the door and stood in the yard waving a dishtowel as he tipped his wings as a final salute to a place he loved and had to let go of.

Tears came easy that day for me also. I believe my son the pilot likes to fly so much now because he feels the closest to his dad when he's up there.

As for mom, I remarried four years ago and my son's stepfather is a design engineer on jet engines at General Electric.

I believe in miracles. They happen all around us daily.

Betty Crozier, Colerain Township

My favorite flying experience has to be my first flight. Being from a large family, our traveling was limited to the car. I was 19 years old attending Cincinnati State and ready to take on the world in the fall of 1970. A friend from school, Steve, asked me if I'd be interested in sky diving; he was already a student of the sport. Naturally I said yes and persuaded a few of my other friends, as well as my girlfriend, to come along.

The place was Green County Sport Parachute Center in Xenia, Ohio. For $27.50 you got three hours of lessons and your first jump, all equipment included. So there I was, parachute strapped to my back and ready to go with two other students, a jumpmaster and the pilot. The plane was a stripped-out Cessna-180 painted green, for Green County, I guess. It had a modified door so when you opened it the wind pushed it up under the wing. As we climbed into the airplane with 40 pounds of equipment strapped on our backs the only person who had a seat was the pilot. We knelt. I never complain about coach seating now.

The runway was nothing more than a strip of grass. To say the least, as the plane took off down the so-called runway it was a bit bumpy. Even at 19 my knees and bones hurt. I'll never forget leaving the ground. It was wonderful, smoothing out into the sky. For the next 15 minutes I gazed out the window in awe as we climbed to 2,800 feet.

Time to jump. My friends went first. My turn. The jumpmaster popped open a door and a rush of cold air filled the cabin. I swung into position, sitting in the door, feet dangling outside. Grabbing the strut of the wing, one foot in the stirrup, you pull yourself out into an 80-mile per hour wind, the other leg flapping in the breeze. Great view! A smack on the backside. I let go.

My first though was "What was I thinking?" and I shouted some four-letter word. Three seconds later, seeming like an eternity, BOOM! The parachute opened. Wow. I looked up and waved goodbye to the plane. I looked down to find my target, my heart still racing. I drifted slowly down to earth. The landing was a pretty good shot, only 50 feet away from the target. I was the closest student that day.

It would be 13 flights and a year later before I ever actually landed in a airplane - an American Airlines flight to New York City, at LaGuardia Airport.

Strange, isn't it, this landing thing?

Ed Horning, Cincinnati

I remember the first time that I ever flew. It was December 1961. I had just turned 21 and had not been anywhere. All at once the emergency light came on and the captain got on the air and announced that we were experiencing turbulence.

I looked out the window and noticed that the one engine was on fire. I thought to myself, well, I'm not going to make it home.

Then the emergency light went off and the captain got back on the air and said that everything was under control.

After the excitement died down I thought that I saw a friend of mine in the plane whose name is Jack, so I stood up and hollered "Hi, Jack."

The next thing I knew they had me spread eagled on the floor of the plane. They thought I was going to hijack the plane!

If I knew then what I know now I would have sent the airline a bill for my underwear!

Bo Greenham, Harrison

(P.S., it turned out not to be my friend Jack after all.)

The thrill of flying is increased in an open cockpit biplane. The U.S. Navy trained pilots in the 1942 Stearman 125. I have flown in single- engine Cessnas, twin-engine Beechcrafts, and other aircraft as well. None provided thrills like the biplane.

The most stimulating experience took place in Waynesville, Ohio, at Stewart's airstrip. I was having my home built in Bright, Indiana, and wanted to do a "fly over" the home site and surrounding countryside. I hired "Cub" Stewart to fly me from Waynesville to Bright, Indiana and back.

Cub agreed and we took off on a sunny afternoon in September 1995. Cub flew to about 300 feet and then circled a small golf course and turned back to the grass strip. He shouted over the headphones that he was concerned with the pitch of the propeller and was going to land. After we climbed out he explained that he sensed a tremor in the way the biplane handled. The flight was cancelled. I was disappointed and asked if there was another biplane available. He said no, however, if I wanted for an hour or two he would attempt to replace the propeller.

I watched as he and a helper carried a heavy prop from a hangar and replaced the one in question. After 90 minutes or so he started the engine and increased revolutions until he was satisfied that all was well. Cub then asked me if I wanted to go up again. I had already decided that because he was so cautious on our first attempt that he indeed was a great pilot and mechanic, with safety as his guideline.

I answered, "Let's go" and we again took off for Indiana. The flight over Middletown, Hamilton and Harrison, Ohio and up to Bright was thrill I will never forget. Cub flew in circles over my home site and I was able to lean over the side of the cockpit and take pictures of the cul-de-sac and lake behind my home. I have flown twice since then in biplanes, however none were as thrilling as with Cub Stewart and his flying machine.

