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July 24, 2007

The early summer twilight was fading by the minute. Darkness was descending like a cloak on the rugged West Virginia landscape that was slipping by a thousand feet below the dangling wheels of the white Luscombe I was flying.

I felt the first stirrings of panic rising in my chest as the seriousness of my situation dawned on me and I stared frantically down at the lights of cars moving on the now invisible roads below. Inside them I knew were ordinary people, safely making their way home along familiar highways, following the bright beams of their headlights to the warmth of family and the comforts of hearth and supper. I wanted to be with them. I wanted out of this devil machine that was carrying me to my apparent doom. I wanted my mom.

It was June of 1962. The week before I had not only soloed the Piper Colt trainer at the old airpark where I was learning to fly, I'd bought a perky little Luscombe 8A the following day and checked out in it too. At that point I'd logged about 9 total hours in the air, I'd soloed two machines and made one of them mine. My flying career was right on track.

Now of course, with these milestones behind me it was time for the coupe de gras of my new avocation. The graduation ceremony, as it were, must now occur, just as it had for countless thousands of new pilots, since the first flyers began teaching their art to others. I must now do the obligatory first solo flight over my parent's house.

In the best tradition, I would now show the world, my small world anyway, that I had mastered my fate and conquered the air. I was now a pilot, with the likes of Charles Lindbergh and other notables, and people needed to know this. What better way to announce my membership in this exclusive club than a screaming pass (in my mind only, in reality it would be a leisurely aerial stroll) above my home village.

A small problem existed. My parents' home and the target of this surreptitious flight lay some 90 air miles to the south east of the border town where I was now based. At 9 hours total time logged, I had not yet been exposed to some of the more minor details of flying that I suspected I might need on such a flight. Bothersome items such as navigation and cross country planning had not been covered during my brief aeronautical tenure. But because of the importance and immediate necessity of this mission, I felt these inconveniences could be overcome.

As fate would have it, I happened to work with a very experienced pilot. He was an old hand who possessed an actual Private License and perhaps 60 hours in the air. I knew that a pilot of such experience and credentials could supply me with the knowledge needed for such an undertaking, if only I approached him in the right way.

The next day at work as we sat eating our lunch, I craftily brought the conversation around to flying. He was a willing participant and listened intently as I shared my exciting purchase of the Luscombe with him. I explained that some day, far in the future when I had learned about navigation and aeronautical maps and such, I would use my airplane to fly back to my home in central West Virginia. How long, I wondered aloud, did he think that would take?

He took the bait. Eager to show his prowess, he quickly brought his chart, plotter and flight computer from the car. I showed him where the village of Arden was on the chart and he measured the distance. He asked me the speed of the Luscombe, and I gave him the number I remembered seeing on the air speed indicator during the brief moments I had flown the ship in level flight. Mysterious twirling of the flight computer ensued, accompanied by low mutterings from my guru. With a triumphant smile he then announced that when I was a fully formed pilot and had mastered the art of navigation, I could expect my Luscombe to carry me home in about 56 minutes, give or take for wind, whatever that meant.

This was wonderful news. I would have time to spare for making my flight after work and getting back on the ground well before dark. I had all the information I needed.

Today was a beautiful summer's day with little or no wind and the weather looked as though it would hold. I would go this very evening.

To be continued….

Steve Weaver Aircraft Sales - Route 3 Box 696 - Phillipi, West Virginia - Phone 304-457-4523 - Fax 304-457-4799 For a restorative vacation for both your body and your soul, consider a week on the banks of the unforgettable Tygart River, in the heart of West Virginia. Click for more.

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