Moving on…

I’ve always wanted to write, and when I graduated from high school, I had every intention of attending my local college and pursuing the possibilities.

But on orientation day, for whatever reason, I didn’t go. Instead, I applied for a job and started working with a young man who would give me my first airplane ride in an old 1946 Luscombe 8A. I fell in love with the man that day. In the years to come, I would fall in love with the plane.

I finally made it to college at the grand old age of 27. I retired from chicken farming, a challenging job that paid for my house and my college tuition, and taught me that there wasn’t anything that I couldn’t do. I started classes full-time at a small private college that was located just six miles from my home.

Being an English major with a minor in history meant that I would write, write and write some more. I wrote myself to Valedictorian at the first school and Magna Cum Laude at next, but it wasn’t until my last English class that one of my professors thought I had talent and wanted to talk with me about my future in writing. It was too late. After seven years of farming followed by four years of school while working a full-time job at the college those last two years, I didn’t care. I was tired.

usIn fact, I didn’t even attend my graduation ceremony from the last school. Instead, that Saturday in June found me in Morraine, Ohio, attending the 1993 Luscombe Fly-In. The Old Man (who was not so old then) was nearly finished with the restoration of that Luscombe that won my heart. We drove to the fly-in so I could check out Luscombe interior options. I did and it was fun.

With school behind me, I was able to spend some time with him in his workshop while he finished the Luscombe. I learned to rib stitch. I bucked rivets. I picked out upholstery fabric, and all the while I studied my husband, the taildragger pilot, and thought what an interesting character he would be in a story about this illogical obsession with an old airplane.

I found my inspiration in that old workshop and started typing my first story on an old Brother word processor. All I needed was an audience for it. Taildragger Man found that when he put a copy of The Southern Aviator in my lap. “Send your story here,” he said.

henrywing“The Old Man and the C-172” was published in September 1995. In this story, a taildragger pilot bought an old C-172 so he could fly his wife to SUN ’n FUN and camp in comfort.

That same pilot was so impressed that his wife’s story was published that he went out and bought her one of those fancy computers that had the new hot operating system called Windows 95. Even though I have about 800 pages of copy since that first submission, I’ve yet to pay for that machine with my writing.

Even so, the story was a hit. Apparently, at that time, there were as many interesting airport characters around the south as there were at Pickens County Airport in Jasper, Georgia. Fodder for stories abounded, and my readers didn’t mind that my writer’s voice was often tinged with a southern accent.

I did have to learn that more is not better and that formal writing doesn’t fit a rag page or the audience.

And I believe that is the most important rule in writing. Know your audience. Most of mine are obsessive recreational pilots. They love flying. They love their airplanes, and they know that the industry often leaves them without a voice. I wanted to be that voice.

You can write about pilots without being one, but you can’t make fun of them without becoming one yourself. One day the Old Man landed our C-172 in a less than delicate manner. The porch at JZP was full of onlookers. I mumbled that I was going to have to put a bag over my head after that landing. That comment didn’t sit well with him.

I flew my check ride in August 1997. It took a year to complete my training with family issues, instructor issues and weather issues. All the while, I wrote about my problems in obtaining that ever-elusive goal. My readers empathized.

debwingI flew over 600 hours in that C-172. When the Old Man later taught me to fly his Luscombe, I fell in love with flying all over again. I bought my own Luscombe 8E that came to me already named Lester. We became good flying friends.

The Southern Aviator was bought and absorbed by General Aviation News. For the most part, this national audience didn’t mind my southern voice. I continued to find new characters and new places that made filling the page known as Short Final easy. In fact, I didn’t look for stories. They always found me.

I can’t say that any one Short Final column is my favorite. Some made me smile. Some made me cry. I did throw in a rant or two. I have met some really interesting people, made lasting friendships, and enjoyed many gatherings of like-minded individuals who share this love of flight.

Now, after nearly 20 years of writing a monthly aviation column and 1,600 hours of flying an old taildragger, I have become one of those airport characters that have so often filled that page. I think it’s time to make way for a fresher mind and maybe a new perspective.

