Flying High

From October 2009

With the approach of my 70th birthday, I told Jane and our two children that I did not expect a big party or even any gifts; a funny card would suffice. After all, an age ending in zero did not seem that much more significant than one ending in a one or two or any other number. The family complied, except there was a certificate in the card from my children, Jeff and Jennifer. The certificate entitled me to an hour of flight time in a light aircraft from a flying service at Shenandoah Valley Airport. I hold a Private Pilot’s License but have not flown a plane since the early 1970s.

Jane and I arrived at the airport and while the pilot prepared the Piper Warrior for the flight, I mentioned my past flying experience. He asked if I would like to fly the aircraft, and I quickly said yes. I assumed he meant that I could take the controls after we were in the air and get a little “stick time.”

He had me go through the preflight check with him and we taxied to the end of the runway. We received clearance to take off and he said, “Well, taxi onto the runway and take off.” I tried to clear the sudden lump in my throat but complied. To my surprise, I was able to stay on the center line and at 65 mph eased back on the yoke and felt the Warrior lift off and begin to climb. I flew the plane for the full hour, flying over Massanutten, Sunnyside, Staunton and Waynesboro while Jane snapped pictures from the back seat. I needed only a few verbal corrections by the pilot during the flight. As we returned to the airport the pilot said “Go ahead and make the landing.” The lump in my throat got much larger. I glanced back at Jane expecting a look of sheer terror, but to my surprise saw none.

We entered the flight pattern for the landing, the most difficult part of flying. We received clearance and “turned final” lining up with the runway. Over my headphones I heard the pilot radio, “Warrior niner five on final for 23.” The lump got much larger as we crossed the end of the runway and the pavement came closer and closer. I needed only a little correction in my flair out and suddenly felt contact with the ground. We were down! As I taxied back to the hanger I realized this was the best birthday present ever! --Charlie Lotts

And here's an update --

Charlie reports that he hasn’t piloted a plane since that memorable experience, but he does maintain an interest in flying through Sunnyside’s “Buzzards” Club, an aviation group that meets once a month for lunch on Wednesdays.