My dad isn’t around any longer. Both he and his curmudgeonly persona have been gone for a few years now. I miss my dad, but it helps to know that he led a flying life that most pilots could only dream of. He flew a lot of different airplanes, everything from ultralights to warbirds, and he owned dozens of them during his lifetime.
He was instrument rated, but the truth is, he was almost exclusively a VFR pilot. Back in the mid-1970s, he finally did get his IFR rating after 30 years of VFR only, and he flew instrument flight plans from time to time, a few of them with me in the right seat. But he wasn’t flying much, and after a couple of years, he put his instrument ticket on the shelf and just flew VFR. It was all he ever really ever wanted to do, anyway.
In the interim, I’d moved back east, earned my instrument rating and flew a lot of IFR on trips all over the eastern United States. I had great mentors, good equipment and learned a lot, all of which my dad knew in his head but not yet in his gut.
And living on opposite coasts, we didn’t have much chance to fly together anymore. So that’s how it came to pass that it was 25 years after my dad got his instrument ticket that I first got the chance to fly IFR with him. He was in town from California and was staying with us in Connecticut, and we’d decided to drive down to Bridgeport, hop in the nice Saratoga RG I was flying at the time, and head down to the AOPA Fly-in, held that year in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
It was a little foggy that morning, not uncommon at that time of year, and by the time we were 500 feet agl, we were in the soup. I was on the gauges with a laser focus, but I could somehow tell my dad was nervous about the whole thing. It was understandable on two counts, I guess. He hadn’t flown much in low IFR, and he wasn’t sure how good an IFR pilot I was.
After getting vectors from New York for a while as we made our way south through the murk, we eventually broke out at 3,000 but were back in and out of the clouds for the first half of the trip. By the time we got to New Jersey, it was mostly clear and my dad seemed to have relaxed.
We had a great time at the show and headed out to get home before it got dark.
As if. For reasons having to do with AOPA traffic and some other complication I can’t quite recall, we were something like number 30 in line for departure, and there was still dozens of arrivals. So, forget getting back to Bridgeport before dark; we’d be happy if we were able to take off before dark. (For the record, we did, but barely.)
The flight back was utterly gorgeous, with the lights of New York City sparkling as we flew past it to the east and the lights of Long Island to the south and Connecticut to the north lining the languid blackness of Long Island Sound. Coming into Bridgeport, we were one of only three inbounds, and we could see our traffic from 7 or 8 miles away. The atmosphere was as laid back as it was hectic in Atlantic City.
After a pretty decent landing in the pitch black at BDR, we taxied back, tied down the big PA-32, and hopped in my Toyota to head back home. Just then as I was putting it into gear, my dad looked over at me as if he were merely remarking upon the time of day and simply said, “Well, I guess you’re a pilot now.”
Seven or eight simple words, but with so much meaning it took me years to unpack it all. And after all these years, it still makes me smile with pride.