by Bob Worthington
Published in Midwest Flyer – October/November 2020 issue
Flying with family members can be great. In some families, the love of aviation passes from one generation to the next. In other families, the pilot has no one who shares his or her passion. My family sort of falls between the two extremes. While my wife, Anita, enjoyed several thousand hours in the right seat, our kids saw our plane as only a means of getting somewhere, quickly. Their combined attitude, in flight, became, “Are we there yet?” In fact, our youngest daughter, thought for some time, that every family had a small plane stashed somewhere as an airborne family station wagon.
When I became a pilot, I was 38. Our three daughters were Suzie (14), Julie (10), and Karen (7). Today, all are 45 years older. Because our Cessna 172 (later a Cessna 182, then a Mooney 231) only allowed three passengers, someone had to stay home. So often, our teenager, with school obligations and newly found social activities, remained home for our single-day trips. Yet, sometimes, Anita would remain on the ground, so daddy could enjoy flight time with his three girls. Here are some flights I will never forget:
The $100 Hamburger
One younger daughter had a friend who wanted to fly with her. After convincing the friend’s mother I was a safe pilot, a Saturday morning was scheduled for a trip to an airport for the proverbial “expensive” hamburger. The little girl’s mom was a nurse, telling me her daughter never suffered from motion sickness (yet she gave her daughter some Dramamine before our trip).
I planned a short flight (30 minutes) for lunch and both kids responded with glee, looking forward to the trip. The girls occupied the back seat. My daughter, being the “expert” on flying, showed her little friend where the sick sacks were in the rear pockets of the seats in front of them, just in case.
Unfortunately, before arriving at our cruise altitude, the friend got sick. It seemed like buckets of vomit exploded from her tiny body, not in a sick sack, but all over the entire back of the plane. My daughter comforted her, while I immediately turned around, returned to our airport, and landed without delay. No $100 hamburger! Instead, we spent several hours cleaning up the plane. Being a quick learner, that was my only flight with a daughter’s friend.
Flights To Padre Island, Texas
Being stationed in San Antonio, the white beaches of the barrier islands off the Texas coast became an attractive destination, sometimes for an overnight camping trip, but often for a day on Padre Island. Being less than 100 miles away, it was an easy flight. We could land on the beach (very tricky as too far inland, the wheels would dig into the soft sand and the plane could flip over, and the same could happen if landing too close to the water). North of the island was a deactivated U.S. Air Force bomber base we could land at, taxi to the beach, park and walk a few yards to the water.
As much fun as this was, there was a slight problem – balls of tar. Apparently, the tar came from offshore oil wells, floating ashore, coating the bare feet of anyone swimming or strolling. So, flying to the islands required a few plastic jugs of water, WD-40, a roll of paper towels, and plenty of soap. Upon landing, the jugs would be set on the ground, heated by the sun.
Before departing, I sprayed everyone’s feet and legs with WD-40 to remove the tar. The warm soapy water would cleanse the lower extremities and the girls could board the aircraft. Climbing to cruise altitude, I would tune the ADF to 1200, the AM radio station of WOAI, in San Antonio, near the airport. Being a clear channel station, we could easily pick up the frequency and just follow the needle, back home.
Going Away To College
For those pilots with kids, nothing beats general aviation for checking out colleges. Suzie knew she wanted to go to a women’s college in New Orleans. Being about 550 miles away, we would stop in Lake Charles, Louisiana for fuel and food, then continue on. The trip by car would take 12-14 hours, but by plane, it was under 7 hours. Now the four of us who were left behind, could fly to visit her.
When it was Julie’s turn to select a college, I suggested Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff (where I received a master’s degree). The two of us planned a visit, a dad-daughter fun trip. We would fly from San Antonio to Lake Powell, camp there a couple of days next to Flagstaff, then land on a dirt strip on a mountain in southwestern New Mexico to camp, then return home.
Lake Powell is a national recreation area managed by the National Park Service. We planned to camp at the Park Service campground, Wahweap, on the southern end of the lake, just across from Page, Arizona. On the mesa just above the campground was a collection of trailers, and right down the middle was a short dirt strip. One could fly in, park, and hike the short distance to the campground.
We did just that and set up our tent, next to an older couple (early 60s) staying in their pick-up camper. Seventeen-year-old Julie could have easily passed for being in her twenties. So, this scruffy-looking guy in his late 30s or early 40s, and a young, attractive female came trudging down with packs, appearing to the couple as hitchhikers.
Our neighbors were very curious as to who or what we were but dared not seek answers. The day before we left, they asked Julie where she was going next. She replied, “Flagstaff.” Believing we were hitchhiking since we walked into the campground, they asked her how long she thought it would take to hitch a ride for the 120 miles to “Flag.” She replied, “about an hour.” Their incredulous faces reflected disbelief. Julie then pointed to the mesa (where only trailers could be seen from the campground), explaining we had a plane parked next to the trailers. For the rest of our stay, the couple avoided any contact with us.
Karen was the last to leave for college. Her quest for schools initially focused on California. At that time, I was a business professor at West Texas State University (WTSU), now West Texas A&M, where Julie decided to go to school. Living in Canyon, Texas (near Amarillo), Karen had several schools she wanted to visit located in both the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. During her junior year spring break, we planned to visit five colleges. First in LA, then to San Francisco, then back to LA.
On Sunday we flew to LA, an all-day trip. Arriving that afternoon, a rental car and hotel reservations were waiting. For two days we visited campuses, and early Tuesday evening, we flew the 400 miles to San Francisco, another car and hotel reserved. Wednesday, we checked out a college. That night back to LA, for two more schools. Saturday morning, we departed California, heading back home. The only way this could have been accomplished is by general aviation.
Weight and Balance and Daughters
Aircraft weight and balance had little meaning to my daughters. Living in Canyon, Texas, we planned a spring break in Santa Barbara, California. Julie was at WTSU and Karen was in high school. All four of us were going. Leaving behind cold and snow, our destination would have spring flowers in full bloom. Cold weather clothes would only be used in flight. Anita and the girls packed what they thought each needed. So, three sets of everything from hair driers to combs and brushes went into each bag. Upon being packed I weighed the bags, each considerably overweight. I explained the weight limits of the plane and said how much each bag had to be reduced. Back to their rooms, each girl returned with much lighter bags, certainly within weight limits.
Glancing back at the girls, I almost cried. The clothing removed from the bags never went back into drawers or closets, but on their bodies. Two shirts, multiple sweaters, long pants, shorts, and a skirt, scarfs, coats and who knows what else, did not reduce our weight, but only transferred it from suitcases to our daughters. My wife had a talk with them and finally their bodies and bags remained within limits.
Today, each girl has flown on the airlines many thousands of miles all over the world. For me though, memorable flights with my daughters will always be with me, forever!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Pilot, Viet Nam veteran and former university professor, Bob Worthington of Las Cruces, New Mexico, is the author of “Under Fire with ARVN Infantry” (https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/Under-Fire-with-ARVN-Infantry/), and producer of the 2019 film “Combat Advisor in Vietnam” (www.borderlandsmedia.com). Facebook: Bob Worthington Writer (www.BobWorthingtonWriter.com).
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of their personal flight instructor, attorney and others, and refer to the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual and instructional materials before attempting any procedures or following any advice discussed herein.