An email from John Wade recently plopped into my inbox. It begins, “I recall enjoying an article you did about taking airline and military pilots flying in General Aviation aircraft and it resonated with me.”
John has a good memory because that article was from August 2016 after I took a friend of mine, both an airline and Air Force Reserve pilot, for a flight in a 1946 Piper J-3 Cub.
You see, John is nearing retirement age, but he’s not quite done with flying. The following is John’s story…
I’ve been an airline pilot for 40 years. It’s been a great career despite the fact that it coincides with all the bankruptcies and uncertainty of the deregulation era.
I learned to to fly at Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, California, when all they had was a Unicom and three FBOs. My first job in aviation was as a line boy there.
Worked my way through college as a flight instructor and DC-3 co-pilot, before embarking on an airline career.
I flew for one of the old Allegheny commuters, then non-scheduled freight in Lockheed Electras followed by 727s and 747s with an upstart airline. Finally, a 32-year career with Hawaiian Air. I am currently flying Trans Pacific routes as an Airbus A330 captain.
A few years ago, as I contemplated my looming retirement, I realized I still loved to fly.
Throughout my career the flying I did at work was enough to satisfy, but as retirement loomed, the thought of never flying again after I set the parking brake on my last flight was not appealing.
Flying has been too much of a part of my life to just walk away from it. So it was easy to make the decision to return to my general aviation roots and do some purely fun flying after I retire.
In preparation for this I acquired a seaplane rating, checked out in a J-3 Cub, flew a Super Cub, as well as an American Legend Cub.
Even managed some Tiger Moth and Harvard flying on my Auckland layovers, as well as flying a B-25 with the Historic Flight Foundation in Seattle.
It’s been a lot of fun re-entering the VFR flying world and meeting a new community of aviators.
Make no mistake about it, it’s a whole new learning curve. It’s a challenge. You are initially out of your comfort zone, but then the satisfaction of learning something new makes it well worth the effort.
Having an activity with unlimited opportunity for learning and growing after I retire seems like a better plan then sitting at home reminiscing!
One airplane that caught my eye was the Great Lakes biplane. I finally got a chance to fly one with San Diego Sky Tours at Montgomery Field and was not disappointed. They have three pristine examples and a very professionally run operation that’s all about spreading the gospel of open cockpit biplane flying.
The Great Lakes is a unique combination of pure flying bliss, user friendliness and a palpable connection to aviation’s rich history.
After years of flying with a destination and timetable as a primary concern, flying just for the pure joy of it and being able to share that with others is the icing on my career cake. The Great Lakes is perfect for that.
San Diego Sky Tours was started by Erich Moulder. They have found a very efficient way to grow a viable business, as well as create an opportunity for a group of aviators to enjoy a truly great airplane.
Equally important, they are very focused on promoting general aviation and giving back to the community.
The staff is made up of corporate and airline pilots, military pilots ranging from a former Top Gun instructor to an ex-Israeli Air Force fighter pilot, as well as pilots just embarking on a career. The common thread is the pure joy of flying an open cockpit biplane.
Pretty hard not to smile after a flight over the Pacific coastline in a Great Lakes Biplane on a beautiful San Diego morning!
In 1973 I earned my CFI rating at KMYF just before heading east to college. My first flight in the Great Lakes was also my first flight back at KMYF in 44 years.
I’ve come full circle.
Care to Share your Story?