First Flight

Son Number One’s birthday was celebrated by going flying along with his wife and for his first flight-my grandson! First time up for the little guy and he did great aside from problems associated with an adult headset on a two year old noggin. We arrived just as low ceilings and mists were burning off, soon to be replaced by bright blue sky.

It’s intimidating when you walk out on the ramp at only two and a half feet tall. There were jets and light airplanes blasting off. The control tower loomed large overhead and in front of us: The B-17 Liberty Belle. One of only a dozen of these huge bombers that remain airworthy. Machine guns bristled out of the fuselage and the Flying Fortress still looks like she’s ready for a fight. Photo snaps all around and I was impressed by the courage of the men who flew the risky missions over Europe with low probability of surviving the required 25 missions. B-17 rides would be available but today we would be travelling in something a bit more modest.

I vowed this flight would not be a repeat of what happened last time. The oldest son was on board when we encountered turbulence ending his aerial adventures. That was nine years ago so if it wasn’t perfect I would do only a couple jaunts around the pattern. I didn’t want another decade to tick by ‘til we tried again. Upon climbing out I was relieved to find smooth air. Small puffs of clouds drifted by and began to vanish altogether. The patchwork farmland faded into the distance after ten miles. Too much excitement would be unwelcome so nary a lazy eight or steep turn would be on the menu.

I think about flying when I’m not flying. There are other interests to be sure but none that have the adventure, challenge and sometimes G-loaded fun of aviation. If you can share it with family and friends, even better.

So it all ended up quite well. Everyone had a good time and who knows?
Maybe the grandson might want a turn at the controls someday.


11 responses to “First Flight

  1. I too got the flight of a lifetime when I was able to fly on the Liberty Belle in 2007 ( You were able to get two flights on her. And I too think alot of flying when I am not flying.

    • Couldn’t get to the link Don but I agree that it’s an amazing plane that played a huge role. The best book I’ve come across on the subject of flying bombers in WWII was on the the (somewhat) similar B-24: “The Wild Blue” by Ambrose.
      Can’t imagine having the job of the ball turret gunner….

  2. virgil xenophon

    I went thru one of the B-17Gs (chin turret model) at Bowman Field in Louisville some twenty yrs ago when they flew it in as part of airshow and static display. EVERYTHING is close quarters in there. Tail gunner pos, even waist gunners barely had room to move w.o. bumping into each other as far as I could see. Wouldn’t have wanted to spend 5-6 hrs in the air in one of those over France and Germany as a slow-moving target getting the s— shot out of you. Better them than me–better men than me…..don’t know if I could have done what they did–which is one reason I choose fighters–didn’t want to play the role of ducks in the gallery–but come to think of it, that’s pretty much what we were in Vietnam up north on my 1st tour in F-4s….

    • …and it was cold. Real cold at altitudes with temperatures down to minus 40F degrees. The wind whipped through waist gunners windows and when the bomb bay doors were open. Oxygen masks would freeze to the face and never touch machine guns with bare hands. Flights lasting six to eight hours. Tough crewman.

      As far as shooting ducks, it couldn’t have been any more risky than FAC duty when you weren’t flying the F-4 eh?

  3. virgil xenophon

    PS, I can plainly see you’re not in the least the doting grand-parent or anything, are you? 🙂

    • He is cute (takes after his gramma he does). Perhaps the next fighter (or drone) pilot?
      He’s plenty of fun. Grandkids: Everyone should be so fortunate.

  4. virgil xenophon

    My FAC days were had totally by accident. They had an “in-country” upgrade program to qualify complaining 1st Lts in the back seat to become Air Craft commanders as 1st Lts (front seat) if we would extend our tour for 6 mos. So I did, but word filtered back from those who had preceeded me that once back in the US , USAFE, where ever, the local Commanders were re-nigging and keeping us in the back seat until we made Capt anyway–so I said to hell with that and walked across the street and wrangled A FAC assignment from the 20th TASS, (the FAC guys) went to in-country “FAC school” down in Na Trang and came back and completed my remaining 41/2 months of my extension commitment flying out of DaNang as a FAC and being my own boss.

