Jill Tallman

‘Closer to heaven’

August 20, 2009 by Jill W. Tallman, Associate Editor

Today was a spankin’ good day for a student solo at Frederick Municipal. Winds nothing to speak of, clear below 12,000, and not too hot–not yet. Density altitude 1,200, but that’s an August morning in Maryland for you.

It was also a perfect morning for a 102-year-old Frederick, Maryland, lady to take her very first airplane flight.

The white van from Citizens Care & Rehabilitation Center rolled into the parking lot promptly at 10 a.m. carrying Helen Hape and her very good friend Dave Violette. He’s a City of Frederick employee who volunteers at Citizens. A pleasant-faced man in blue jeans and cowboy boots, Violette has a ready smile. Miss Helen hung onto his hand as he chatted with her while they waited for their ride to commence.

Violette made this day possible for Miss Helen. Celebrating her 102nd birthday in July, she told him she’d like to get a chance to fly “up with the birds and closer to heaven.” So he made it happen, with the help of the folks at Frederick Flight Center.

Miss Helen sat patiently in her wheelchair, trim and petite in a white sweater and slacks, while CFI Michal Mishal preflighted the Cessna 182T. Mishal introduced herself, saying, “We’re going to have a good time.” She asked if there was any place in particular that Miss Helen wanted to see. Miss Helen thought about it and replied, “Thurmont [where she was born] and Hagerstown.” Well, the president isn’t scheduled to be at Camp David until Friday, so thank goodness for small favors.

From all acounts, Miss Helen had the ride of a lifetime. Margie Weaver, director of marketing for Citizens, rode along with Violette and Miss Helen in the 182. “MISS HELEN,” she asked loudly, “if you’re having a great time and are OK, raise your right hand and wave.”

“That hand popped right on up there,” Weaver told me.

No proper introductory flight is complete unless the passenger gets to take the controls, and Miss Helen was no exception. At 3,000 feet, she helped to fly the airplane, and even got to help with the landing, Weaver said.

What did Miss Helen do for her 101st birthday? She took a ride in her friend Dave Violette’s convertible. There’s a lesson here for the rest of us.

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2 Responses to “‘Closer to heaven’”

  1. Ken Templeton II Says:

    Great Story. One of the greatest gifts of being a pilot is sharing that joy with someone else. My grandmother passed away a few years ago, and Miss Helen reminds me of her, active and vibrant well into her 90′s.

    God bless all who made a very special day happen for Miss Helen.

  2. James H. Rustige Says:

    Well written story on sharing the gift of flight.
    As a pilot (when I had my own plane) the joy was giving anyone a ride in the plane. I loved to see their faces light up when I would show them how the yoke worked and then say “would you like to take it”.
    I live in Charlotte County, Florida and my sharing flight always included flying over Boca Grand. My passenger/s would always be amazed at how deep into the waters they could see, often seeing schools of sharks.
    The beauty of flight always reminds me of this portion of a pilots poem “I feel I can reach out and touch the face of GOD”.

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