Lessons Learned: Achieving Aspirations – Plane & Pilot Magazine | Aviation

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Ray Andrews, my flight instructor, turned to me and asked, “So, you think you’re ready to solo in front of your friends?”

After my half-hour flight lesson of three takeoffs and landings, with my childhood friends Larry Leonard and Michael Rafferty watching from alongside the grassy airstrip, I was surprised by his question. I had no idea this might be “the day” I would solo at Weiser Airpark (formerly KEYQ) outside of Houston. I don’t remember what I answered, but I think I just smiled and nodded. Up to this point, I had seven hours of flight instruction and performed a total of 42 takeoffs and landings. 

Andrews climbed out of the right seat of the Piper Cherokee, and I taxied to the end of the runway for what would be my 15-minute solo flight, performing three touch-and-go landings with Michael and Larry snapping away with a yellow Kodak disposable camera.

My main memory of the flight is that when I looked left and then right, ensuring the path was clear before making a turn, there was nobody sitting to my right in the cockpit. I was alone. Even as nervous as I was, I was also very excited.

Like a lot of teenagers growing up, I enjoyed going to airshows. At one point in the 1970s, both the Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy Blue Angels flew the F-4 Phantom as they put on airshows throughout the country. As they performed beautiful diamond formation rolls and loops, trailing the ever-present tail of white smoke, or crossed show center cockpit-to-cockpit, I thought, “That is one bad-ass airplane.”  

Air Force flying was in my family. My uncle, Jack Sanders, was an Air Force fighter pilot, flying the F-100 Super Sabre during the Vietnam War. He then flew the A-7 Corsair II and finally transitioned to the new A-10 Thunderbolt II tank killer. He was an A-10 squadron commander, the pinnacle of a fighter pilot’s career, before helping to set up a new squadron of A-10s at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, during the Cold War (no pun…

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