“This was history in the making. Today I was
You never know when you’re making
history. It happens when you do or say something that is
remembered as significant by someone else. Children have the
amazing ability which we all wish we had, to see, hear and
understand not just the important lessons in life, but much of
what we adults miss. And they remember. To a child, history is
what we feed them with our words and our actions. That history
is what establishes their values and their sense of what’s right
and wrong. We never know until it’s too late when we’ve
influenced a child, in a positive or a negative way.
A man named Dave Harrington made
history in my books. Back when I was about 22 and acutely
interested in flying, Dave was a pilot in the small town where I
lived. I recall he had a heart as big as his physical size.
He was always sincerely friendly, welcoming anyone who showed
up at the little grass strip beside his house. His wife, Mary,
was just as pleasant.
Dave had a plane, the make and model I
don’t recall, if I even knew it at the time. It had low wings
and tandem seating. Back then, I was only dreaming of flying
with my own license, and before Cessna and Piper and Champ were
common words in my vocabulary.
One day when I was hanging out at his
strip, Dave asked me if I’d like to go for a ride. In a
nanosecond, my response was “I sure would”, or something to that
effect. This was history in the making! I was going flying.
Sitting behind a man of Dave’s stature
didn’t allow for much forward visibility. His big shoulders
completely blocked my forward view, but I didn’t care. Here I
was, trusting my life to this man. On a first flight, all the
bad things we hear about airplanes flash through our minds. We
relive scenes from movies showing them falling from the sky,
their velocity and high pitched whine increasing all the way
down, until crashing into the ground, instantly killing all
aboard in the ensuing explosion.
I distinctly remember some of those
thoughts, but I pushed them from my mind. This was something
I’d dreamed of for a long time. When Dave asked if I’d like to
go upside down, I replied “Sure”! In fact, that frightened me
somewhat, but I trusted him. After all, he was a pilot and he
must know what he’s doing. So I sat back and enjoyed a few
quick barrel rolls.
To quote a worn out cliché, “all too
soon the ride was over”. And quite frankly, I don’t remember
anything else about that day, what I said to Dave, what I
dreamed that night, or even enough about my feelings to put them
into words here. But that was definitely a high point, and
history had been made!
Fast forward about 25 or 30 years.
With more than a few hours of flight time in my log book and a
commercial license in my wallet, the opportunity for a similar
incident came up again one day. This time however, I would be a
different player. Being between airplanes after selling out of
a partnership, I was buying block time on 2 Cherokees for my
recreational flying. Standing outside the fence at Boundary Bay
airport was a young boy about 10 years old, with his dad. They
were there when I arrived and began my preflight walk-around.
They inched closer to my tie-down spot and were eventually
within speaking distance. It wasn’t hard to imagine the
thoughts in that young fellow’s mind, as he gazed at the
airplanes tied in neat rows, and paid particular attention to
what I was doing.
It seemed right for me to suggest they
come along for a ride. But many years had passed since my
adventure with Dave. And too many things have changed in
aviation, not the least of which is “liability”. Right seat
insurance, the World Trade Center, airport security, rental
aircraft agreements, risks of all kinds have complicated
something that was once a fun, free wheeling, wonderful pastime
we enjoyed, without all the concerns of today.
To deny the young fellow the opportunity for his first flight
would risk setting him up for more than just a disappointing
afternoon. Historically, aviators have enjoyed a special
respect from non pilots, particularly young children. The
wonder of it is that we haven’t really done anything personally
to deserve that respect and admiration. It is there merely
because we are pilots. Step out of a plane and you’re someone
immediately held in high regard. Step out of most any other
vehicle, and people walk right by without a second thought.
It would be a terrible disservice to
all pilots and show real disrespect to ignore people who go out
on a limb and show their interest and admiration. The least a
pilot can do is initiate a friendly conversation with those
obviously interested in our trade. Taken a large step forward,
offering an empty seat would be a full acknowledgement of their
For the kid and his dad, it was their
lucky day. With Dad in the back and junior in the right seat
propped up on a cushion so he could reach the controls, they
were absolutely thrilled, and enjoyed every second of their
adventure. As for me, the short flight brought back memories
and emotions akin to what a parent feels when taking his child
to see the fireworks for the first time. We experience the
thrill again, just as if it were a first time for us. And we
make a little more history.
Security and liability concerns are
very real. But those thoughts were pushed aside for a short
time on that afternoon. It’s been said that rules are made to
be broken. I heard it put another way once. That is “sometimes
you have to do what’s right”.