The Way It Was – The flying lesson


Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.

During the 1930s, there were pilots who took airplanes to county fairs and other events like that. They took people up for a short airplane ride. When I was about eight or nine years old, my parents took me to one of those events. I have no idea where it was, but it was really exciting to watch the airplane take off and land. I thought, maybe someday when I get older, I could go up in an airplane.
Now, fast forward to sometime around1946. My brother-in-law, Jack Griffith, had just returned from the Army Air Corps. He had been a pilot during World War II. His first post-war job was at an airport in Plain City. It was a small, relatively new airport, with a grass runway. He was the flight instructor at the airport, teaching people how to fly.
Many of his students had also recently left the armed forces. They took those flying lessons under the “G I Bill.” It provided funds for college and other training for veterans.
One day, when I was talking with Jack, I asked if he could take me up in a plane sometime. He said we could do it the following day, after his last student. In fact, he said he would give me a flying lesson. I can’t tell you how exciting that was for me. I mean, I was just a kid, and I was going to get a flying lesson.
We had an early dinner the following day, and then my parents and I headed for the Plain City airport. Jack was waiting for us as we pulled into the parking lot. The airplane, a small 2-seater Aeronca, was sitting at the edge of the runway.
Jack gave my parents a quick tour of the airplane. Neither of them had ever been inside a plane, so he explained some of the things to them. And he answered a lot of my dad’s questions. Then Jack and I got into the plane and took our seats. My seat was directly behind his. Each seat had a separate set of controls, so the plane could be flown from either seat.
We taxied to the east end of the runway, and he asked me if I was ready. He revved the engine, and we started moving. I saw some trees at the west end of the grassy strip, and I was a little concerned about that. But we lifted off smoothly, and we soared well over the trees. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually up in the air and I could see for miles.
We flew over nearby farms, and then Jack asked if I was ready for my first flying lesson. He said he would operate the rudder pedals on the floor, and I could control our altitude using the “stick” in front of me. I could pull back on the stick to climb higher or push it forward to go lower.
Wow, I was actually flying the airplane. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my friend, Dick Foley, about this. He was nuts about airplanes, and his brother, Tom, was also an Air Corps pilot. I would tell Dick the whole story about how I flew the airplane.
Maybe five minutes later, Jack asked me if I would like him to try a few aerobatics. And I was quick to say, “Yes.” Before he started, he told me to let him know if I started to feel a little queasy, and we could stop at any time.
Jack took the plane to a higher altitude, and then the aerobatics started. I can’t tell you all the maneuvers he put the airplane through. All I can tell you is how I felt throughout the whole thing. My arms felt like they weighed a ton. It was hard to lift a hand. And it made my face feel as if I had heavy jowls, like those of an English bulldog. It felt like my cheeks were made of lead. But it was fun.
It wasn’t frightening, but it was a very weird feeling. Near the end, however, there was one scary experience. Jack flew the plane in a large vertical loop. At the top of the loop, when we were upside down, the plane’s engine stopped. All I could hear was the sound of the wind outside the cabin. We had lost all power, and without power, the plane began to fall. Oh man, how did I get myself in such a mess?
We fell, upside down, for several seconds. Then Jack righted the plane, and we began to glide. The engine had not stopped on its own. He had turned it off at the top of the loop. That was part of the aerobatic maneuver. He restarted the engine, and we headed back to the airport.
My parents had watched it all from the ground, and they were grinning from ear to ear as we climbed out of the plane. We talked about it in the car all the way home. And the first thing I did, when I walked into our house, was to call Dick Foley and tell him all about how I flew that airplane. Dick and I talked for almost an hour.
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