Aircraft—Big Sandy Unicom…November…3…9…4…3…Whiskey…departing 2…1…to the west.
I can land it, Grandpa
any times people come over to the airport after eating at the Cloud 9 Cafe’ and ask if they can show their children an airplane. A lot of times the parents will say, “He just loves watching a plane fly overhead, can he see one up close?” I enjoy showing our planes in the hangar to the public. Almost always if a plane has just landed and the pilot sees people acting interested, they will invite them over to see their plane. I have seen many pilots put children in their planes and answer all the questions they have. One thing I have noticed over the years, aviation is a passion and many pilots like sharing their passion of flying with anyone who is interested.
Many times I will show the planes and the adults will say, “Those planes sure are interesting but there’s no way you could get me to fly in one of those!”
I usually say, “Have you ever been on a “four wheeler?”
They say, “Oh yes, I love riding “four wheelers”, I love riding in the hills.” I tell them, “That medical helicopter sitting out back has taken many four wheeler and car accident victims to the hospital but I have never known of any airplane passengers ever being transported by them.”
I usually get a blank stare but I also understand their fear. Being in a small plane three or four thousand feet above the ground will seem a little scary to most. People who fly regularly don’t give it a second thought. Statistics will tell you that flying in a small airplane is considerably safer than driving a car and commercial airline travel is extremely safe.
Let’s put it this way, in Kentucky alone, last year over 700 people died in automobile accidents and probably less that 10 people died in plane crashes. Most people have no fear of driving a car but lots of people are afraid of flying.
Even though I’m at the airport almost every day I sometimes go two or three months without flying. I get my plane out some evenings just to practice take-offs and landings, to keep my skills up and meet FAA requirements. When I fly alone I feel comfortable, even if I haven’t flown in a while. The more often I fly the more comfortable I get. The only thing that gives me any anxiety is when I fly my family.
My wife, Rossalene, and I, flew to Gulf Shores, Alabama and back this past summer. Four and a half hours in a plane certainly is safer than 12 hours in a car I think. But I do feel a little more pressure when my wife and kids are onboard and certainly when my grandchildren are.
I have four wonderful grandchildren, Knox (13), Harper (8), Rocco (7) and Lincoln (5). My oldest and my youngest have ridden with me, the two in the middle haven’t. I only take them for a ride if they ask me to. My youngest, Lincoln, loves aviation. He knows about planes and helicopters about as much as I do. He started asking early about taking a ride, when I took him up, he loved it, wasn’t at all afraid.
When Knox was 5 years old I was needing to warm up my engine to change the oil and asked him if he wanted to ride around the ramp with me. We circled the ramp a few times and he said, “Grandpa, let’s take this up for a ride.”
I said, “Can’t today buddy, it’s a pretty windy day today and we’ll have to ask your mom for permission to go up. I’ll ask her and we’ll do it soon.”
About a week later he was wanting to go up and I called Knox’s mother, my daughter, Tegan, and asked if we could go for a ride. Tegan said, “I want to go up with you when you go Dad, let’s do it some other day.”
Knox kept asking and Tegan never seemed to find the time to go with us. I noticed a pattern developing. I had to keep putting Knox off till another day. Knox was in kindergarden at Inez Elementary and his class scheduled a tour of the airport. He was excited to get to show his classmates “his” airport and I was excited for him. My children like kidding me about wearing my “Cox Aviation/Big Sandy Regional Airport” logo shirts. I wear one almost everyday. Since I was going to let Knox give the tour I asked Lauren to make Knox a shirt like the one’s I wear, (Lauren has an embroidery business too and makes my shirts).
Knox’s shirt turned out perfect, we practiced the tour of the airport that he was going to give, everthing was in place but one thing. Knox still had not taken a ride in my plane and the class was coming in two days. I called Tegan and asked her to come up and do the ride with us. “Dad, I just don’t have time to come today, can we do it tomorrow?” she asked.
“Sure Tegan, now his class will be here in two days and I know they will be asking him if he has ever been on a ride in an airplane with me and I want him to be able to say yes. The weather looks good for tomorrow so you can bring him up tomorrow evening and we can take a ride, OK?” I said.
