Connecting flights

The end of the year is a time of reflection. As 2011 winds down, my family and I experienced an unreal 19-day stretch that put a great deal into perspective about life and aviation.

Here’s a peek into a public journal:

Nov. 10: My wife, Deb, and I were in the Indianapolis International Airport when we received the news that her Dad’s cancer had spread too far to continue the battle and doctors recommended hospice.

We were in Indy for her cousin Dave’s wedding. We’d met Dave’s fiance, Ashley, the year before and Deb and I were at once smitten by Ashley. She will make a great addition to the family. As Deb and I drove to the hotel, we decided to press on with our weekend plans. After all, recent experience with my father’s death told us we had a few weeks.

Nov. 11: Veterans Day, I woke early and drove up to West Lafayette, Ind., to meet with Swift Enterprises. The company’s nine-person team is attempting to do nothing short of create a lead-free replacement to 100LL. It’s hard not to be excited by what I saw, some of which I understood, much I didn’t. After all, I ain’t no fuels scientist, just a lowly publisher. But just before I left, John Rusek, Swift’s co-owner, said, “Tell everyone there’s hope. It won’t be tomorrow, or next week, but a solution is coming.”

Later that day we learned from Joan, my mother-in-law, that Deb’s father wasn’t doing well. We decided to leave Indy for Erskine, Minn., Roy and Joan’s home. Gathered in the hotel lobby, saying our goodbyes to family, Joan called with the news that Roy had died. If a silver lining is to be had, Roy (who I adored) died on Veterans Day. A tunnel rat in Vietnam, he only opened up about what he’d done and seen in the past few years.

Nov. 12: Deb and I arrived in Erskine about 5 a.m. (following our flight to MSP and a five-hour drive). Friends starting showing up at the house around 10 a.m. Food, stories, laughter and tears followed — as it should be.

Nov. 13: I flew home from Minnesota to fetch our kids Savannah, Brenna and Jack. A second funeral of a grandpa in less than four months is not fun, but, unfortunately, a part of life.

Nov. 15: The kids and I arrived in Minnesota. It’s amazing what youth can bring to a heavy situation. They are a joy.

Nov. 16: At the wake at the funeral home, those we’d seen just a few days earlier in Indy were now in East Grand Forks. All things considered, spirits were good.

Nov. 17: The funeral and a reception are held at the church Deb and I were married in 17 years earlier. More laughter and crying…again, as it should be. During the funeral service, the pastor quoted Joan, speaking of Roy: “He’s an old fart, but he’s my old fart.” My 6-year-old son Jack, who’s quietly coloring in the pew next to me, started giggling and whispered in my ear, “She said fart.” Those of us in the front pew shared a chuckle at that comment and Roy was smiling at that moment, I’m sure of it. On our way to the cemetery, Jack tells his mother, “It’s OK, we’ll see grandpa again someday.” Ah, the innocence of youth. What a gift.

Nov. 18: Deb, the kids and I awake early to travel back home, emotionally spent.

Months before any of us knew my Dad was sick, Deb and I planned to travel with the kids to Southern Pines, N.C., to spend Thanksgiving week with Jack’s godparents and family. This was to be our fourth such trip in seven years. We’ve come to love this every-other-year trip. The kids all get along great and Jeff and Dana have come to be wonderful friends.

This year, to say the least, was a little different. Thanksgiving was always a fairly big deal for my family when I was young. This being the first Thanksgiving without mine or Deb’s Dad, we decided to press on.

Nov. 21: About 10 minutes after pushing back from the gate at Seattle, the flight crew tells us a medical issue of a passenger requires we return to the gate. We are asked to remain seated while paramedics attend to the passenger seated in the back of the Delta MD-11. A few brief minutes later, the passenger is wheeled out. He looked a little confused, so removing him was probably a good decision.

Amazingly, we are underway to Atlanta just 60 minutes late. Of course, we had just a 60-minute layover. No doubt many fellow passengers were embarking on Thanksgiving travel, yet I heard no grumblings from passengers nearby. Just well wishes. Nice.

In Atlanta, we raced to our next gate (a concourse away, of course), and made it as the final 20 or so passengers were boarding. Phew.

For the next six days, we had great weather and great times — something our family needed.

Not long after our arrival, Dana and Jeff took us to The Pik ‘n Pig located on the Gilliam-McConnell Airfield in Carthage, N.C. After all nine of us rolled into the packed (always a good sign) parking lot, we took up two tables on the covered patio. Food and conversation were great.

Upon the advice of GAfuels blogger, Kent Misegades, I was to ask for Roland should we happen to make it to the airport. As we neared the end of lunch, I looked over to see a gentleman sitting at the next table wearing a Gilliam-McConnell Airfield shirt. I introduced myself, and asked if he was associated with the airport. He smiled, stuck his hand out and said, “I’m Roland Gilliam, owner of the airport.” He thanked me for the nice coverage we’d given him, the restaurant, and the airport in General Aviation News awhile back. That brief exchange led to my meeting Claude Burkhead II and III at the next table. They are longtime General Aviation News readers. Claude III pointed to the Ercoupe he and his father flew in for lunch.

When we finished lunch, I took the kids out to look at the Ercoupe. Claude came jogging over and offered to let the kids climb in. What a treat for the kids. Thanks Claude, much appreciated.

Nov. 28: All too soon, we headed home. We boarded a Delta flight from Raleigh-Durham to Detroit. About 20 minutes into the 80-minute flight, the crew called for a doctor. A lady sitting two rows in front of us stood and walked to the front of the plane. In short order, I could see frantic movement in the first class cabin. A follow-up announcement informed us we’d be diverting as soon as an appropriate airport could be found.

Not 15 minutes later we started descending to our original destination… Detroit. We rolled up to the gate a full 30 minutes early. It was clear ATC cleared a path for our expedited arrival.

Overhearing flight attendants speak of the situation, it turns out the passenger stopped breathing and was completely unresponsive as doctors approached him. They revived him immediately and monitored him for the rest of the flight.

As paramedics wheeled the patient off, fellow passengers broke into spontaneous applause.

Our connecting flight into Seattle was, I’m happy to say, long and boring.

There is a lot to life — and for me, aviation is the connector. It took me to Indy for a wedding, to Minnesota for a funeral, to North Carolina for good times with great friends. It also introduced me to the good people at Swift Enterprises and Gilliam-McConnell Airfield. Yep, aviation runs deep for me.

So, congratulations Dave and Ashley. May your life together be a joy. Godspeed, Roy Nisbet. It was an honor to know you.

To everyone else, Merry Christmas and here’s to a calm, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Ben Sclair is publisher of General Aviation News. He can be reached at

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