When the idea of flying first became real to me, I became a voracious reader of aeronautical magazines. My imagination went wild with the idea of not just flying, but of actually owning an airplane.
The reality of my situation was somewhat less optimistic than my imagination. For one thing, I was living in a one-room apartment in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan.
Which meant that aeronautical reading material was plentiful at the magazine shops and book stores dotting my neighborhood, but actual airports and airplanes were in short supply.
John F. Kennedy International is no more a reasonable choice for learning to fly than LaGuardia or Newark.
Plus, there was the issue of money. I didn’t have much. As a young guy deeply involved with a career that wasn’t going all that well, rent and food and child support payments took up a good percentage of what I earned. There was precious little left over to fund my whimsical dreams of flight.
So, when it occurred to me I didn’t have the money, or the physical proximity to a general aviation airport, to make my dreams come true, I did something about it. I moved.
Yep, it’s true. I quit my job, left New York City, and set off on a quest to become a pilot.
In retrospect I find it interesting that somehow, without realizing it, my dream shifted from being about a physical possession, to that of acquiring a specific set of skills. The change in direction was logical, if not entirely conscious. But it got the job done.
I found a general aviation airport, I borrowed the funds to learn to fly (at 8% interest), and I got down to the business of becoming a pilot.
Throughout this process and the entry-level CFI jobs that followed — and the serpentine road between that phase of my life and the one I’m currently living — I never abandoned the idea of owning an airplane. Never. It remained a very real goal, albeit a goal that ranked well down on my list of things to do next.
Another marriage, a couple more kids, the purchase of a small house, and the typical accumulation of cars, motorcycles, televisions, and such all conspired to push back the dream of airplane ownership into the distant future.
It can be frustrating to hold onto a dream for so long. Years, in fact. Decades even. But a good dream perseveres. It hangs in there, waiting for its opportunity to come to fruition. And so did I.
I have been very fortunate in my life. To this point I’ve owned six airplanes. They all came into my life, and left me again, under interesting circumstances.
Each one has a story of its own. Each one holds a special place in my heart. I carry memories of not just the flights in those airplanes or the people I flew with. If I close my eyes and reflect on them, I can still recall the scent of oil and avgas that surrounded them as I crawled into the cockpit. The stick or the yoke is as familiar to me now as if I was holding it in my hand just this morning.
What I never considered, as I acquired and passed on those airplanes, was that one would become a dream again. It would linger in my memory as a golden moment in time, one that can never be truly recovered or repeated. I can come close, if I try. And perhaps I will one day. In the meantime I take great comfort in knowing my dream became a reality, then transitioned back into a dream.
It took 30 years from the time I first imagined owning an airplane until I actually wrote a check and rolled my first airplane into my own hangar. And the airplane I miss most was quite a bit older than that when I bought it.
Time really is relative. Albert Einstein was really on to something.
The Piper J-3 Cub is, by my estimation, a nearly useless airplane. It’s small, doesn’t carry much of a load, holds only a few gallons of fuel, and is underpowered when burdened by the weight of an average American or two in the cockpit.
All you can do with a Cub is have an enormous amount of fun and become a really good pilot. Other than that, it doesn’t do much.
The Cub isn’t fast, like the airplanes I originally dreamed about. It isn’t sleek, or sexy, and it won’t get me from where I am to where I’m going any faster than I could drive there. In fact, if the wind is on the nose, it’s a slow-poke of the highest order.
Yet with all that going against it, the 1940 J-3 Cub I owned was the finest, most enjoyable, much loved airplane that has ever taken up space in my heart.
It’s still out there today. Entertaining and educating other pilots. It’s got its life. It’s got a mission to fulfill. As do I.
Perhaps we’ll be reunited one day. Perhaps not. Either way, I’m very aware of how fortunate I have been to follow my dream, patiently awaiting the day when it would come true, and always applying just a bit of pressure to get there a bit faster.
In retrospect, 30 years doesn’t feel like it was a very long wait. Honestly, it was absolutely worth every minute of the time it took to make my dreams come true.
May you be so fortunate and find the life, and the pursuits, that make your heart sing.
But consider a Cub while you’re waiting. You won’t regret it.