Flying low

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 16, 2004

Back in 1943, I was drafted by Uncle Sam and sent by train to Alabama for basic training. That’s a hot place compared to my Michigan home, then by train to Louisiana and Death Valley, California for more training. While there my mother died suddenly and the Red Cross provided my first plane ride, a DC3 to Detroit. Then a slow freight train through south Texas back to California. I much preferred the air travel.

After another train ride to New Jersey and a 14-day ocean trip across the stormy north Atlantic we landed in England. It was still January, a few months before the Invasion of Europe. Planes were everywhere and we could easily get a ride wherever B-17s were parked. They flew practice runs every day but did not need the gunners who weren’t allowed to shoot anyway. They gladly gave us their gun positions so long as we touched nothing and didn’t bother the pilots. I wanted to be in the Army Air Force.

Long after the war I was fortunate to have time to fly with a local preacher who enjoyed golfing on distance courses. I could always find time and really loved flying low over unfamiliar land. He, naturally, compared it to heaven but I liked being able to see the firma terra and return there in one piece.

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He took me along just to see me fail to break 90 and stifle my urge to use cuss words when I whiffed.

That was all the flying until 1979 when a friend and I bought land in Suffolk. All we had was an aerial map and we flew around for hours until we found it. As low as we were flying we both picked out the points on Lake Western Branch where we would build our homes. He had been a pilot for the oil well fighter Red Adair and loved to fly, but he died and my small plane flying was over.

Later the wife and I were fortunate enough to do considerable commercial flying to various parts of the world and did until jet lag, layovers, baggage handling, etc. became a pain. We had had enough. But then I got to know a real low flying pilot, Kent Marshall, the manager of our own Suffolk Executive Airport located south of town. He finally tired of my pleading and took my buddy Pete and I for a spin at the perfect height of 1,100 feet, a distance from which you can see what’s happening down there. Of course we wanted him to fly over our homes so we could see why our property taxes are much higher than we were flying.

Kent’s plane formerly belong-ed to a Coca Cola executive, painted red with white letters advertising the product. It was built in 1964 with extra horsepower and Ken has added all kinds of safety equipment so he can’t get lost. Three of us filled that cockpit and it was like we wearing the plane. Once aloft we headed straight for where Pete and I live to snap some pictures for the album. They were hard to find among the millions of trees but the shoreline of the lake guided us straight in. My wife, tending her garden, didn’t even wave.

When we approached the Franklin airport runway, it looked mighty small, I thought about two of my younger friends who managed to land on aircraft carriers time and time again and are still alive and well. One flew that big job with the radar dome on top and the other jet fighter planes. All they had was three wires and a barrier on a moving target.

Venice has nothing on Suffolk; the middle part of the 430 is alive with streams, lakes, and rivers running in all directions, some up hill. Homes are everywhere as far as we could see. Both the Hilton and City Hall are quite small but we could land on the new Target warehouse. If you have not been up there you should find a way. I don’t care which direction you are going after death, fly while you are alive and can thrill at being a bird for an hour or two. It’s like looking down on a painting, plenty of fall color, church steeples reaching for us, plenty of open pasture for emergency landings. It may be a bit corny but we really enjoyed &uot;escaping the bonds of earth to soar like eagles.&uot; The weather up there had been perfect; just a few broken clouds. Ken said he’d fix them before we went up again.

Opinion on a city matter: has it occurred to you as it has to me that the Letter To The Editor castigating Roger Leonard may have been &uot;arranged and abetted?&uot; by persons who don’t really see Mr. Leonard as a Monday morning quarterback, but rather as a tough defensive coach for the Suffolk citizens and their dollars? Are you aware of the term, &uot;Hatchet Job?&uot;

Robert Pocklington lives in Suffolk and is a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at Robert.