Saying goodbye to a mentor

I was sitting in the terminal building in Orlando on my way home from SUN ’n FUN when my cell phone rang.

“Meg, this is Peggy Boyd…” she began. Peggy is the wife of Dean Boyd, my friend and aviation mentor of some 20 years. The tone of her voice told me before she got the words out. Dean had passed away a few days earlier from a cardiac event. He was 82 years old.

I met Dean more than two decades ago on a Saturday morning in April. I had just moved to Tacoma and was looking for an FBO. Dean was part of the Fosdick Flyers, a group of gentlemen who met at the Tacoma Narrows Airport (TIW) on Saturday mornings for breakfast fly-outs.

Jason, John and Dean Boyd

Dean spent more than 20 years in the Air Force. When I started working at General Aviation News he generously shared his collection of aviation magazines and photographs, as well as his encyclopedic knowledge of aviation. Before I left for assignments to Oshkosh and SUN ’n FUN he would give me a list of things he was curious about. There were several years where I tracked down and counted the exhaust stacks on de Havilland Mosquitos and took photos of the canopies of P-51 Mustangs.

When I returned from the shows we would meet for lunch and I would tell him what I had seen and done at the show, show him photographs, and hand over souvenirs, mostly lapel pins, which he collected.

He kept track of my progress. When I was building my hours, he would study them and tell me they were good for “at least 20 minutes in a Cessna 172″ and we would fly together.

But it wasn’t just in the air. When he learned that I had gone without heat one winter to have more money for flying, he became quite upset with me, scolding me, and telling me that I was the daughter he never had, and he and Peggy DID have that extra room if I needed it. Touched, I apologized profusely.

Dean knew I collected military uniforms. He gave me his old ones, noting that if I decided to pull a stupid move like turning off the heat (again), they would keep me warm. Nothing made him smile more than when he picked me up for lunch and I greeted him wearing one of the jackets he gave me.

I enjoyed finding gifts for Dean. One Christmas I gave him a copy of “Terry and the Pirates” in which Terry joins the Army Air Corps and flies a B-25.

He was particularly moved when I brought him an unused spark plug for a B-25. The owners of “Pacific Prowler” were selling them for $5 a pop to raise money to support the airplane. These kinds of gifts always brought forth a story from Dean, who was a crewman on B-25s during the Berlin Airlift.

“We used to load ‘em up and we’d head in through the clouds and you’d break out over the airport,” he told me. “Couldn’t see a thing. Fog was thick as pea soup. Then one day, the fog lifted.”

It was at that point he realized they had been flying through a canyon of half-demolished buildings. According to Dean, looking out the window at the waist gunner position and seeing that you were below the roof line was a bit of a jolt, so he stopped looking out the window.

Dean was not a loud talker. He was quiet and reserved, but if you listened he would impart much knowledge. I soaked up every word.

The stories he told me about his flight experiences, like when the electrical system gave out during a flight, or when the wind screen got covered with oil and they were vectored into a wash rack, became part of my CFI library.

It is because of Dean that I am a flight instructor today. I was frustrated and burned out on training and ready to quit. Dean wouldn’t let me. He put me in the airplane and we went out and flew until we were both satisfied that I could pass the check ride. It was then that I learned that, once upon a time, Dean had been a flight instructor.

Dean, who also was an A&P, taught me how to do a pre-flight inspection with the eye of a mechanic.

I was able to repay him, after a fashion, a few years later when Jason, his eldest grandson, asked to fly with me for a stage check before he took his private pilot ride. Dean’s son John is an airline pilot, and it was natural for Jason to follow the family’s path.

I showed Jason the pre-flight inspection Dean had taught me. Check the screws on the inspection plates. Note the tension on the safety wires. Double check the pigtails. Check the rubber seals on the gas caps. Check the color and smell of the gas. Unlock the baggage door so if you have an unscheduled off airport landing you have an alternate method of egress if the doors are compromised.

Jason was impressed with the depth of the inspection.

“Do you know who taught me that?” I asked him.

Jason’s eyes blazed. “My grandpa?” he asked.

“Your grandpa.”

Dean L. Boyd was buried with full military honors April 2. After the ceremony I paid my respects to the family and pressed a challenge coin into Jason’s hand. I had acquired the coin for Dean while I was at SUN ’n FUN, not knowing that he’d passed on. It just seemed right that Jason have it.

At the service Peggy Boyd and John Boyd, Jason’s father and Dean’s son, asked me if I would make sure that Jason finished his training. Dean and John wanted Jason to become a CFI. I flashed back to that summer day when Dean strapped me into the airplane and made me keep at it.

I said that I would.

I have no doubt that if there is an airport in the HereAfter, Dean is there, standing under the wing of a B-25 and smiling.

 

Meg Godlewski is GAN’s staff reporter and a Master CFI. She can be reached at meg@generalaviationnews.com.

 

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  1. [...] I was sitting in the terminal building in Orlando on my way home from SUN ’n FUN when my cell phone rang. “Meg, this is Peggy Boyd…” she began. Peggy is the wife of Dean Boyd, my friend and aviation mentor of some 20 years. The tone of her voice told me before she got the words out. Dean had passed away a few days earlier from a cardiac event. He was 82 years old. Continue Reading » [...]

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