Ships of one form or another are perhaps what we think of when talk of traveling enters the conversation. How as a vessel what it is, how it operates, and where it originates? Perhaps when we hear the word ship most think of traveling on water, or remnants of extended memories of traveling by train, bus, car, or motorcycle. A vehicle with the first notion of flying may come in a dream, so perhaps it really happened, but you’re not sure because it’s a dream you’re having.
Every summer spent at my uncle’s place on one of his farms – he had three as I remember. There was a grass runway with three wooden frame hangars covered in corrugated tin. Sometimes, when fetching the cows for milking, I would slide open the doors and stare at the planes parked inside imaging flying one. On one exceedingly early occasion a guy who often helped my uncle, Moses was his name, asked if I’d like to go up in the plane with him. I jumped at the opportunity because for a ten-year kid on summer vacation this was one of those out of extra ordinary chances that spring out with only one answer. Yes!
“So, what’s your name?” Moses asked.
“I remember your dad working on the farm here when he was a kid like you, then I heard he joined the army, and was stationed somewhere in Europe.”
“That’s right, but I don’t remember anything about him, probably for that reason, him being sent to Europe. And I was born in Austria, where he met my mother while stationed there.”
“So, how do you like working on your uncle’s farm?”
“I don’t know much about farming, but I’m learning something new every day. I’d really like to learn about flying because it sounds a lot more interesting and fun than farming.”
“I remember a story about a pilot flying over a lake, looking down and seeing a boat with a man fishing, and thinking how nice it would be down there. And the fisherman looking up thinking how fantastic it would be up in a plane. Sometimes people want to always be somewhere else, I guess the same could be said about farming. Well, if you ever have any questions about planes or flying just ask.”
“Thanks, and when did you learn how to fly planes?”
“Oh, that’s a long story,” he said. “I flew planes in Europe. I’ll tell you more about it someday. As of now, and here, farmers hire me to fly over their farms for a visual check of their property, and if I see anything unusual, I convey that to them. I check fences, cattle, and it’s just great fun to get paid to fly.” Then he walked to the hangar door. “Give me a hand with the door.”
We pushed the door on the right, and I shoved open the one the left. Both rattling while squeaking open, kicking up dust from the dirt floor, some birds escaped, and I ducked after hearing them flap over my head. Moses laughed. “That happens every time, though seems appropriate, planes and birds flying. Well, there she is,” he said, and pointed to the well-aged, rugged, taildragger resting in the middle of the hangar waiting for us. “I guarantee it flies better than it looks.” There was a small gray Ford tractor with a mower to the right. “If you want a job, and know how to drive a tractor, you could mow the grass strip for us. I can show you how it needs to be done.”
He grabbed and pulled the chocks. “Get those over there and help me push her out.”
“Okay,” I said, and watched, then shadowed what he did. With one hand on the inside wing, the other one balancing on the fuselage, I leaned forward into the wing my shoes scraping and sliding on the ground kicking up more dirt. After getting it moving, the taildragger rolled easily. We got the plane out in the light, cleaned off, then Bill checked everything to make sure she was flight worthy.
“You’re sitting back her,” he gestured. “Put the seatbelt on, and don’t touch anything.” After I was in, he said, “Especially don’t touch that stick. It’ll be moving around, that’s how I’ll be controlling the elevator, ailerons, and rudder, so just sit back and enjoy the flight.”
“What kind of plane is this?”
“It’s a Piper PA-11.”
Before starting the engine, Moses went through a list saying out loud every line followed by the word check, then started the engine, taxied to the end of the field, turned looking over to make sure I’d done everything. “This is it, kid, here we go. Are you ready?”
“Yes,” I said, checking my seat belt, got comfortable, and gave a thumbs up.
The plane jerked forward slowly at first, our bodies moving in a similar fashion, then turned like a jack-knife, gaining momentum, tumbling over the grass strip. The faster we went the bumpier it got and felt like the machine was going to fall apart, then it was smooth, and finally we were airborne. I had never seen the trees, fields, and buildings from this perspective, everything got smaller. Bill would turn and smile occasionally and give me the thumbs up, waiting for me to do the same. The engine roar and wind made it virtually impossible to have a normal conversation without shouting, and I would scream, whoa, whenever the air would sock the bottom of the plane, or when he would bank so much my feet felt glued to the deck.