    (Of course, when I got to the UK they put me right back in the back seat of my F-4 until I made Capt anyway–but I at least had had a taste of the “carefree” “large and in charge” life as my own boss for a while anyway, even if it was only O-1s & 2s…)

    • So you went from very risky to incredibly risky. Tough choice when you yearn to be PIC. As I said before, I have great respect for those that flew FAC, from the Misty pilots to the 0-1 Birddogs.
      Aside from “The Doom Pussy”, other books that helped me understand the dynamics of the Air Force war in Vietnam included “Once a fighter pilot” (Cook) and “When Thunder Rolled” (Rasimus) . There are many others. DaNang is featured in “Doom” which IIRC was your neck of the woods.

  5. virgil xenophon

    Yes, I recommended “Doom” as it covered the period just immediately prior (actually overlapped toward end) of my arrival and IMHO accurately paints a picture of the “flavor of the times, ” so to speak.

    It’s funny about the concept of “risk.” You never really realize exactly HOW risky until it’s all over. (what do single, 24 yr-olds know about risk anyway?) A you-can’t make-it-up-true story:

    I was heading home after my tour was over with bags packed, dressed in my 1505 “suntans” for the 1st time in over than a year (except for R&R) for the “freedom flight” back to “the world,” sitting on the veranda of the old French Officer’s billet the FACs were quartered in at 31 Phan Boi Chau in down-town DaNang. My replacement’s bags sat on my freshly made bed unpacked as he had had to rush off to go fly
    on his 1st actual combat msn, as they had transferred his gear late to our place from temp quarters where he was housed on base, so didn’t have time to un-pack. (He was a seemingly, nice, bland guy–too nice, I thought to myself at the time–too nice to be a real killer–the kind of attitude I thought the job took–a red-headed, slightly balding Maj with a wife and 3 kids–showed me their pics, etc., bought my little Sanyo refrig. for 50 bucks, then shook hands and hopped in jeep to go fly..) So anyway a jeep pulls into the court-yard and it’s the Admin officer (a good friend of mine) with another officer. “Tom” I said, “you’re an hour early, I don’t need to be at the Passenger terminal for another hour yet.”

    “Oh, I’m not here to pick you up,” he replied, “We’re here to inventory Maj. X’s personal effects–he was shot down and KIA an hour ago.” At that point I had what can only be called an out-of-body experience. As I was standing there I could look through the screen door with my left eye and see Maj. X’s bags still quietly sitting on my bed, with the right I see Tom getting out of the jeep–and I’m thinking to myself: One guy get’s it on his first msn, and here I am w.o. a scratch after several hundred and going home in an hour. No skill and cunning involved–just blind luck.

    “You could make a whole movie based out of this very moment,” I thought to myself at that instant–but of course present-day Hollywood never will–unless it would have my character become so shattered by the experience that I became an anti-war protester. Now THAT would sell big time!

  6. Aside from the shock of that experience, it must have felt good to be going home at that point. While I don’t have the qualifications to speak about flying in combat, IMO it takes more than luck to survive 100 Missions North or the several hundred you experienced. No doubt, many outstanding, skilled pilots were victim of “The golden BB” but it the odds of surviving were far less without the right blend of skills and instincts. You must have done something right.

    The screening and training processes now in place tend to minimize the wrong person in the cockpit today.

  7. virgil xenophon


    You forget that, except for my “FACing,” I was just along for the ride as a 1st Lt. back-seater on those F-4 msns, so most of the “skill and cunning” credit has to honestly go to the front-seat Aircraft Commanders I flew with. (Much as my ego hates to admit it. 🙂 Of course that was the whole problem with the two pilot concept. The Guy in the back–Gib–always thinks he’s as good or better than the front-seater and is always second-guessing him, while the front seater-views the GIB as just that–the guy back there just along for the ride. By putting Navs back there as ‘weapons systems officers’ –WSO–they got a guy in the back only too glad to be there instead of on a B-52 and stuck in SAC, while the ac didn’t feel second-guessed or professionally threatened, but appreciated instead–and this psychologically freed HIM up to truly appreciate the help the WSO could provide as the electronics –both offensive and defensive–became ever more complex.)

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