I should hate Tia Robertson. She’s tall, blonde, slim, beautiful and a professional pilot. Her family also owns a Cessna 195, a Cessna 170, and a Taylorcraft, all meticulously restored, all beautiful.
My envy knows no bounds. When I found out she was a few years older than me but looked 20 years younger, it was depressing. But Tia’s beauty is of the spirit as well as the body. She is a kind person with a passion for flying who has the ability to put the people around her at ease, especially her fellow pilots.
Tia’s story is like so many I’ve heard over the years. She learned to fly in her dad’s 1947 Luscombe 8E at McCollum Airport (RYY) in Kennesaw, Ga., in 1980. “I believe it was my first time going to SUN ’n FUN in 1979 in that Luscombe and camping under the wing that I knew there was nothing I would rather do than fly airplanes,” she recalled.
While her dad flew for recreation, Tia decided she loved flying so much that she would pursue it as a career.
“In those days, girls mostly dreamed of being flight attendants, and I was hired at the tender age of 19 by Southern Airways to do just that,” she said.
Tia says that job was fun, but she made it her goal to be on the other side of that cockpit door someday. She continued to work for Southern Airways to support her flying addiction while she built flight time and ratings. She also instructed at McCollum on her days off.
Finally, one day she heard about a new commuter airline, Eastern Metro Express, starting up at Hartsfield in Atlanta. The airline flew the 19-passenger Jetstream 3100. For the next three years, she flew as first officer and then as captain on that airplane. She also had another life-altering event during that time. She met and married Phillip Robertson.
In 1987 she was hired by Eastern Airlines as second officer on the 727 and flew there until the strike in 1989. She was then hired by United in 1990 where she flew the 727, 737, 757, and 767. Phillip flew for American, and as two captains commuting to Chicago for work, it was tough raising their two young sons.
In 2001, she decided to retire early and devote more time to her family. “It was a tough decision, but one I will never regret,” she said.
Their sons, Nathan and Ian, are now in their early 20s, and family time includes their mother teaching them how to fly. Their lessons are given in both the Taylorcraft and the Cessna 170. These young men are living a pilot’s dream. Wonder if the family would like to adopt an eccentric aunt?
I can say with certainty that the Front Porch Gang has whole-heartedly adopted Tia, Phillip, Nathan, and Ian. For sure, a few of them are a little in love with Tia. And why not? She’s gorgeous. She’s kind. She has cool airplanes and she’s a phenomenal pilot. Phillip and the boys seem to take it all in stride.
The first Saturday in December found all the gang, including the Robertsons, enjoying a warm, sunny day and celebrating the season with our annual bring-a-dish dinner. Marion, our airport manager, fried two turkeys. Bob brought another. Russell smoked a lovely Boston butt. The rest of us supplied our favorite casseroles, veggies and sweets. Drinks were delivered via C-195.
A particular characteristic of the group that had gathered on the porch that day was that there were several active, seasoned CFIs. Tia, of course, was there, as well as our friend Dan from South Carolina, who has well over a thousand hours in Luscombes. My own instructor James Collins from Calhoun was visiting. Our own local CFIs included Jack Hunt, who is an RV builder, commercial pilot and hungry to get more tailwheel time while he is building. Bob Burns, a retired airline pilot, has flown just about every airplane out there. Russell Ziprik recently traded his Arrow for a very nice Cessna 206. He is often in the pattern at JZP helping fellow pilots with a flight review or a new rating or endorsement.
I picked up on the nature of the crowd because my flight review was due. In fact, when hearing Mr. Collins was attending, I had the Old Man taxi the 8A over to the ramp and made sure I had on my good flying shoes just in case an opportunity presented itself. My logbook was tucked inside.
In reality, few instructors nowadays would know if I flew a Luscombe correctly. There’s just not that many of them out there for CFIs to have the opportunity to become familiar with the type. So over the years, nearly all of our flight reviews have been with Mr. Collins. His reviews are thorough. I learn something every time, and I come away feeling that my flying habits haven’t turned sloppy.
But this beautiful Saturday in December presented me with so many opportunities to learn! I wanted to fly with them all and each for a different reason. But in the end, it was Tia whose eyes lit up the most at the prospect of getting in a 1946 Luscombe 8A.
I explained to her that I had over 1,000 hours in my 8E, but it was still down because Henry was rebuilding the horizontal stabilizer, and I wasn’t rushing him to finish. In the meantime, I had been flying his 8A, but I wasn’t near as proficient in that airplane as I was in my Lester.
She didn’t appear worried. She was a little surprised at the thickness of my cushion, however. I don’t have those long gazelle legs. Mine are more akin to plump little hen legs, but hey, with the right cushion, I can fly as well as the long-legged folks.
And fly we did. As soon as I started to taxi, Lucy, my Old Man’s 8A, felt as natural to me as my own 8E. The grin on Tia’s face was nostalgic. I could only imagine what it must have been like for that young girl to solo her father’s Luscombe all those years ago. Our flight was rather special for me as well. I’ve never had a flight review in the 8A even though the airplane has been in the family for 34 years.
I guess I know Henry’s other woman pretty well. When Tia asked if she could have the airplane, I gave her up freely. I was rather pleased that I could point out her characteristics. She tends to drop the right wing in the stall. A little adjustment in the right wing strut would fix that, but the Old Man hasn’t got around to it. Even though she stalls 10 mph slower, she needs a little power on final (unlike my Lester) because she likes to sink.
The flight review was fun for both of us. In fact, I was sad to see it end, but I made up my mind, then and there, that the fun wasn’t over. I intended to fly with each and every one of those instructors on the porch. Flying with Dan would take some planning and cooperation with the weather since he was based some distance away.
Flying with Mr. Burns and Russell would take some creativity to get them seated comfortably in the Luscombe, as both of these gentlemen are uber tall. Jack is an airport bum like us, so getting a flight with him shouldn’t be an issue, and our flights with Mr. Collins usually only take a convenient sunny Sunday afternoon.
At the end of the day, I no longer envied Tia her beauty, but I still envied her airplanes. She did suggest that our next visit together should involve some time in her C-170 or the Taylorcraft (which has been her baby for 32 years).
I’m good with that.