June 21, 2012
He walked through the office door at the airport on a hot
July afternoon in 1969, looking like a farmer in his late
fifties that had climbed down off his tractor and come directly
to the airport. All of this turned out to be good detecting on
my part, because that was exactly what he was and what he had
been doing before he took a ride to see us.
it turned out had something bothering him, and it had been
eating at him for almost twenty five years. He had returned from
the big war, gotten married, raised a family and become a
successful farmer and business man, but this little piece of his
past was always there and it still nibbled away at the little
secret spot where a person lives, even after all the years. He
confessed to me that afternoon, sitting in the big armchair in
my office that he had washed out of the Army Air Corps flight
training. Even after a generation, I could still see the regret
and the shame in the faded brown eyes.
it was having his family raised or maybe it was attaining
financial comfort, but he had decided to put to rest the memory
that dogged him and do what he had failed to do years ago. He
wanted, no I should say he planned, to learn to fly.
I was to learn in the next few minutes, was imbued with the
courage of his conviction, for he had purchased an airplane and
had come to see if I would teach him to fly it. Without knowing
even how to start it, he was the proud owner of a beautiful
Piper PA-12 and he was building a hangar for it on his farm,
located just to the west of the little strip where I operated
the flying school.
Of course I said I would be glad to
do that, since teaching people to fly was currently my chosen
method of earning a living, and we made arrangements for me to
pick the airplane up at Clarksburg where the previous owner had
it hangared and move it to our airport.
so it was that Orion became a part of my life for the next year,
and as surely as eight o'clock on Sunday morning came, so did
Orion. He was faithful and on time, and each Sunday as he began
preflighting the Super Cruiser I began steeling me for what was
sure to be another trying hour.
For the Army Air Corps
as it turned out, didn't wash Orion out because he didn't shine
his shoes. I had never encountered a student with so little
natural aptitude for flying. Or to put it better, so much talent
for not learning to fly. Things that the average student grasped
within minutes took Orion hours, grueling, mind numbing hours or
repetition. Making a coordinated turn without losing altitude
for instance, took the number of hours that ordinarily I would
see a student soloed. We would work and work on a particular
maneuver and I would see progress during his lesson, but when he
returned the next week it would be as if we had never before
covered that part of flying. He seemed much effected by little
things, such as whether his cushion had been correctly
positioned, or the trim had been changed. I began to dread
The one bright spot that I came to see
after a while, was when the light bulb went off in Orion's head
and he finally grasped something he had it in a strangle hold
and he had it forever. After ten hours or so of dual
instruction, with Orion's abilities about where the average
student's would have been during the second hour, we had 'The
I said, "I realize how important learning to fly is to you
and we both know that it isn't coming easily for you. I want you
to know it's going to take a long, long time, but I think you
can do it and if you'll keep at it I'll stick with you".
The hours piled up and Sunday after Sunday passed and
summer turned to fall and then the leaves were gone. Cabin heat
was the order of the day when we finally were ready to begin
takeoffs and landings and I couldn't believe that it was taking
me so long to teach someone to fly an airplane. I kept taking
comfort in the fact that although the learning was agonizing,
Orion really did eventually learn and once he learned something
he held it to his breast and celebrated it. It was his forever.
Spring came early that year and as the flowers of
April sprinkled the grass of our runway I stood among them and
watched Orion and the Super Cruiser take wing without me for the
first time. I had spent many hours after he had mastered the
technique of taking the ship off the ground, flying a proper
pattern and setting it down in the right place with the proper
attitude, just to make sure that he wouldn't suddenly regress.
At this point, let me confess out loud, I had flown with Orion
for over forty hours. Never had I encountered a student, who
combined such a desire to learn with such a resistance to doing
so; but he was flying now and I watched him glide in for a
perfect landing. He taxied back to me with a big smile on his
face and I sent him back to do two more circuits before going to
the hangar and losing his shirttail.
Orion never got a
Private License because it would have added nothing to what he
had. He owned an airplane and had a place to keep it and he had
the ability to do what he had set out to do so many years ago.
He had shown the world and even more importantly he had shown
himself that he had what it took to fly an airplane and to wear
the title of pilot.
kept that airplane and flew it locally from his strip for many
years and it wasn't hard to sense the joy that it brought him.
So far as I knew he never went cross country in it, but he never
tired of being aloft, looking down at the land that he had
walked over as a youth. I loved it when he'd come to our field
for fuel and I could see the pride on his weathered face and
know that I had something to do with making his dream come true.
Orion's patterns and landings had an almost boring
sameness, with the angle of his approach and the touchdown spot
on the runway exactly like the last one and always exactly
right. I was standing outside the hangar one day when Orion came
in and one of the airport regulars was watching his usual
perfect approach and touchdown. He remarked that in all times
he'd seen Orion land he'd never seen him make a bad landing. I
thought for a second and replied, "I guess I never taught