A family of aviation

Deb McFarland is the proud owner of Lester, a 1948 Luscombe 8E, and part of the “Front Porch Gang” at Pickens County Airport in Georgia.

Ed Nitzsche started flying lessons while in high school under the tutelage of Jack Brown at the original Tamiami Airport in Miami in 1951. He later finished instruction at Kendall Flying School, which was operated by women’s aerobatic champion Mary Gaffaney, and received his sign off on Feb. 17, 1956.

Wow. That paragraph is loaded with aviation history, some of which I didn’t know until I started my research for this story. First, nearly everyone has heard of Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base, probably the busiest and surely the most popular seaplane training facility in the world. That Ed started his passion with one of aviation’s very own folk heroes is sweet, but to know that Mary Gaffaney signed him off as a pilot is phenomenal.

A five-time U.S. National Women’s Aerobatic Champion, Mary was co-owner of the Kendall Flying School. In 1972 she won the U.S. National Women’s World Championship in France. An aerobatic champion, an examiner, an instructor in helicopters and gliders, a skywriter — it is thought that Mary holds every license and rating available.

The original Tamiami Airport was established some time in the mid-1940s and was located just southwest of Miami International Airport. By the mid-1950s it was an active general aviation airport with three paved runways that serviced several aviation businesses. However, by the mid-1960s, the jet era and its proximity to Miami International Airport sealed the facility’s fate. The airport was relocated further south and the new Tamiami Airport opened in 1967. The Florida International University campus absorbed the original Tamiami, and the new facility was later renamed Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport.

This history was recognized Nov. 16 in Asheville, North Carolina, when Ed received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, an award that “recognizes pilots who have demonstrated professionalism, skill and aviation expertise by maintaining safe operations for 50 or more years.”

When Ed completed his flight training all those years ago, he was married to his best girl Carol, and she was “all for it.”

Some 57 years later she still encourages him to head out to the airport. The couple was blessed with two boys and two girls, but flying didn’t interfere with family because it was an integral part of their life.

Ren, the oldest son, was around 10 years old when he started flying with his dad in their 1946 Ercoupe 415C. The Ercoupe was not Ed’s first airplane. That was an Aeronca Champ 7AC, followed by a Cub and later by a Porterfield.  Years later he found that Porterfield in pieces in Melbourne, Florida.

However, it wasn’t until his parents retired and moved from the Miami area to Andrews, N.C., that Ren called to tell them that he had soloed. The flying that followed for him included six years of aerobatic competitions in an Extra 300. He later sold the 300 and built a SeaRey so his youngest son could learn to fly. His older son, Ren, Jr., earned his seaplane rating in that airplane.

Kurt, Ed’s younger son, didn’t fly as much as a kid, but genes rang true when, later settled in Knoxville, Tenn., he earned his private pilot license. Exposed to such passion, Ed’s son- in-law David could not resist the allure of flight and continued the family tradition in 2006.

More than 50 years after it all began, Ed owns and flies a 1959 Cessna 172 and enjoys flying with his Andrews-Murphy airport buddy Rick Trammel. Rick says that Ed is “a different person in the air.” At one time in his youth, Ed wanted to be a commercial pilot, but he couldn’t pass the eye exam. Instead, he is quite happy with his flying and smiled when he said that the best part about it is that it is “an enjoyable, relaxing pleasure.”

His fondest memories include flying in his Cub along the beach and waving at the girls. With a twinkle in his eye he remembered, “Some waved back. Some didn’t.” After confessing this little tidbit, Ed suggested that Mom shouldn’t know about that, but after 57 years, I’m sure Mom knows and understands a lot more that Ed realizes.

Rick may agree. He rolled his eyes and confirmed that flying with Ed is “never dull.”

I imagine that is so.

Deb can be reached at ShortFinal@generalaviationnews.com.


  1. ray mizell says

    I worked for Mary in the mid 60’s as a line boy. She was great to work for and I learned alot about flying while I was there. I retired from Delta Airlines in 2009 as a A 330 Captain. It all started at Kendal Flying School.

  2. Greg Mcinnis says

    hello friend great story i remember Mac McInnis (my Dad would take us to old tamiami airport were his mentor Mary Gaffaney owned kendall flight school his fight instructor was Capt Larry Bly .Dad would fly every chance he could . he would take us kids flying with him all the time .he loved to fly and marry tout him how . i remember her she was a Great person and pilot .he was a stores clerk At Pan Am 35 yr miami and never missed a day of work. he was Great Pilot

  3. says

    I went to Embry Riddle instead of Mary Gaffeney, but after I got my commercial I ferried for a long time and I always stopped at Marys to refuel etc. She always had very good advices for me to do or beware of but she never said anything to discaurage me from flying.
    All in all she always was very good to me. God bless you all.
    Sorry, I got ahead of myself there, I tyoo learned to fly at Tamiami airport. Fla. in 1955.

    Ticky Hernandez, san Juan, PR

  4. says

    Ed Story,
    Reading this story hit like a cold glass of water in the face. In the early sisties I ended up in Miami teaching school and trying to finish my pilot ratings.
    After getting my commercial and CFI Mary Gaffaney hired me as a brand new Flight instructor. I stayed there for two years until I got hired by Eastern Air Lines in 1966 .
    After working 25 years in the Airline industry and 15 years flying corporate I never lost my love of flight instructing, and have been doing it part and full time since then.
    Mary was definitly a mentor and was a prime example of the best side of aviation. Because of her tutorship I have always used her teaching and mentoring to set the highest possible standards in my continuing to instruct and fly.
    At the age of seventy I have now retired to the rank of Flight instructor only.Still love to teach and fly mostly in the central New Jersey and as a snow bird in the West Palm Beach area in the winter.
    Any one including yourself who is in the area let me know.I’d like ot hear from you.

    Jim Hamilton

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