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Flying (Again!)

By Ken Hughes, EAA 1023766

March 20, 2015 - Ever spend a long time without something you love to do? I found myself in that situation concerning flying. How could this happen? After all, I was the guy who in my teens worked at the airport all day just to get a 20-minute ride in a Waco biplane at sunset. I remember the old grass strip at Northway Airpark on Morse Road, which at the time was on the northern edge of my hometown, Columbus, Ohio.

Even Port Columbus Airport wasn’t very big then, and as soon as I could afford it, I began taking flying lessons at Lane Aviation – then located in the old terminal area. But I’d only accumulated a few hours in a Cessna 140 when I decided to enlist in the Air Force.

Off I went, trying to balance my responsibilities for jet aircraft engine maintenance with a yearning to fly. Once I became established, most duty stations happened to have an aero club, where I got experience in flying and maintaining various light aircraft, including an Aeronca 11AC, Cessna 150, C-172, C-182, Piper J-3 (and a Super Cub), and even a Beechcraft T-34 and a de Havilland Beaver. This was great experience, but the downside was that I couldn’t seem to get into a focused training regimen.

Finally, when I was stationed at March Field in Riverside, California, I found a place and a program where everything seemed to fit. The bonus was that my assigned flight instructor was Yvonne Pateman, who was a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot) during World War II and had flown heavy transports as part of the Berlin Airlift. She was 20 years my senior and was a wonderful, but strict, instructor. She had me soloing in just a few hours.

I completed all my practice and cross-country work in Southern California, and soon after getting back home in 1963, I completed the written and flying tests for the private pilot certificate. During that time, I was checked out in various aircraft, including the Cessna 150, 172, and 182 as well as the Piper Cherokee.

Over the next several years, I pursued and attained my commercial certificate and managed to accumulate about 240 hours while introducing many of my friends, including several members of our church’s youth group, to the joys of flying. Eventually, however, raising a young family forced me to put flying on the back burner, but I hoped to pick it up again later in life. Years went by, and I maintained my interest by reading incessantly about aviation, attending air shows and other events, and flying “with” someone whenever possible.

Suddenly, it seemed, I was retired and still interested in flying, but I was still fighting the economics of life. Then, through a series of events (which is another whole story), God made a way. After a trip to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2011 (which reignited the spark), and through the encouragement of my wonderful wife, Marie (who gave me the courage to try), I decided to give it a go.

I did my homework and selected Aviation Works at the Newark-Heath Airport (VTA) as my home base. Charlene Ward was assigned as my instructor, and she was willing to take on the necessary ground instruction and air work training to get the “old man” back into the left seat.

It wasn’t easy, causing me to work harder than I ever remembered to perfect some of the coordinated moves required to once again be a good and safe pilot. A lot of stuff had changed in the FARs, but I studied and persevered. And after about 11 hours of dual and much patience on the part of my instructor, Charlene thought I should take it around by myself. I had passed the flight review! What a great feeling of confidence to be free to fly again after 36 years.

Since then, I have studied and practiced more to perfect my technique in all areas. I’ve also begun taking my family and friends up for an introduction to the world of flying. I must admit it is exhilarating to once again feel the force of the air on my wings. It’s a whole different yet familiar world and a dream fulfilled!

Three years have gone by, and I’m now associated with EAA “Heart of Ohio” Chapter 402 and was recently elected treasurer of the chapter. I’m also involved in promoting the Young Eagles and Eagle Flight programs in the central Ohio area, and I’ve achieved the role of a Young Eagle flight leader. I’ve taken on additional studies under the FAAST (FAA Safety Team) Pilot Proficiency Program and recently received my Basic Phase 1 Wings, having achieved the first level.

One of my greatest dreams has always been aircraft ownership. This was fulfilled when, in the fall of 2014, I was able to purchase a quarter-interest in a Van’s RV-9A. Together with my partners, we fly this beautiful airplane out of Fairfield County Airport (LHQ), near Lancaster, Ohio.

Pictured with me (above) is Darrel Todd (left), good friend and one of the original builders from whom I purchased the shared ownership. Darrel has been a longtime EAA member and has built and flown several airplanes here in the Columbus area.

My transition training in the RV-9A was very thorough, under the wings of Gary Young, CFI. I was able to complete the syllabus with about three hours of dual instruction, and now I feel very comfortable with the airplane.

I really enjoy flying with other members of our local EAA chapters, particularly on scheduled fly-outs to interesting near (and some not-so-near) destinations, which always include breakfast or lunch. And a real team effort is put into Young Eagles events, at which our member pilots typically fly 60 to 100 youths. These are scheduled by the chapter at least twice a year, along with our annual fly-in, which draws pilots and planes from all over Central Ohio. I am amazed at the interest shown by the youngsters, but hey, I guess that’s the way I was.

And going back to my roots, I discovered some of the guys in Chapter 402 have an informal arrangement with pilots operating out of Wynkoop (6G4), Mount Vernon, Ohio, where we try to participate in each other’s events. So once again, I’m hanging around Wacos – and loving it! These are great times again, and I intend to keep on flying!

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