Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Our First Airplane

There’s only one “first...” or is there?

NUMERO UNO. The first airplane to have Budd’s name in its title was a Cessna 195, like the one above.
I was recently posed with a seemingly simple question: What was your first airplane? Usually that would be an easy question. My introduction to aviation, however, is just a little murky in that area. It has to do with the definition of “your first airplane.” Is it the one that had your name on the title, the one you first laid claim to, or the first to firmly grab your heart and drag you into aviation? Tough call!

If the question is, “What’s the first airplane to have your name on the title?” then the answer is easy. It was a 1949 Cessna 195 when I was a senior in college. But, I don’t really consider that to be my first airplane. The concept of “first” requires some serious thinking, because the first of anything is that which stands at the head of a long line with everything after it owing its existence to the one that started the ball rolling. Like I said, that’s not a simple decision. Maybe the way for me to figure out an answer is to take the airplanes in my life in chronological order.

One of the few images that remains from my preadolescent years is of a well-worn WWII Vultee BT-13 curving down to land on a farm field north of town. I clearly remember it bumping along on the fresh-cut wheat and slowing to a halt. The next image has me in the backseat of that airplane, tail in the back of a pickup truck, the stick hugged to my chest as I was sternly directed to do by the pilot, as it’s pulled backward down Highway 15 to sit in front of my dad’s store.

For the next three years or so, until it was sold and flown out, that was “my” airplane. When it arrived, I was six years old, yet my father, who was most definitely NOT an airplane guy, gave me free rein. As soon as I was able to shove a box up under the trailing edge of the wing so I could clamber up on it, that old airplane became my jungle gym, my clubhouse and my private place where I did my most serious dreaming. The smells, the oil, the controls, the bucket seat, the faded instrument panel—everything about it imprinted itself on my very young mind and set me on a path that hasn’t wavered even once in the well-over-a-half century since.

Was that my first airplane?


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