Kevin J. Healey, Lawrenceburg

During my days in training for my private ticket, I had to make a first solo flight . Oh, I had taken off and landed solo, but this was an hour long trip on my own, and alone. I did all of the preflight inspection, started the engine, contacted the tower for clearance to taxi and then at the takeoff point, I received clearance for takeoff. I took off, left the traffic pattern, flew up river and as I was circling over the then under construction, Zimmer nuclear power plant,. I recall saying out loud, "now that is impressive". There was, naturally no answer, so I glanced over to my right and saw the empty seat. Gulp!

Later when I was serving as MC for a retirement party I had occasion to use the solo experience. I told the crowd about the solo trip as an ice breaker . And I ended it by saying, "and I can recall saying then what I am thinking now, What in hell am I doing up here all by myself?"

After that the job was easy.

Stanley R. Grothaus, Cincinnati

The sky was never big enough to hold Peter Helmken. His personality could fill any room and so it was only natural for him to eventually take to the skies. Starting with flying lessons in a little Cessna 152, he took to the adventure with gusto and quickly mastered the throttle, rudder and assorted gadgets a private pilot needs to negotiate.

During our brief and blissful marriage, Peter regaled the wonders of being airborne to me often, but never quite convinced me of the need to crawl into that tiny soaring tin can and leave the earth. Yet the luster never left his eyes when he would talk about his favorite escape.

Years later, after Peter had suffered and succumbed to a vile bout with cancer at the unfair age of thirty-four, I found myself sitting in the cockpit of a small aircraft. The words of the instructor were only coming through in hazy mumblings and what appeared to be thousands of spinning apparatus blurred my vision.

With Peter as my inspiration, I felt the need to lift up above the earth, to discover the mystery that had captured his heart in an attempt to meet him once more. The terror of leaving two small children at home with a babysitter while I challenged the fates with what seemed like a reckless endeavor was almost crippling, but the need to touch the pulse of his passion was even greater.

No amount of reading, preparation or practice had prepared me for the feeling the first time I pulled back the throttle and the small nose of our plane lifted us into the sea of blue. It wasn't until we reached 1800 feet that I finally let out my breath at the wonder of it all. A quiet tear rolled down my cheek as I began to see the world as Peter had so many times and as I knew he did then, from heaven.

Diane MacLachlan, Cincinnati

My most memorable flying experience occurred back in late winter of 1968. My (then) husband was on active duty in the Navy, and we were based in Norfolk, Virginia. He was scheduled to go out to sea for a couple of weeks, so my 18-month old son, David, and I were going to fly back to Cincinnati to visit my parents.

We checked in our baggage, and proceeded to board the plane. Our flight plan was to fly to Washington, D.C., and there change airlines for the flight home. By going through D.C. we were able to fly by jet instead of props. Our take off was delayed for quite a while. When we finally were in the air, the stewardess notified everyone making connecting flights whether or not they would be able to make the connection. There were several sailors onboard making the same connection as David and I. Upon landing in D.C., four sailors, David, and myself caught a taxi to the American Airline terminal. When we checked in at American, the ticket agent told us we would have to run if we were going to make the flight, the plane was ready to leave. The sailors all took off running. Here I am carrying an 18-month old baby and a huge diaper bag, running down the concourse. As luck would have it, the diaper bag broke, and everything fell out! I guess I looked pretty frantic as I was trying to put everything back in the diaper bag. Just then a very nice gentlemen wearing an airline uniform stopped to help me. I told him I had to hurry or I would miss my plane and be stuck in Washington overnight. He asked me what flight I was taking, and I gave him the flight number. He said to relax and just walk to the plane, that I would make it. I told him "No, the ticket agent said it was ready to leave." He said "Don't worry, it won't leave without you." I asked him what made him think that. He said, "I'm the pilot on that flight, and it's not going anywhere till we get there." That was the end of the running for the flight. He carried the diaper bag and I carried David.

Mary Jo Wingard, Cincinnati

Well, it was May, 1987 and my friend Phyllis and I were headed to Myrtle Beach for a week of fun and sun. It was my first time on a plane and I was a nervous wreck but Phyllis was just excited about going. We boarded the plane and as soon as I sat down I held onto the arm rest for dear life and would not let go. The next thing I know they are asking if anyone would be willing to give up their seats for a couple that needed to take this flight. The airline would get us on the next flight plus give us 2 tickets to wherever they fly, good for a year and buy our lunch. Phyllis said "Let's give up our seats, hurry, let's get up!!!" But no way was I moving out of my seat. I was still gripping the arm rests so hard my knuckles were white. When the plane finally left the ground my friend wasn't speaking to me. The flight was actually a very smooth ride and from that day on I've flown with no nerve problems. She eventually got over being upset and I told her if she just would have gotten up and started to leave I probably would have followed her. Or would I have?

Judy Myers, Cincinnati

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