January 7, 2014 - Matthew Polak, 29, of Waukesha, Wisconsin, always considered earning his airframe and powerplant (A&P) certificate at age 20 to be his greatest accomplishment in aviation. But he feels like he surpassed it this past December when he passed his checkride and gave his non-current pilot father, Allen, a ride for the first time.
"My father received his first airplane ride when he was around 19 years old - a simple 15-minute flight in a Piper Tri-Pacer," said Matthew, EAA 870097. "That's all it took and he was hooked."
Allen soon was a pilot, and flew often in a rented Cherokee 140, even after getting married and starting his family. But eventually, Matthew explained, the growing family obligations and costs forced Allen to give up flying. "He hasn't been current for 23 years."
They still attended EAA AirVenture Oshkosh together every year, though. "We spend our week engulfed in the awesomeness that is Oshkosh and hope it fills our tank for the year to come," Matthew said.
Allen convinced his son to become an A&P given Matthew's mechanical inclination. He joined Plane Safe Aircraft Maintenance on Waukesha County Airport (UES). As an A&P, he had numerous opportunities to fly with customers and often bragged to his dad about it.
"He always begged me to try and get him a ride in something, just to get back in the air. I never delivered, but mainly because I had a plan in mind: become a pilot and provide the ride myself."
His employer provided an airplane for training, and for a year and a half Matthew studied, crammed, and learned everything he could about flying. He passed his checkride on December 15, all the while keeping his dad in the dark.
Until this past Christmas Eve, when Matthew's scheme to get his dad back in the air came full circle. He told his dad to meet him at the airport the morning of Christmas Eve when his boss would take him up for a flight. When Allen arrived, Matthew told him his boss was not able to make it after all but that they could take a newly repaired plane out of the hangar to taxi test its newly installed brakes. It was all part of the ruse, of course.
"So I got him in the airplane, did a run-up, and got on the runway - all without him suspecting a thing," Matthew explained. "Gave it power, started rocketing down the runway, and instead of chopping power and hitting the brakes, rotated and took off.
"Now he's thinking we just did something illegal and have to land with no experienced pilot on board. He's about to really start freaking out, so I start laughing, reach into the back seat, pull out and give him my license. He was shocked and relieved to say the least."
They spent the next two and a half hours in the airplane "bonding in a way we both never knew we would," Matthew explained. "It was definitely a memory we'll both never forget."
Now after so many ground-bound years, Allen is motivated to get current and acquire an airplane with his son. "I hope this leads to many more years and miles and miles of smiles," Matthew said. "I am now the second-generation pilot in my family and hope one day to pass my aviation passion onto my son as well.
"My dad has been my hero my whole life, and it was nice to finally be able to pay him back by doing something very dear to us both - flying."
Matthew credits his wife, Crystal, for never letting him give up; his bosses Sam and Dru, both for pushing him and helping whenever needed; Plane Safe Aircraft Maintenance for use of the airplane; and his flight instructors for all their hard work and dedication.
"And to my father, for getting me addicted to aviation in the first place."