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.