More than a pretty face

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.

Comments

  1. Bill Miles says:

    Great article about Tia Robertson,she’s a great lady and a dear friend and has landed, expertly, in my unusual airport that is 1320 ‘ long and is between rows of Pecan trees.
    One item that should have been in the article was; she and her husband Phillip survived unhurt in a crash, between trees, that tore off the wings in a Luscombe, after a throttle cable broke.
    The Luscombe N 72088 crashed just 1/2 of a mile from my home and was destroyed

  2. Good article, Deb ….fun read. Please keep em coming; I really enjoy your writing style relative to aviation ….

  3. Michael La France says:

    Luscombe airplanes an pilots are still going strong! Continental Luscombe Association (CLA) and the Luscombe Association are great places to go for kindred spirits and Luscombe aircraft information. Every year in late May many Luscombes gather in Columbia California just north of Yosemite for flying and fellowship with paved and a well groomed grass runway! Do I love Luscombes, well I still own the 8A dad taught me to fly in from those windy Kansas fields in 1977. But it doesn’t stop there. I’m one of the few lucky pilots to have an 8A and the 4 seat Luscombe Sedan!! The world is my oyster as long as I can afford the hanger and avgas!! I’m proud of my dad who stuck with me until I figured out how to handle taildraggers and of my Birds, both with fantastic flying abilities. (1946 8A and 1949 11A Sedan #93 of 97 ever built!) A pilot will get “more bang for his/her buck” in a 2 seat Luscombe than any airplane old or new.

  4. I owned a 1939 Luscombe 8A. N23004. It was registered as a 1939 Luscombe 8A but actualy it wasa a 1939 from the back of the rear wing forward and a 1947 8A from there to the tail. I could alway tell when I had been in the air 1 hour because my hind end started to ake. It was a ground looping machine if you let it get away from you. I ground looped it so I know. It was a very fast airplane with Lycoming 65 HP engine. I flew it to Rockford, Il before EAA moved to Oshkash and camped under the wing in the vintage section. I then rebuilt a Stenson 108-3 and flew it coast to coast. I am 75 years old and am looking at a Flight Design CLTS to purchase and get back to flying after a 30 year laps.

  5. DON WILLIAMS says:

    I AM 79 YEARS OLD NOW BUT I WOULD LOVE TO FIND MY OLD METAL WING 8A. I PURCHASED THAT ACFT IN 1955 AND SOLD IT TO SOMEONE IN YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO IN ABOUT 1957. THE REGISTRATION NUMBER WAS N72088 . THE LAST I HEARD SOMEONE GROUND-LOOPED IT AND DAMAGED THE GEAR. I UNDERSTAND THAT IT MIGHT BE SOMEWHERE IN THE SOUTH. IF ANYONE KNOWS WHERE THIS ACFT IS I WOULD BE INTERESTED IN PURCHASING IT IF AVAILABLE. AS SOON AS I GOT MY PRIVATE TICKET I USED THE 8A TO TRAIN FOR MY COMMERCIAL & INSTRUMENT RATINGS. YES BACK IN THAT TIME FRAME YOU COULD EARN AN INSTRUMENT RATING WITH JUST BASIC INSTRUMENTS AND A LOW FREQUENCY RADIO WHICH ALLOWED ME TO FLY THE OLD RANGE ADCOCK APPROACH. I CONTINUED MY FLYING CAREER TILL I RETIRED WITH OVER 23,000 HRS HAVING FLOWN OVER THE ENTIRE GLOBE. PLZ CALL ME IF ANYONE HAS KNOWLEDGE OF THE ACFT. 281-486-9191 THANKS FOR FOR YOUR TIME.

  6. Vaughn S. Price says:

    Sounds like a reunion of equals to me. I’ve been chasing down and finding my old group from Compton Airport in so cal. we are all octogenarians, each with over 15000 hours some with Airlines, some with FAA, some like myself General aviation Flight schools. I received an hour xc in a 1941 Luscombe 8-A in 1945 at age 15. also later, the post war 8-A, 8-E, 8-F. among the 139 makes and models flown. Nostalgia. By the way I am still Quite active with recent time in 150, 152, 172, 162,Howard DGA-15, and 1941 Douglas DC-3

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