This was my blog entry for August 28, 2009:
Last week, after much procrastination, I finally put my dad’s Cessna 172 on the
market. He died last November, and it’s taken this long for my stepmother and me to
come to grips with disposing of his stuff. I told my wife that I went online and put ads
in Trade-A-Plane, some message boards and a few other places. Here’s how the rest
of the conversation went:
She: "Oh. [pause] You know … that airplane was really a part of him for
the last twenty years of his life. There are a lot of memories in that airplane.”
Me: “Yeah, I know.”
She: "And we have to sell his house — that he designed and built himself
— because it’s too far away and there’s no way we could maintain it.”
Me: “Yeah. ”
She: “Do you think we should keep the airplane?”
Me: “What? We already have one. We can’t handle two airplanes in the
She: “Can’t we … ?”
There comes a time in a man’s life when he must recognize when to stop
arguing with his wife.
So, at least for now, the 172 is off the market.
Thirty-seven years ago this month I borrowed my dad’s airplane (then a Cessna
150E) to take a young lady for a picnic in Solvang, California. Look how it’s paid off.
My dad grew up in central Florida, spending long hours lying on his back in the grass, watching the
Martin B-26 bombers (”one a day in Tampa Bay”) and other wartime craft take off and land at his hometown
field. At age 15, shortly after his mother died, he took a Greyhound bus to Los Angeles to live with his older
sister. He married young, a child (yours truly) came along, and he had to set his love of airplanes aside for a
long time. A young policeman’s salary in those days was hardly enough to satisfy a craving for flight.
The flying bug is hereditary, and I was hooked at a young age. As I got into the awkward teen years, my
dad seized the opportunity to forge a lasting bond between us. We both started flying lessons. As it
happened I got my private license first, on my seventeenth birthday, in August 1968. He passed his
checkride about three weeks later, and soon he bought a used Cessna 150 in which we both took our
advanced training. We didn’t fly together often (the few trips we did fly together were memorable), but for
nearly four decades we never lacked for exciting things to talk about, and we always looked forward to the
next chance to share our flying experiences.
In 1988 he bought a ten-year-old Cessna Skyhawk
from a flight school line in Santa Paula, California.
When my mother became ill in the early 1990s, he didn’t fly much. He was too busy taking care of her. After
she died in 1995, the airplane and his airport pals became the focus of his life. Often he flew from his home
in southern Oregon to airshows and fly-ins around the western states.
He doted on the airplane, replacing the original 160-hp O-320-H2AD engine with a 180-hp O-360-A4D, and
added Power-Flow exhaust, Lasar ignition, gap seals, new interior, etc., etc. The original exterior paint
always looked factory new.
In 1998 the Skyhawk took him to his
50th high school reunion, which was held
in Laughlin, Nevada. There he met up with
an old school flame. Three years later my
airplane carried my wife and me to
Southern California for their wedding. The
wedding was performed by his grandson
— my son — an ordained pastor, who
himself had soloed a Cessna 152 the year
My dad and his new bride had two homes — his
Oregon property, and a condominium in San Diego
County. Naturally the Skyhawk was the primary
mode of transportation between the two.
On September 30, 2005, at the San Diego condo, my dad suffered a ruptured thoracic aneurysm. He was
airlifted by helicopter to a hospital in Escondido. It was almost his last flight. The helicopter crew did not
expect to deliver a living patient. He was rushed into 3-1/2 hours of surgery, taking ten units of blood. The
doctor told us he had a 5 to 10 percent chance of survival that night.
My wife and I bought tickets on the first airline flight from Portland to San Diego the next morning. I had a
window seat. Weather was clear. As we flew over I couldn’t help but stare at places that had been important
to my dad and me over the years — Yosemite National Park, where he took me camping; Columbia Airport,
where he loved to go for fly-ins; places where we used to live; the college where he helped pay my tuition,
and so on, all the way to San Diego.
He was comatose and on a respirator for three weeks. Circulatory complications forced amputation of his
left lower leg. As late as October 20 the doctors were saying things looked bad and we should prepare for the
worst. But he rallied and came out of it. He was finally transferred out of critical care, and spent a couple of
weeks in rehab. Two days before Thanksgiving he was discharged to go home to the condo. He had
outpatient therapy and was looking forward to getting the leg prosthesis. He and his droll sense of humor
("Well, I don’t have to worry about that bunion any more”) were both alive and well.
We had much to be thankful for on that Thanksgiving holiday. Amid the feelings of relief for his recovery
we were so grateful for what he did to bring us together as a family, through the magic of flight. I am to this
day grateful to my lovely step-mother for selflessly caring for him. I am grateful to my dad’s mechanic and
fellow “airport bums” for being such loyal friends.
Y’know, there are some people who have this funny idea that airplanes are inanimate objects, just
manufactured assemblies of metal, rubber and cloth. Uh-uh, can’t fool me. I know better.
I flew with him again in his Skyhawk, with my son in the back seat, on June 24, 2006 (photos below). He flew
like he hadn’t missed a day. He remained hopeful of regaining his medical certificate until the onset of kidney
cancer in the summer of 2008. He left us as he lived, with quiet dignity and grace, on November 9, 2008, at the
age of 78.
Finally, at the end of August 2009, we cleaned out Dad's hangar and brought the Skyhawk home. On
departure from Grants Pass, I took the airplane eastward for one last pass through Evans Valley, over Dad's
property and last resting place, before continuing north to Washington State.
Cheryl was right. There are a lot of memories for all of us in this airplane. Here
are just a few.
Outing with the boys to the
historic Gold Rush town of
trip to San Diego
Son Matt and I flew Michael
Reagan and his son Cameron
(President Ronald Reagan's son
and grandson) to Hume Lake
Christian Camp in the Sierras,
for a Father-Son weekend.
Our first visit to Portland,
Oregon. Little did we know
that just six years later we
would be living just across
the river from Portland
grandparents in Oregon
always meant rides in
Our first landing at
Pearson Field, which
is now the Skyhawk's
Business trip to
followed by a visit to
beautiful Victoria, BC.