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Flight with an old bomber pilot.

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Flight with an old bomber pilot.

Old 23rd Aug 2004, 18:42
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Flight with an old bomber pilot.

This weekend my wife's 82 year old Uncle came to visit us for the first time. I had of course met him before in his home town of Kansas City, and knew he had completed a tour of duty in 1944 flying B24's from England. His last flight as a pilot, or in a cockpit, was in 1946.

I asked if he would like a flight in my old 172. 'Sure' was all he said, but the look he gave me belied that casual answer, he had been hoping for the offer. As he is an early riser, I too rose early the next morning and we set out for the airport a little after 7 am. When we were situated in the aircraft and taxied out to the run up area, he insisted he read off the (very short) pre-takeoff check list, 'Just like my co-pilots used to do' he said with a smile. Once airborne and holding 2000ft I offered him control. "It's been nearly 60 years" he said in a tone of voice that carried a warning. I assured him I would pay close attention. He took the yoke, eased it gently back then forward, 'Bit more responsive than the B24' he said, then he held it straight and level for some minutes. 'Try a turn' I offered. I watched the yoke move for a right turn, then felt the rudder pedal sink under my right foot, he stabilized the turn at about 35deg, and eased the nose up. I glanced at the turn and bank, he was in a perfectly co-coordinated turn. The altimeter showed he was maintaining altitude within 40ft. As he straightened up I felt the rudder pedal move again as he leveled the yoke, and used the rudder to help stop the turn. I couldn't help but give him a big grin when he glanced over at me, 'You've still got it' I said, 'Feels really good' he replied' A few minutes later he asked me to take control again, 'Let me look' he said. We flew together in companionable silence for the next hour or so, while he soaked up the view over the State of his birth, from a level lower than commercial flying offers. It was early and clear, the lakes for which Minnesota is so famous were all around us, sparkling blue and gray in the sunlight, each surrounded to our north by pine forest or to our south by fields, deep green with young corn.

As we rolled out following landing, he patted my knee and said "I'll fly with you any time' That simple comment, with it's accompanying warm smile, made my heart glow, and my ego humble. Not only was it such a pleasure to take an old airman, who had risked his all, for me and mine, aloft; but also to see the skills he had learned so well in his late teens and early twenties had not deserted him. It seemed to me he flew my Cessna with more assurance, after 60 years away, than I did.
White Bear.
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Old 23rd Aug 2004, 19:35
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White Bear,
Thankyou very much for sharing such a wonderful experience.

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Old 23rd Aug 2004, 19:52
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I echo that. I too have flown with some war heroes and their skill is undiminished with the years. One such was a Major Skinner holding an MC, he was 82 at the time of flying him in 1974, or rather he flying me, and his control of the aircraft, a Tiger Moth, was superb and a joy to behold. I invited him to land and he did it with great skill and panache. I then suggested he took us aloft again and he did that too, with the very same demonstration of a true aviator.

I hardly touched the aeroplane throughout. I received a letter from him a few days later in a hand that was not as steady as it once was and he described that he was sent out to Bloemfontein in 1938 to train RAF pilots on Tiger's and he had not flown one since 1943. Say 30 years. Not bad eh? I still have the picture he sent me - of him wearing his ORIGINAL issued white overalls together with his ORIGINAL helmet. What a guy. RAF training was the best in the world then, and always has been since.
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Old 23rd Aug 2004, 19:55
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Lovely story WB, reminds me very much of this thread.

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