Tuesday’s are my date days with my granddaughter Violet. Violet is five and a half, and one of our favorite hangouts is the Bear Creek Park. Last Tuesday, as she was sitting on a saucer-like swing, she pointed at the sky and said; “Look at that cloud grandpa, it looks like a bunny. Can you touch the clouds when you fly in your plane? ” At that instant, I became a kid again.
When I was just a tad older than Violet, I use to spend hours looking at the skies, being entertained and mesmerized by their constantly changing cloud formations. I too could see bunnies, doggies, and even faces, as the clouds rolled overhead. Later, when I got a bit older, I would go to the local airport and lie in a shallow ditch, overgrown with tall grass, and watch the yellow gliders and the white Zlins come to graceful landings – just a short distance from my secret nest. Could they touch the clouds? It seemed like they could. I wanted to touch them so much.
It would be many years later, but only a scant eight months after I immigrated to Canada, that my dream of flying amongst the clouds would become a reality. On June 13, 1969, forty-four years ago today, I took to the skies for the first time as a student pilot. The plane was a Cherokee 140 CF-TRB; the instructor was Mr. Millbank. Just over one month later, on July 22, and with 14.6 hours in my logbook, Mr. Millbank decided that I was ready for my first solo. I did not expect to solo that day at all – I was quite surprised – no, I was shocked.
I called the Pit Meadows Tower; got my clearances; did my run-up; lined up on 26; advanced the throttle, and seconds later, I was in the air. It was a routine event. I turned down wind; reached for the mike; looked to my right at the airport tower, and for the first time I realized that Mr. Millbank was not in the right seat. I went completely nuts. I started to yell, or sing, or I am not quite sure what it was, but I was ecstatic. For the first time in my life, I was the “Pilot-In-Command.” I calmed down quickly, as it was time to call the tower. I am not sure if the controller understood my two months out of the language school version of English. I think we both must have guessed – he guessed that I wanted to land, and I guessed that it was OK for me to do so. I made one of the nicest landings. I chose to believe that Mr. Millbank’s smile was the endorsement of my accomplishment, and not a “thank good he is safe on the ground” thought.
Money was tight. Even at $25 per hour, which may seem reasonable today, flying was not cheap. I was earning good wages, $2.85 an hour. It took me three years and one month, and 66.5 hours of on-and-off flying lessons, before I earned my Private Pilot License. The airport was once again Pit Meadows. The 1.4 hours flight test took place on July 29, 1972, and the aircraft was a Cessna 150, CF-YUB.
Now, as I am approaching my 69th birthday, I sometime wander why I am still so enamored with flying, and why so few youngsters look up to the sky and dream of the adventures flying represents.
Is it because as a kid I had to make my own crude toys – mostly planes – from sticks and such, which looked nothing like today’s store-bought perfect miniatures of life around us, leaving very little left for the imagination? I hope not.
Is it because when I was growing up, advancements in technology were not ever-so-present in my life, leaving more fuel for my imagination and dreams, than what today’s iPhone generation of kids have to work with? I hope not.
Is it because parents of kids today take charge of their kids’ lives from dawn to dusk, leaving them with precious little time for their own dreams? I hope not.
I have my answer now. Last Tuesday, at the Bear Creek Park, Violet dispelled my worries. Despite of today’s fancy toys, iPhones and such everywhere, and “helicopter parents,” kids do dream. While I did not see the same bunny Violet pointed out to me, I could see the same beautiful sky in my own way, full of fluffy, early evening, clouds.
Life is good. Two generations apart, and both, Violet and Grandpa can still dream.
Thanks for listening – gone flying. After all, today is precisely forty-four years from my first flight, and yet, at times it still feels like a dream.