Nature or nurture? For me it was undoubtedly both.
Both my mother and father had served in the Air Force and as far back as I can recall I was my Dad’s shadow as he walked across taxiways and climbed up air-stairs. As a kid with aviation in his DNA, it was heaven. These were the days before barbed wire and security checkpoints and as long as you respected the potential danger of spinning propellers, an airport was akin to a field of dreams.
Row after row of new aircraft populated the flight-line having recently arrived from the United States by ship. Re-assembled and test flown they were sold off to an aviation-hungry population as soon as they were ready. Glossy brochures from Piper and Cessna heralded the latest models and the sky was filled with the masses committing aviation.
In the airfield’s distant corners older aircraft sat quietly. Their epic adventures had spanned oceans and battlefields in the sky but now the greatest enemy was time itself. Tyres slowly deflating and grass gradually encroaching made the once valiant wings seem to sit a little lower, but they never escaped my eye.
My father had flown many of them, from the reliable C-47 ‘transports’ to the Mustang ‘fighters’. He would ease me into their ageing seats and explain the sea of dials and levers that filled every space. His words were of another tongue and yet even as a boy, the language of flight made sense to me. With each sentence the clouds seemed to slip past my cockpit and with every pause the engine roared a little louder. The feel of the controls in my hands filled me with both excitement and a sense of ease.
Just as I had watched the jets from the rooftop, my father had stared at the frail biplanes that overflew his farm. However, the skies were still being pioneered during his childhood and the names of Lindbergh, Hinkler and Kingsford Smith filled the headlines. For such a poor farm boy, flight was sheer fantasy until war intervened and ultimately gave him wings. I gather that he saw that same dream in my young eyes, although in his world discussing such things were for mothers, not pilots.
From those earliest days at the airport he cracked the door on his other life to me. It was a life that even my mother never really knew and as I grew older he filled in the missing pieces. At first by imparting his knowledge of the craft and then as I grew into manhood the reality of flight under fire and the loss of friends to the enemies of war and nature. They were hours that I still treasure today and words that have formed my gospel, even though he is now forever in the clouds.
Did you miss the beginning of 'A Passion for Flight'? Then CLICK HERE and read more...