“OK, Dad, we’ll do it tomorrow after work,” She said.
The next evening I got my plane out and did a couple of take-offs and landings for practice and checked everything out. I kept waiting and waiting for Tegan and Knox to show up….nothing. Then I called, “Tegan, bring Knox on up it’s getting late and I have the plane ready.”
“Dad, I’ve had a rough day at work today and I just don’t feel like getting out, can’t we do this someother time?’ she said.
“No we can’t, Knox’s class is coming in the morning, you don’t have to go on the ride, I’m on my way to get Knox, I’ll be there in 15 minutes.” I said. I hurried down to Knox’s house leaving the airport unattended, down and back as quickly as I could. Knox was ready and Tegan reluctantly let him come.
Knox was excited about his ride, I called his “Aunt Lauren” on the way back to the airport and told her we would be flying over her house in a few minutes, come outside and wave at us. Next we were going to fly over Inez, over his school, over his house and circle back to the airport.
I had a children’s headset ready for him to wear and he sure looked cute with it on. I put a booster seat under him so he could see out better and reach the yoke. He wasn’t the least bit nervous and I wasn’t either because of the way I had to hustle down and get him and hustle back to airport. I had already pre-flighted my plane before I left and the sun was starting to set. So, we got in and took off.
As we rolled down the runway I told him everything I was doing, that when we got about 70 miles per hour the plane would get light enough to want to fly. When we lifted off he looked over at me with a big smile and started telling me everything he recognized. Things look different from the air, you get a different perspective looking down and it was the first time he had ever seen the airport, the cafe’ and the highway from above.
Lauren lived at Stoneybrook Estates back then, so we were quickly over her house. I could see Lauren waving at us but I’m not sure Knox ever spotted her. I rocked the plane’s wings back and forth and told him that’s what you do to wave back. Then we started toward Inez, that’s when I told Knox that he was going to be the pilot now, get hold of the yoke.
Almost every plane can be flown from either side, including mine. I told Knox to hold it straight and level, then turn the yoke side to side just a little, when he did that he could tell that the plane was responding to his commands. Boy, did he feel proud! I was helping a little but he didn’t know that. He had the biggest grin on his face and I got out my phone and took a picture. It’s one of my favorite pictures of him. You could see the excitement in his face, you could see the confidence he had in himself. My five year old pilot!
We flew one circle over Inez and then circled his school. He recognized the playground right away and pointed it out to me, without ever taking his hands off the yoke. He was sure that he had this flying thing “mastered” as we flew toward Coldwater Creek where he lived. Tegan and Joe, his dad, were outside waving at us as we circled a couple of times.
I showed him how the GPS was directing us toward the airport and when we got on a five mile final for runway 21, I asked him if he could see the runway. “There it is Grandpa, I see it!” Knox said.
When I told Knox to take hold of the yoke 20 minutes earlier he never once let go of it. While we circled, when he was telling me what he recognized, he never let go. He was certain he was doing a good job flying the plane. When we got on final I told him to let go of the yoke because I was starting my desent and I needed to land the plane.
Knox said, “I can do this, I can land it, Grandpa!”
I think one of the most important things a person can possess is confidence. Education is important but confidence is just as important in my opinion. An educated person may think they know how to do something but doesn’t have the confidence in themself to try, they may be afraid to fail. A confident person may fail but have the willpower to try again and again until they get it right. I love confidence in a person and I loved seeing the confidence in my 5 year old grandson telling me that he wanted to land the plane.
But….we are now on a 2 mile final and I didn’t want his little hands on the yoke while I was landing the plane.
“Knox, let Grandpa land it this time buddy, you watch me and maybe you can land it the next time. Now take you hands off the yoke and watch Grandpa!” I said.
We touched down and taxied to the ramp, we both had the biggest grins on our faces. The next day his kindergarden class toured the airport and he was their tour guide. He confidently told his classmates things about the airport and the planes, I couldn’t have been prouder of him!
Aircraft—November 3…9…4…3…Whiskey on a 5 mile final for…2…1…Big Sandy
(Gary Wayne Cox is airport manager of Big Sandy Regional Airport owned by Floyd, Johnson, Magoffin and Martin Counties)