If it hadn’t been for an old friend who was a pilot telling me I could fly an airplane as cheaply as I could spend an hour on the range practicing with a large-bore pistol every week, I’d probably never have thought of doing it. But something about the idea grabbed me.
I went out to the Killeen, Texas airport and took a few lessons to find out whether flying was one of the adventures I wanted to give myself this lifetime. Turned out there was no question in the question.
But being a man of ideas, not much time passed before I decided I could buy an old aircraft and save a lot of the cost of renting one while I learned. A 1947 Cessna was sitting on the strip with a for sale sign on it, that one at the top of the post, so I bought it.
But finding an instructor to teach me to fly a taildragger cut down a lot of my options. I ended up with a guy named John Rynertson, who introduced himself by saying he was one of the best pilots around. He owned a Cessna 120, and John taught me enough to get me started.
But we had a falling out, him not soloing me in a timely manner, me thinking he wasn’t doing so because he wanted to maximize the trainer fees. One day we landed, me thinking this was the day of the solo, and he sneered I wasn’t ready yet. We were standing by the airplane, so I climbed inside, started the engine and taxied down to the end of the runway, gave myself my first solo flight, illegal.
John and I didn’t have much truck with one another after that. I flew that old Cessna without having a ticket allowing me to do it, while he flew his C120 up one day and pulled the wings off it in a snap-roll, killing himself exactly the way a man ought to do if he’s going to pull the wings off a Cessna.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’d taken off downwind for the first time. I couldn’t find another instructor, and I was relocating to another town at the time, where nobody knew me. So for several years I flew that Cessna, 500+ hours flying time, as though I was entirely legal. Flew out to New Mexico, over to Savanna, Georgia, sleeping under the wing along the way, with no license to pilot an aircraft.
But eventually word got around the Georgetown Municipal Airport and someone cautioned me the FBO was going to rat me out to the FAA. I decided it was time to complete my training. Found an old outlaw pilot to sign me off and made an appointment with the FAA examiner in Austin.
When he looked at my log and saw I had 500 hours he shook his head a longish time. “I’ve been checking out pilots for thirty years. Before you the one with the most flying hours I’d ever seen was a guy with 100 hours, and he almost killed me during the check ride. Couldn’t fly an airplane.”
I grinned at him. “You care to watch me take it around the patch a few times before we do the check ride? I’ll get the numbers every time around and turn off by the first taxi way.”
We did the check ride and I flew back to Georgetown legal, for the first time.
Almost felt as though I’d lost something.
Today on Ask Old Jules: Mistakes and Regret?
Old Jules, what mistakes have you made and regretted?
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