Wondering about wild grapes

Monday, December 20, 2010

A High Flying Family

My wife comes from a high flying family. Yes, I literally mean a high flying family. Her Dad learned to fly when he was a teenager and actually took people for airplane rides at the local fair. To his parents’ surprise, that is where they discovered that he was pilot. That was back in the days when you really did fly by the seat of your pants. You had the rudder peddles, stick, and a compass, if you were lucky and it was working. Navigation was by land marks. Wind direction was noted by the way smoke was blowing. He told me he often landed in a farmer’s field to try and get some gasoline from them. They were always so excited to see an airplane that they would give him gas and conversation.

He had at one time or another almost every license that one could have. He was a civilian instructor during World War Two. He was the one that took the raw recruits for the Army Air Corps and taught them to fly. He said that most country kids were naturals because they were around machinery and drove tractors from an early age.

There is a memorial plaque at the end of the runway at the Butler County Airport in Nixon, Pennsylvania honoring him for his service.

He was quite a guy. In his lifetime he owned 28 different airplanes, 12 motorcycles, and put in a vineyard of European grape vines grafted to American root stalks and made some of the best wines and champagnes you ever tasted. In 1949 or 1950 he purchase land beside the airport and built a nice house. That way, he could taxi his plane over to the house and wash it, fiddle with it, or work on it. He taught his son to fly, and he soloed and got his license at age 14. The boy could fly before he could drive, and he was a good pilot.

Here is picture of my brother-in-law with a Cessna 180 parked in their driveway just outside the front door:

And another picture of him at the airport:

And my wife’s family getting ready for a trip:

And a closer view:

And a picture of one of his planes in the air above the house:

And a picture of the Tri-Pacer from the air:

And this is a picture of my Father-in law in his favorite position doing what he loved to do the best:

I was lucky enough to get lots of rides in many different aircraft, from twins like the Twin Comanche, the Aztec, and the Apache and single engine planes like the Cub, Colt, Cherokee, and many others.

My Father-in-law and brother-in-law did have one bad accident in a single engine when the motor froze up. With no power they knew they were going to go in for an emergency landing. Being that it was night time didn’t make matters any better. He tried to make a corn field but could not quite get there. Instead, he had to put it down in the woods. He picked out two trees and stuck the nose between them thus ripping off the wings and slowing the plane before it hit the ground. He walked out carrying his full grown son who was unconscious. Only spent one day in the hospital, but the plane didn’t fair so well.


  1. Now I know I am never flying again!

  2. I've always thought that any landing you walk away from is a good one..

    Interest stuff ,,thanks.

    ( I took fixed wing lessons waaay back) But did license in LTA ( hot air balloons)
    Nothing quite like the feeling of flying your own aircraft

  3. Your father-in-law was a great example, wasn't he, of believing in yourself and that anything is possible. Am I getting that right? That's a lovely story and you wrote it beautifully.

    My best friend's father was a pilot and he flew us (friend Cindy and me) all over the place. They had a lake house an hour away by car and I often spent weeks at a time with them at the lake. We flew back and forth from the lake to town in minutes. He flew in weekdays to run the grocery store that his in-laws owned. Back then, I thought everybody got around that way.

    If my mother ever gave it a whit of worry that we were flying all over the place, she never expressed it.

    Thanks for a lovely post.

  4. I remember getting lessons back when I was 15, in '95. Unfortunately, turning 16, getting the family Jeep, and a growing interest in computers and the internet kept me busy and I never got my license. Maybe one day I'll go and finish it off.

    At 6'3, I was pretty tall compared to those high wing Cessnas. I remember always standing up after quite a bit of time in the cabin, and wanging my head on the underside of the wing. From the dents, I can only guess I wasn't the only one.

    You have a lot to be very proud of in your family. No wonder you like telling us about them so.

  5. I always felt safer in those little planes (they now use them on commuter routes) than I do in a big jet. I haven't flown in years and hope I'll never have to, but I would get into one of those little ones that fly closer to the ground in a heartbeat. I always figured you would at least have a chance of landing it and living to tell the tale.

  6. Frann, why not? I would go up in a small aircraft at the drop of hat.

    Ben, I, too, started license, but then I realized that it was "rich man's" sport. And never completed them.

    Ginger, he sure was, and always in charge of any situation. One time there was a family immergancy in Florida and he dropped everything and took a commercial flight and rented a car. All without any money or a credit card. How many people could pull that off?

    Grant, yes sir, you have to watch your head. I liked the low wing planes, but the high wing ones gave you a better view when looking down.

    Gypsy, I agree with you. There is a safer feeling when you know you can get your hands (and feet) on the controls if need be. And they can be landed in smaller areas when there is a problem.