Funny thing about the small pair of gold wings I wear in the lapel of my leather bomber jacket. Pretty much no one ever seems to notice them. Which is fine with me. All it means is that I'm a pilot. It's only noticed by other pilots or by someone that knows about airplanes. I was just walking down an isle of a store and a clerk stopped me recently. He asked, "are you a pilot?" I replied, " yep, I sure am. And an aircraft owner". That's how I happened to meet an exceptional young man and Purple Heart recipient and veteran that I took flying.
As I checked the weather, Thursday looked like a good day to go flying in my EZ. Friday we planned to drive up to Oklahoma City for my mother-in-law's estate sale. I felt that if I had the fun memories to look back on from flying, that might help ease the dread of a weekend that I was not looking forward to.
So, I called up Trevor, the young man I'd recently met at the store he worked at to see if he might like to go flying. I needed to just get in the air myself and it was a good opportunity to update the Dynon avionics data base and FAA charts. I planned a flight to Lancaster, perhaps lunch at the airport cafe, and allow my new friend to get to see one or both of the local airplane museums based there.
As Trevor had never flown in an EZ, I wanted to explain the differences between my aircraft and other more conventional airplanes. He had mentioned that he had wanted to build his own airplane someday. I picked upTrevor and we headed to the airport. We opened up the hanger doors and he looked surprised at what he saw. I started the updating of the data bases and other updates with the EFIS. I then proceeded with the rest of the pre-flight inspection and safety briefing with Trevor. I showed him where the airplanes fire extinguisher was and how to get the canopy open without electricity. We pulled the airplane out of the hanger, pulled my truck inside the hanger and closed the Hanger doors. We boarded the plane and taxied out onto the ramp. I got permission to taxi to active runway and we followed the towers instructions. I did the run up testing both the mag and electronic ignition. After closing and locking the canopy and changing frequencies we got the clearance for take off and pulled onto the active runway. I slowly added full power and had a normal take off. Instead of South, I pointed the plane to the East and climbed. I wanted to make sure we were away from the large Class "B", bravo airspace that surrounds the DFW airport. I explained about the airspace restrictions as we followed a South Easterly course to the South of town, turning due South as the airspace permitted. We flew around Mesquite and it's terminal area. And finally turned straight at Lancaster field. I tuned to the airports frequency and listened for anyone that might be in the pattern or approaching the airport. I also got an update on the winds and could tell by the difference between the wind direction and the comp heading that we were going to have a healthy crosswind landing. "Well Trevor, looks like we are going to have a crosswind to contend with when landing", I said. Sure enough, I had my hands (and feet) full getting the controls to do what I wanted. I got the wing down to catch the sideways drift but didn't use enough rudder correction to keep the airplane aligned with the runway. Fighting yet another wind gust, I basically got what I call, "wopperjawed". I decided to abort the landing. "Going around", I announced. And with that I advanced the throttle fully and went around. As I did so, I wondered what Trevor thought. "Can this guy fly?". I hope he understood that even the best pilots "go around" on occasion. The second approach was aborted when my gear warning horn and light came alive. I was on final approach, and temporally closed the throttle. I glanced over to see the nose wheel fully retracted in the window. Even though we were not close to the runway yet, I didn't want to risk getting to the runway and have the gear still being deployed. So we went around for the second time. In literally hundreds of landings, I've never forgotten to lower the nose wheel! Thank goodness for the safety features of my EZ.
On the downwind, opposite the point of landing, I lowered the nose wheel announcing, "gear coming down". Turned base and checked everything, my altitude and airspeed, along with the nose gear was completely down and the we were ready for landing. This time I had a near perfect landing right down the center line, and felt the three tires squeak in sequence. Nice landing for having to make a third attempt with a significant crosswind.
We taxied back to the center of the airport and could see that the cafe was closed. It was a little after three. So I checked the hangers and the hangers doors were closed both at the Cold War museum and the Commemorative Air force museum. Rats, so we struck out and headed back to the EZ to fly home. We took off and headed back to my home airport. After I leveled off, I had Trevor take the controls while I did some small left and right turns checking for traffic. We call them "clearing turns". After a minute or so, I let him take control of the airplane. I gave him some suggestions on some turns so he could get the feel of the airplane watching our location to make sure we didn't encroach on any restrictive airspace.
As we made Our way closer to McKinney, that's when I saw an airplane on our left at about 10 o'clock position, at our altitude heading due East. We were North bound. It kept closing in on our position. As it kept getting closer, I quickly ordered Trevor to make a left turn to the West. If we paralleled the traffic we could let it pass us by without hitting it. Trevor executed a left 90 degree turn without delay. The Cessna passed safely by us as we passed it very quickly in the opposite direction. With the traffic safely past us, I had Trevor turn us back to the North again. He kept calm and flew the plane really well. (If he had not turned quickly, I was prepared to take the controls to make the turn.) That's why it's so important to keep looking out the window and keeping up with the scans for traffic. When we reached Hwy 380 It was time to make the turn to the West and call up the tower. So, I took control back of the airplane. I pointed the airplane towards the airport. Although I normally always handle the communications, I decided to see if Trevor could call up the tower and get permission to land. He called them up, and identified us, and got permission to land, with a little coaching. Boy, he had so much fun and was just so respectful! It helped me trust him as a fellow pilot. Our approach to the airport and landing was pretty uneventful. We both were enjoying the weather and flying in the Stagger EZ.
Trevor helped me put the EZ back into the hanger, clean the bugs off and put the main battery back on charge. As we finished up, I asked a few questions about his interest in aviation and background. What I learned was astonishing. He recently changed his college major to music from aircraft mechanic. He would like to teach music at the middle school level. He mentioned that he was on the GI bill, meaning the government was paying his college tuition. So that meant he was in the service. I asked him what branch of the service and he said Army. He said he was an infantrymen. I asked if he got deployed overseas. He said yes, Afghanistan. He then told me that his deployment was only 3 months because "he got blown up." He then told me the rest of his story. He was riding in a vehicle called a "Striker". I knew that these were very large troop transport that generally were very heavy armored vehicles. He said yes they were large but the one he was riding in didn't have the V bottom yet. At the time there were nine guys inside when it drove over a very large IED. After the explosion, the army estimated that by the force of he explosion, that it was something like 10 thousand pounds of TNT. He said the Striker was tossed like a matchstick! His commanding officer and the navigator were both killed. He was severely injured. He told me he had a severe concussion, two broken ribs, both lungs were collapsed, one partially while the other one was completely collapsed! He also had a broken femur, which is his leg. The Army shipped him back home to heal and rehab. He certainly seemed like he was in great shape to me, as far as I could tell.
He said he was lucky and I'd have to agree. I remember that I thanked him for his service. That's when he mentioned having a Purple Heart license plate on his car. I noticed it as we pulled up to his car. He was done with his story and so we said our goodbyes. He thanked me again for taking him flying.
After he got in his car and left, I just sat there for a couple of minutes thinking. Maybe sometimes, a flight is not about the destination but about the journey and what you learn along the way. I learned that not only had I taken my first veteran flying, but that I had met a very remarkable young man.