As you read this, I’m packing my bags for a flight home from a writer’s conference. In a few hours, I’ll be sitting happily in an airport – a Starbucks coffee in one hand and a copy of the Wall Street Journal in the other. Truth be told, I rather enjoy airports. I always have. There’s something about the bustle of activity as people rush through the terminals, stopping to stuff their pockets with junk food to eat on their flight or to pick up a copy of their favorite magazine or the latest best seller. But even better than that… there are airplanes!
For me, aviation is in the blood. My great grandfather Gheen was born in 1887 and spent his early years apprenticed to a blacksmith in Osborn, Ohio. This man (by the name of Snyder) had a vision that someday, men would be able to fly. Snyder appears to have dedicated a fair amount of time to the creation of a flying machine and Grandpa had the great honor of helping him to build the propellers.
The competition must have been intense, since at the time, two bicycle-makers by the name of “Wright” were busy conducting experiments of their own in a field not too far away. As the story goes, the two brothers ended up needing some parts for their airplane and, since they were closer to Osborn than Dayton, they turned to Snyder for help. It fell to my grandfather to deliver these parts to Huffman Prairie where, fearful that he might be spying for the competition, Orville and Wilbur refused him even a glimpse of their creation. As far as any of us know, this is where my family’s involvement with aviation began – but it certainly isn’t where it ended.
During the early part of WWII, my great grandfather Gray (my father’s mother’s father) found himself enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. A bit of technical genius, he spent his spare time tinkering with fuel systems. After some experimentation, he managed to create something which caught the Army’s attention – a fuel pump which could withstand the rigors of high-altitude flight. And it wasn’t long before our airplanes were engaged in a hitherto impossible form of aerial combat. Whether we’d have won the war without this technology can be debated, but that it made a significant contribution cannot. A legend was born.
By the time my father came along, the aviation tradition was firmly entrenched. Growing up near Wright Field where his father worked on experimental aircraft, he became enchanted with flight. Graduating from college, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps where he trained as a helicopter pilot – an occupation which he continues to enjoy today, as a life flight pilot. The result, of course, is that my first encounter with aviation did not involve airplanes at all, but these whirly-birds which I affectionately dubbed “whop-whops”. My Dad had left the Corps by the time I came along, continuing to fly as a pilot for mineral and oil exploration companies and the sound of the blades beating the air into submission was my cue that “daddy” was home.
This exposure led to my own fascination with flight (albeit not so nearly as intense as my father’s) and I embraced each opportunity to pay a visit to the local airfield. To this day, I need only to close my eyes and I can smell the strong aroma of freshly-brewed hazelnut coffee and hear the chatter on the FBO radio. It was a great way to grow up and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Several years ago, I was presented with the opportunity to continue the family tradition and learn to fly, myself. Sadly, I never finished. The program was aborted due to circumstances beyond my control and time and money haven’t coincided since. But the vision still remains. Like Prometheus, the Wright brothers, and my forebears I long for the freedom of flight. And as my body registers the unique sensation of lift developing beneath the wings of my jetliner, I continue to dream.