I’m not going completely away. I’ll still check in from time to time. I have new fodder for columns. We are removing our old, tired farm buildings, and I am building my Old Man a new metal building that will house a workshop/man cave/garage for the Model A and tractor. Who knows what we will hatch up in there?

So until next time, here’s wishing you blue skies and calm air.


  1. Glenn Darr says

    Thank you for your wonderful stories. Your stories are among the first things I would read in GAN.
    Have a wonderful retirement and enjoy “Lester”. Since I retired a few years ago, I have found it great to be able to go to the hangar whenever I wanted. I wish the same for you and “Old Man”, too.

  2. says

    What a great/sad story. I subscribe to GAN just to ready your stories. I have looked and looked to make sure I don’t miss you. My wife of 51 years enjoys them very much as well. There is no much reason for my keeping the subscription now that you are leaving. Saving the fact that you MIGHT drop in a line or two at some future date., I will do my best to find them an read and enjoy. The best one that I can remember you writing about had nothing to do with aviation, but your grand daughter locking herself in your car and wiping out the bag of cookies. I thank you both, you for such wonderful stories and memories, and keeping GA alive with REAL folks, and for the Old Man for putting up with it. I worked on a PA12 restoration for 18 years, finally got it finished in 2013 and my wife and I have always wanted to fly it to JZP to visit with the Front Porch Gang, that has not happened yet, but is still on the list. Just hope we can find you when we get there. Thanks again for all you have given to the aviation world, you will seriously be missed. Enjoy the family and the memories, I am sure there are a lot of folks that will offer the same that I will. You ever get to APEX NC you have a place to stay and a car to drive, and all the home cookin you can eat. You guys get out and travel and enjoy life while you still can. GOD BLESS & Tailwinds always. Drop by often.

  3. lindsay petre says

    For those of us for whom flying is a passion, reading about flying and flyers may be the next best thing to getting in the air. I’m sorry to hear you will no longer be writing as much. Blue skies to you.

  4. Greg W says

    Thank you Deb for your wonderful stories of people,places and planes. Your stories pointed out, time and again, that aviation is about the people. People and those magical little machines that defy gravity at grass fields across this great land that bring us together. Have fun in your next adventure with Lester and your “Old Man”, over the pine forests of Georgia.

  5. Hugh says

    I have enjoyed your stories over and above all other aviation writers. When I see your name I read, others I just hit the delete key for various reasons. I’m sure you have considered writing a book; you should!

  6. Steve Berg says

    Doing my usual early morning browse of my overnight emails I opened the General Aviation News offering and found a farewell from Deb McFarland. Sad. I have had only one face to face meeting with her. She and her ‘old man’ dropped by my grass strip one morning and we had a wonderful time for awhile, then they drove, yes drove a car, on to their vacation destination farther south on the Georgia coast.
    They have been invited to two fly in’s here at my little grass strip and have been unable to make it, so far. Her semi retirement as a writer for GAN may grant her time to make the short (a little long) trip from north Georgia to the coast just south of Savannah, GA to my next fly in.
    I do this fly in in an attempt to promote recreational aviation and keep this little grass strip open after the inevitable end of my earthly visit. I call the outfit Grass Strip Foundation, Inc. and have attained the status of tax deductible donations for this organization starting with a grant from the Wolfe Aviation Fund. Response to these efforts has, unfortunately, been minimal even though many have expressed an interest in the concept. It, the Foundation, really is not about me or just my grass strip but about the basis of aviation, the desire of many to take to the sky.
    ‘I would love to find some one, or several some ones, to assist my inadequate efforts to promote aviation in the hope that we, as nation and society, will continue to have enough pilots and mechanics to keep the fantastic aviation system well provided with the many professionals that keep us flying and provided, not only with excellent transportation, but food and other things from around the world. Thank you Deborah, and Lester too. Pray you will be here, in Midway Georgia at 9GA2 for the next Fly In on Saturday, November 1, 2014

  7. Linda S. berl says

    Thank you Deb for your years of Short Final stories. I have looked forward to reading them for years. Great aviation writing!
    Blue skies and tailwinds to you in your next adventure. Your stories will be missed.

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