My First Time
Aerospace celebrities talk about the flights that changed their lives.
- By Phil Scott
- Air & Space magazine, July 2002
Test pilot, X-1, X-15, and other legendary aircraft
It was 1927, and the pilot was Carl Lienesch. He worked for my father at the Union Oil Company. Lienesch, he flew around to the various oil fields in use. Used Alexander Eaglerocks and Travel Airs. And my first flight was in an Eaglerock, and Lienesch took me for a ride out of Monrovia, California. That was before Lindbergh flew the Atlantic.
I was in the front seat and I enjoyed it. But I fell asleep. I was only six or seven years old.
Author; daughter of Charles Lindbergh
All I can remember is a flight with my father when we had a forced landing. I think I was maybe seven. It was out of Danbury [Connecticut], and what he rented—I know this was true because I asked [Lindbergh biographer] Scott Berg—was an Aeronca with a tandem cockpit. He didn’t own a plane. He would take us up and my brother and sister would take off and land; all I could do was pull back on the stick. He would shout stuff like “Lean in the curve,” and he had all these phrases like “An airplane is like a bobsled.”
The choke malfunctioned and I was quite excited. I asked, “Are we going to crash?” He said, “No, but put your head down between you knees.” I found it quite boring because I couldn’t see much.
We landed in a cow pasture. There were no cows but lots of rocks. They had to take the plane apart to get it out.
GEN. JOHN R. DAILEY
(USMC, ret.) Director, National Air and Space Museum
My first flight was when I jumped in the front seat of a T-34. I was 23 years old. It was everything I hoped it was going to be.
My dad was a marine aviator but I had never flown, never been in the cockpit of an airplane. I felt completely prepared for it, having gotten through ground school and bailout school. They hook you up with an instructor and away you go. I was impressed that they pressed you as fast as you could take it. Every hop you were learning something new. They’d give you a solo or two to practice on your own, and then give you a check ride. It may sound naive, but I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to be there.
I was in the Marines, and it took me about 14 months to get my wings. Would have been July of ’58. It was in the Mentor, actually a Beech Bonanza with a tandem cockpit. We did spins on the very first hop. And aerobatics. We transitioned to the T-28, which had the R-1820 radial. You got into this thing and you started that engine and it torqued, and I thought to myself: I wonder if I’m in the right place. It’s quite an airplane. Everybody I know thought the same thing.
Space shuttle commander (mission STS-93)
I was 19 years old. My mother and myself, we flew from Elmira, New York, to change planes in Chicago and landed in Denver or Colorado Springs. We were taking a little vacation. My brother was a freshman at the Air Force Academy—a fourth classman, first year—and my mother and I went out for Parents’ Weekend or Labor Day Weekend, and we flew out on a Thursday or Friday and flew back the following Monday. I got the window seat and spent most of the time trying to calm my mother down. She was drinking coffee and shaking— she was nervous the entire flight. I’ve got to give her credit: She isn’t as afraid as she used to be. So anyway, I enjoyed looking out the window. For the first time I saw what the ground looked like from the air. That was about the time I started thinking about flying myself.
The first time I flew myself would have been ’77, in a Cessna 150. I went to a local airport, Elmira-Corning Regional Airport. It’s beautiful. It’s hilly, lot of trees, difficult to navigate in. I never finished my license that summer. We had a lot of fog, and I could only fly in the morning because I worked in a restaurant. I waited till the next summer to finish up my flying lessons.