Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Flying Into Isla Grande

A doctor accomplishes a childhood dream

Growing up in Puerto Rico in the 1950s, I lived at the top of the Hotel Columbus. As a boy, I’d stand on the veranda, overlooking Isla Grande Airport, and watch the planes take off and land. My favorite was the DC-3: There was something striking about the rumbling of the engines, then the roar as the plane rushed down the runway and struggled to gain altitude. Sometimes, it looked like it was going to fly straight into our apartment, and I would gape as it roared overhead.

As a child, I was lucky enough to ride some of the Caribair DC-3s to St. Thomas. I would sit by the window, where I could watch the radial engines as they started spinning slowly, and then faster, until with a big belch of blue smoke, they’d catch and roar to life. The whole plane would shake, and it felt like a giant beast had come to life as the rpm went up, the plane accelerated and we flew over my home. I always imagined what it would be like to fly in and out of that airport.

Life, however, went on: I pursued an education and a career as a physician, and began raising a family. But one of the great things about being a father is the adventure your children bring to your life. By that time, I was living in Irvington, N.Y., and my youngest son, Ryan, wanted to be a pilot. So we sent him off for flying lessons, and he did very well.

One day, he invited me along for one of his lessons. I was in the backseat when Ryan and his instructor made me an offer that changed my life: “Would you like to fly the airplane?” The next thing I knew, I was taking off, flying around and landing. I was hooked: I went on to obtain my license and an IFR rating.

Soon after I got my license, my family decided to vacation in Puerto Rico. All of the dreams of that little boy looking at those airplanes at Isla Grande came flooding back. I ordered the VFR chart for Puerto Rico and was amazed at how truly tiny the island was.


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