Posts Tagged ‘Jill Tallman’

‘Closer to heaven’

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

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.

Gonna take a Sentimental Journey

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

The go/no-go debate yesterday really wasn’t much of a quandary. A warm front plastered over the Mid-Atlantic produced a 1,500-foot overcast and rain. Factor in the 2,500-foot ridgeline between Frederick, Md., and Lock Haven, Pa., and that equals going by car to the Sentimental Journey Fly-In. Driving north on U.S. 15, I saw ragged fringes of cloud fluttering against our nothing-to-boast-about ridges, so I wasn’t unhappy with my decision.

As of Wednesday, 50 airplanes had made it to the twenty-fourth annual fly-in to Lock Haven, the former home of Piper Aircraft. When I arrived, the rain had increased to a steady drizzle, yet two die-hards were in the pattern.

Today looks rainy again, but the forecast is supposed to improve tomorrow. The fly-in runs through June 20. If you should plan to join us, please review the air operations procedures found here. The hard-working volunteers who are coordinating parking at nontowered William T. Piper Memorial Airport will thank you for it.

Missing Meigs and Cousin John

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Monday, March 30, is the six-year anniversary of the demolition of Meigs Field in Chicago. I know lots of you had a soft spot in your hearts for this jewel on the lake.

Ten years ago, my family drove out to Chicago to visit my husband’s cousin, John Houghtaling. John was a great guy, a former submariner with the U.S. Navy, who had eight children–two of whom became pilots. When he learned I was taking flying lessons, nothing would do but that he give me a copy of a flying simulator program that he had used and enjoyed.

While sightseeing in Chicago we stopped at Meigs Field, and the family good-naturedly let me spend a half-hour watching aircraft take off and land. Meigs went right to the top of my “someday I’ll land here” list. Of course you know it never happened. Meigs was bulldozed, and John died in 2003 at the age of 86. Thank you, John, for sharing my excitement at learning to fly. Thank you, Meigs, for giving me something to shoot for as I practiced crosswind landings.

If you have Meigs memories, please share them in the Comments section.

What should the next Mars Rover be named?

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Sunday, March 29, is the last day that you can vote for the name of the Mars Rover.

Schoolchildren across the United States came up with the nine names that made the final cut: Sunrise, Adventure, Pursuit, Perception, Curiosity, Wonder, Amelia, Journey, and Vision.

(Do you think NASA is finally starting to get hip to what can happen when you ask the public to vote for something in an online poll? CNN reports that they’re pretty close to having a room on the space station named after Stephen Colbert.)

Fun, fun, fun on Maryland’s Eastern Shore

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

The winds were gusting to 30 knots at Bay Bridge Airport last Friday, and there wasn’t a whole lot of flying going on. Saturday, however, dawned calmer and clear, and pilots came out in droves.

I was there to write a story about sport pilot aviation, which is blossoming at this modest nontowered airport that’s located a few hundred yards from the Cheapeake Bay. (If you’re landing on Runway 11, your base and final are over the water.) From my perch in the pilot lounge, I could view a steady stream of aircraft taking off and landing. It was gratifying to see, given all of the crappy economic news we’ve been dealing with.

Even better was the opportunity to talk to student pilots who, quite simply, love flying. Some of these folks drive more than an hour to train here. None of them seemed to think that was any hardship.

In an upcoming issue of AOPA Flight Training, you’ll meet:

  • Barry, whose years of sailing experience means she knows the watery landscape of the Eastern Shore intimately–but admits she has a little more trouble picking out landmarks on the ground…
  • Anthony, a master mechanic who completed the King Schools home study program before he ever took a flight lesson…
  • Tim, who at over 6 feet tall is probably the last person you’d think would want to fold himself into a light sport airplane–but he does, and has room to spare…
  • Karen, a grandmother who lights up the room when she talks about learning to fly; and…
  • Whitney, who soloed in November, plans her weekends around her lessons, and prefers her trainer’s handbrake to toebrakes.

Now that the Oscars are over…

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

…and Slumdog Millionaire swept the boards, can we please talk about aviation films?

The National Aviation Hall of Fame will screen its Reel Stuff Film Festival of Aviation next month. Thirteen films and documentaries will be shown over four days (March 12-16) in Dayton, Ohio. They’ll be screening a pretty diverse selection ranging from classics (Twelve O Clock High) to more contemporary films (Always, Memphis Belle). Here’s a complete list. Plus there’ll be Q&A with names you know, like Cliff Robertson and Clay Lacy, and a host of others.

Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

Thirty-eight years ago, when Don McLean released “American Pie,” few if any of my 12-year-old friends knew the backstory: that it begins with McLean’s memories of “the day the music died”–the night Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper and their pilot crashed in a snow-coverered field in Iowa. We just knew we liked the song. (I had the 45.) If we were lucky, the deejay on our AM station played the full version, but most of the time he didn’t. (It was almost nine minutes long, after all.)

Likely you’re seeing a lot of media accounts of that crash this week on its fiftieth anniversary. If you haven’t already, grab the February 2009 issue of AOPA Pilot and read Bruce Landsberg’s thoughtful article. It’s a tragic chapter in history made sadder still by the realization that, 50 years later, VFR-into-IMC is still taking lives. Audiophiles note: The Feb. 3 edition of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered  featured Landsberg talking about how pilots can avoid such accidents.

So long, Kutztown

Friday, January 30th, 2009

It wasn’t the easiest place to land or take off, thanks to a dip in the paved runway that could catch you unaware if you weren’t expecting it. But Kutztown Airport (N31) in Pennsylvania nonetheless was a favorite of area pilots. Sadly, it’s destined to become another shopping center. The airport closes tomorrow. The property (which includes an adjacent diner and mobile home park) has been sold.

Two winters ago I landed at N31, enjoyed a gut-busting brunch at the diner, and watched Amish families in horse-drawn buggies and Amish teenagers on bicycles hurry along Kutztown Pike, presumably on their way to Sunday service. Here’s a YouTube video of another pilot in a Cessna 172 making a much better approach and landing than I did. So long, Kutztown; wish I had known you better.

Bessie Coleman: a life less ordinary

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Today is the birthday of Bessie Coleman, the first African-American female pilot. Born in 1892, the tenth of 13 children, Coleman got the idea of becoming a pilot while reading newspaper articles about World War I pilots. No flight school in the United States would train her, but Coleman didn’t let that stop her. She took a French language course in Chicago, then, using her savings and the help of some influential friends, she traveled to France. She learned to fly and got her license in 1921 from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. When Coleman returned to the United States, now a celebrity, she performed in airshows and raised money to open her own flight school. She died in 1926 in an aircraft accident, apparently while flight testing a Curtiss JN-4 (I say “apparently” because there are differing accounts of what exactly happened). Coleman, riding in the rear seat, was not wearing a seat belt. (She may have been unable to see over the cockpit when strapped in.) Her mechanic was flying from the front. A wrench may have fallen into the controls and jammed them; the mechanic lost control of the aircraft, and Coleman fell out. Her mechanic also died in the ensuing crash.

Racial barriers failed to keep Bessie Coleman from taking her place in the sky. What might she have accomplished had she lived to a ripe old age? 

Van Johnson and “A Guy Named Joe”

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Van Johnson wasn’t a pilot (I can find no evidence that he was, at any rate), but he played them on the silver screen. The actor died Dec. 12 at the age of 92 in Nyack, New York. He had starring roles in such films as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) and A Guy Named Joe (1943).

Never heard of that second one? It was Johnson’s breakout film, in which a bomber pilot named Pete (Spencer Tracy) becomes a guardian angel to another pilot (Johnson). (You might know Steven Spielberg’s 1989 remake, Always, which starred Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter, and in which the main characters were aerial firefighters.)

You’ll be able to watch both films on Dec. 23 as part of a five-film tribute to Johnson on Turner Classic Movies. A poignant scene in A Guy Named Joe is when Pete (Spencer Tracy) arrives at the gates of heaven. He’s taken to the commanding officer (Lionel Barrymore). The CO explains to Pete that this celestial squadron operates “on the principle of helping the other fellow.” Pete, being a pilot, launches into a discussion of how he conquered a 30-knot crosswind, but the CO interrupts him.

“You’re not under the impression that you learned to fly all by yourself, are you?

“You were helped by every man since the beginning of time who dreamed of wearing wings. By pioneers who flew pieces of wire and pasteboard long before you were born. By every pilot that ever crashed into the ground in order that others could stay up in the sky. And now it’s your turn to pass that along to the next man.”

Do these words resonate with you, too? Feel free to comment.