My First Time
Aerospace celebrities talk about the flights that changed their lives.
- By Phil Scott
- Air & Space magazine, July 2002
(Page 2 of 4)Pilot and author (Jonathan Livingston Seagull)
From about the age of eight I would build little air vehicles and put my eye against the back of the cockpit and say: “This must be what it looks like to fly.”
I had my first flight at 15. That flight was in an airplane owned by Paul Marcus. He was my mother’s campaign manager; she was running as the first councilwoman of Long Beach, California. He had a Globe Swift and he casually mentioned one day that he flew airplanes. I absolutely started bouncing off the walls. He said, “What’s the matter with your boy, Mrs. Bach?” She said, “He loves airplanes.” He said, “Let’s go out flying,” and I latched onto his arm and wouldn’t let go. When we walked out to the airport and we walked out the gate—I still feel the sunlight—my eyes were like dinner plates. He taxied out to the runway and talked to the tower and rolled down the runway. The earth started falling away, and I thought, Oh boy! I was enraptured and it never quit; it still feels this way.
I always thought about that first flight. Certainly it was the most important moment of my life.
Founder, Experimental Aircraft Association
Well, my first time was back in 1936, when I taught myself to fly a glider. It was a Waco gilder that one of my high school teachers gave to me when he recognized I wasn’t a very good student but my interests lay in building model airplanes and flying model airplanes. So he called me into his office and said I wasn’t a good student in ancient history, which is what he taught, but he had a wrecked Waco glider and he offered me money to repair the ribs and buy the dope, and he and I hauled it home. We were a real poor family. My dad had a garage with some wooden planks on the floor. I brought it in the garage and got books on building airplanes and repaired it. My friend had a nice automobile, a coupe, and we took it down to a farmer’s field and hooked the glider on the back, and the first thing I knew I was up about a hundred feet. All the farm kids were watching me. And then I pulled the rope to let it go and found out one thing: Keep your nose down. It was so thrilling I couldn’t believe it. I can still smell the skid sliding through alfalfa.
with Jeana Yeager, flew the only unrefueled, nonstop flight around the world
Right after World War II, I was a little tiny kid about eight years old and my mother took me out to a little field near Riverside, California. I was too small to strap down in the seat. I stood behind the pilot’s seat and held onto the seat cushion and the cotton was coming out of it. We bounced out across the grass field and climbed into the sky.
Sound barrier breaker
It was in January 1942 and I had never been in any airplane in my life. I was a PFC [private first class], a crew chief on an AT-11 bomber trainer, and I had to change the engines. The engineering officer said, “You want to test the airplane?” I said, “I’ve never been in the air.” He said, “You’re really going to enjoy it.” Me being raised in West Virginia it was like me looking over a cliff. He flew some touch-and-go’s and I got really sick. After puking all over myself, I said, “Yeager, you made a big mistake.”
World War II ace; Tuskegee Airman
I had already been reading War Aces and all the old comic books about pilots and the Red Baron and all of that, and that’s why I asked my father to get me a ride in the airplane. The first flight was I guess in 1936 or ’37, when I was nine or 10 years of age. A guy was flying around, selling rides for a couple of bucks. My father paid for it. It was about 10 or 15 minutes. We took off in a little biplane and that was it. I didn’t have a parachute and I didn’t have a helmet; I had a hat on and I was sitting in the back seat of I don’t know what it was.
Stunt pilot; president, Planes of Fame Museum
First time I ever left the ground was in an SNJ-5. I was 15 years old. It was at Ontario, California, at the air museum here, Planes of Fame. I went with a museum pilot, Roscoe Diehl. Roscoe was an Air Force fighter pilot and an Air National Guard pilot; he flew Lockheed F-104s.
I was pretty excited about it. I’d worked on airplanes all my life but I had never even left the ground. He let me grab the stick and said: “Try to break the airplane.” His point was you can’t break it so don’t be too ginger with it. It was like 45 minutes. My best recollection is we took off and circled over Ontario and went over Corona, south of Ontario, and cruised around and did some loops and rolls, some aerobatics.