... I looked down and there was the instructor, so small ...
Editor's note: This is Marie's second article on learning to fly, a story that begins in the late 1930s and runs over a period of several years. To read her first chapter, click on It was fun to fly.
After I graduated from high school, I now worked full time at the Bayside Flying Field in Revere, Massachusetts. Now it is a shopping mall in the same location.
My job was to keep track of the planes' flying hours, gas records and when the planes were to be taken off the line to go into the shop for check up, repairs and when they were to be overhauled.
Also I checked out planes for students with instructors and the payment of their flying time. I recorded when private planes were out and for how long and their destination. It was a very interesting job and great people to work with.
I was to receive flying time as part of my salary, building up my time so that I could solo. You needed to have at least eight hours of dual instruction. Sometimes the weather would not be suitable for a solo flight. So you would just build up your dual time. The instructor would sign your log book for each flight with comments on what you did and how well it was accomplished.
One morning the weather was fine, sunny with a steady wind. We, my instructor and I, climbed into one of the Piper Cubs. The instructor in front and me in the seat behind him. (Sometimes I had a woman instructor). The line boy swung the propeller. After two or three turns, he called "contact" and the engine roared into action.
We taxied down to the end of the field, turned and looked to be sure no plane was coming in for a landing. We checked the wind sock for direction. (No radios or control towers in those days). We then turned into the wind and started down the runway gradually increasing the speed until full throttle, we soared into the air and climbed two hundred feet. Before we took off my instructor turned to me and said that it would be a good day to practice landings and takeoffs.
So we made a rectangle pattern above the air field and planned where to land the plane. On the third leg I cut the motor and glided down towards the field. The wheels touched down just where I planned. We rolled to a safe speed, turned right and taxied down the runway to prepare for another take off.
After a couple of landings, my instructor turned to me and said, "O.K., you take it and make two more landings and come in." He climbed out of the plane and waved me on. I'm to solo!
I turned into the wind and prepared to gradually increase my speed. I shot into the air climbing fast. The weight of the plane was so light with only me it just took off.
After reaching my height, I put the nose on the horizon, leveled my wings and stabilized the plane. I looked down at the field. How pretty it looked with little yellow planes lined up so neatly. My instructor, so small, walking back to the hangar with one eye on me, I'm sure.
Now to bring it down nice and smooth making a right turn picking my landing spot. I cut my motor and went down toward the airfield. My wheels hit the ground once, twice. I put on the throttle and rose again into the air to make my second landing.
What a thrill! I was flying solo!
Illustration of the Piper Club by former test pilot and now SilverStringer Russ Priestley.
August 1, 2003