By KEVIN BROOKER
“Has anyone seen the towplane? I need to get going.”
Sounds like the mantra of every impatient glider pilot looking skywards at booming cloud streets. But these words were not spoken by a pilot — they were spoken by my wife who needed to get the kids to daycare.
Many children keep a stuffed animal or blanket as a totem of comfort. Not three-year-old Nathan. He chose a blue and white plastic airplane with a piece of string tied to the tail as the material object he must have before going to sleep, with him in the car, or when going to any new and strange place.
The towplane had the same characteristics of any child’s beloved comfort thing.
Instead of worn fur, torn ears, and missing eyes held by hastily applied thread, the towplane no longer had landing gear or prop blades. The empennage was held in place with hastily applied ShoeGoo, a shoe repair adhesive.
When piloting the towplane all Nathan cared about was having a willing participant to hold the end of the string up to some object and follow him around until he called “Release.” With his head turned to look over his shoulder, he’d watch the string fall. The towplane would arc down and left, Nathan running to give clearance to the towed object.
How It Began
My introduction to aviation began when I was 11 years old. My neighbor had a Skylane and most weekends were spent flying off to some adventure. Decades later I earned my private pilot certificate and soon after began flying gliders and earning that ticket too.
Both of my children, Nathan and his older sister Olivia, spent their early years at the airport riding in golf carts, sitting in cockpits, and helping to get the ships into the air. To have Nathan imagining adult life as a tow pilot while acting it out as a child just seemed natural.
By the time he was 10, Nathan was able to recite the entire dialog from the movie “Top Gun.”
The closest thing we had to an F-14 Tomcat was a Czechoslovakian L-13 Blanik. This all metal monocoque aluminum glider was the primary training aircraft for the entire Soviet air force. Tandem seating, a bubble canopy, and round cylindrical wingtips (missile hard points) made the fantasy complete.
On tow we had to avoid the jetwash of the Cessna L-19 towplane 200 feet ahead of us. Nathan was the RIO Goose and I was Maverick (almost as cool, but not nearly as good looking) and together we kept the skies above Post Mills, Vermont, safe from enemy bogies.
The best “dogfights” happened when entering a thermal with one or more gliders. As we circled to climb Nathan gave the orders, telling me where the enemy was and how we were “too close for missiles so switch to guns.”
Tongue flutter machine gun noises and light mists of spittle arose from the rear seat.
“Splash one” hollered the boy when Skip rolled the ASW-24 out of the thermal as we kept circling, hoping to down Rick in the Astir.
As soon as he was tall enough to reach the rudder pedals and heavy enough to keep the CG within range, Nathan began formal lessons in the club’s Schweitzer 2-33. He was ready to solo on his 14th birthday, but weather scuttled the flight.
It was also about this time that Nathan decided he wanted to fly powered aircraft and not gliders. The rub was not having a powered airplane and the two-year gap he needed to cover before being able to solo an airplane. The glider solo never took place and our time spent together with airplanes faded away.
To be transparent, my flying pretty much went away too.
Return to Flight
Nathan began looking at colleges at the end of his junior year of high school.
One day he sat his mother and I down to talk: “Mom, Dad, I want to go to college and become a pilot. I want to fly for a living. Oh yeah, there is a Taylorcraft for sale down at the airport. Price looks good and I can get started building time if we buy it. Dad, you can fly it too.”
I actually stopped breathing in disbelief at what I was hearing. Then, catching myself, I made my feeble reply: “Okay, sounds great.”
A month later we became the proud owners of a 1946 Taylorcraft BC12-D. There wasn’t much arm twisting to head to the airport as we took almost any opportunity to become reacquainted with powered flight. In between lessons with a CFI, our time together in the airplane was him practicing and me keeping the flight legal.
On the day the new “TopGun Maverick” movie premiered, our house buzzed with a holiday-like energy. Before leaving for dinner we pre-gamed by watching the original film.
Walking to the car after the movie ended Nathan asked, “Can we fly tomorrow?”
Flew we did. The Taylorcraft did its best to imitate the F-18 as we traced the path of the river with no canyons to test our skills. Aviation was resuming its place in the fabric of our lives.
When my brother brought his two young boys for a visit and they wanted to see the airplane, Nathan took the lead showing off the yellow T-craft. The boys sat at the controls, wore headsets, and stood on the bench seat to have a chance at seeing over the cowling. The youngsters helped their older cousin push the airplane into the hangar and helped tie it down.
It was a proud dad moment to see the mentee embrace the role of aviation mentor with his cousins.
Nathan enrolled at Utah State University to study aviation sciences. Filling the car with his things for the drive to Utah, Nathan packed his poster of Goose and Maverick inverted while saluting the Russian MIG.
His mom found a small box containing the blue and white plastic towplane complete with the string tied to the tail. “You bringing this?”
“No,” he said, picking it up out of the box. “But can I give you guys a tow before we head for school?”
Amy Russo says
A father and son sharing a common passion! Well written and a joy to read. Thank you for sharing!
Marcia Brooker says
Hey Maverick or is it Goose? There are lots of fond memories of being at the Post Mills airport and flying that plane with the string on it. Thanks for the memories! Grannie
Bill Ross says
Thanks, thanks a bunch
Fun story! Keep flying safely “Maverick” and “Goose”.
What a wonderful story — made all the better because it’s true. Thank you.