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Early Years

I'm switching the rest of the story to the Flexible Flyer banner.  I have always thought that would be a good title for my memoirs.  My ...

Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Boys And Girl

Since I was the new guy at the bottom of the seniority list, I was picking up all the people who were being dropped by the other pilots at Graham Aviation.  

The way things go, as a pilot at an FBO moves up the list, he (we only had guys in those days) starts flying more trips in the air taxi service (charter) or providing rent a pilot service for aircraft owners.  (Remember that necessity is the mother of qualification) This means that the students get handed down to a less senior pilot.  Nearly everyone I was giving dual instruction to at this time was a hand me down, not that there is anything wrong with that.

It was not until September 2, 1973, that I gave a first lesson to someone who was just beginning.  His name is Tom Jones (not that Tom Jones) and he would be my first student from zero hours, not a hand me down.  He would also be one of my best friends for the rest of my life.

Tom had recently left the army and gone to work for his father's company.  He is a very high energy guy and I had to calm him down.  He did everything too fast.  I had to teach him that it was frequently smart to wait a little to decide what to do while flying.  Acting too quickly could lead to mistakes.  Some of our older Cherokees had a pitch trim handle in the ceiling and Tom would reach up there and crank that thing very rapidly and bang me in the head with his elbow.  Years later, when I told him I was getting checked out in an airline jet, Tom would kid me by asking if I could handle that big thing.  I always kidded back that I believed the greatest challenge of my aviation career was teaching him to fly.

On October 3, 1973, I gave a first lesson to Dick Sturman.  He was a partner in a big Ford dealership in Pittsburgh's North Hills.  Dick would be the first guy I took from zero hours to a private license, instrument rating and multi-engine rating.  He and I became good friends also, but unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago.

Tom was the first person I signed off for solo.  That must have been a nail biter for me.  Then I had 3 guys who were hand me downs before Sturman soloed.

Dick passed his private license check ride about 2 months before Tom.  In that time period, I recommended five guys I had inherited and one of them failed.  This was a real mystery to me.  

The guy who failed had been doing very well.  He practically never made a mistake and was very easy to correct when he did.  He took his ride with McCowin and I inquired about what went wrong.  Bill told me the young man was nervous and did something wrong early and then just fell apart after that.  I guessed that since things had gone so smoothly with me, he was always relaxed and the check ride introduced an element he was not ready for.  He never came back to train and retake the ride.

After this, I decided that in the future, I wanted to see my students make mistakes, so that I could see how they responded and recovered.  If I had to over load them to get that mistake, I was going to do it.  I wanted to simulate the pressure of the check ride in their training.

It was at about this time that I had a high school girl as a student.  She lived several miles south of the airport along Route 8, the highway between Pittsburgh and Butler.  She had saved baby sitting money to pay for lessons and all she wanted to do was solo, which usually took about 10 hours.  Her parents were not in favor of her taking flying lessons and would not drive her to the airport.  She hitch hiked.  When I learned that, I told her to schedule as my first or last student of the day, so that I could at least give her a ride in one direction.

Her name was Heather and I have always considered her to be my sharpest student of that period.  She would make an occasional mistake, but once I corrected it, she never did it again.  After she soloed, I never saw her again. 

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