Thursday, May 09, 2013

Blogging in Formation: How I was Brought Into Flying? Blame it on The Darts

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

I can remember those days as clear now as if they happened yesterday...the period of time when my love of aviation went from ember to tiny spark to glowing flame before advancing to where it is today, a full-on uncontrollable wildfire.

It was around my 10th year on this planet - that would have been 1966 - and I had finally earned the trust of my parents to be allowed to ride my Schwinn Sting Ray bike (yes it DID have those cool Ape-Hanger handlebars and a "Banana" seat) over to the Fresno Air Terminal. It was about a five-mile ride, and even in the scorching heat of a Central California summer day, my buddies and I could make the trip in what seemed like minutes. It was like this:
Racing along in 110 degree heat on a one-speed fixie was no problem, because at the end of the ride over to "FAT" was a fence. And on the other side of that fence...were airplanes. Big twin propeller-driven airplanes, sleek and modern jet airplanes, tiny little private airplanes, and the ultimate prize, the completely awesome California Air National Guard Convair F-106 "Delta Dart" interceptors. And the day one of those ANG Jet Jockeys rocked his wings coming over the fence where a group of young impressionable kids were literally "hanging out" was the precise moment when I knew I would someday fly.
"Papa Louie" Pimentel
as a rookie Fresno P.D. Officer
When I would get home, I'd spend a crazy number of hours in the garage listening to an old Zenith All-Band radio my father, Papa Louie, had kept in the family for generations. He used it to dink around the garage listening to country on KMAK 1340AM. But as soon as dad left the building, I would rush to that big round dial and swing the needle right back to the section labeled "Aviation" and listen for airplanes departing FAT right over my house.

That Old Radio has quite a story to tell - download my AOPA Pilot article about it here (PDF).  It sparked my dad's love of aviation when he was a young man living in San Francisco. During WWII, it was a daily thing for the Pimentel family to listen to military air traffic coming and going at Naval Air Station Alameda. If you know your aviation history, NAS Alameda was where 16 B-25 aircraft that would take part in the Doolittle Raid on Japan were loaded aboard the USS Hornet in April 1942. From what I was told, that old tube radio could easily pull in signals from airplanes returning from the war, burning the last few gallons of fuel as they called for landing after a long water crossing.

Fast-forward to 1991, when my dad, with 26.2 hours in his general aviation logbook, passed away unexpectedly of a stroke. He had wanted to fly all his life, but family finances and career always got in the way. He never got to solo, but now he gets to have coffee with Lindbergh and Doolittle each morning.

I fell into the same situation with finances after marrying my lovely wife Julie and her two sons in 1987. There was always something that kept me from that left seat, and while I made my obligations as a family man, I secretly yearned to somehow learn to fly. And in 1996, my life changed forever:
It was February, 1996, the month something big changed in my life. Through personal reflection and serious enlightenment from others, my stars became aligned and I was able to get my head in the game, focus on the prize, and start taking flying lessons. I dedicating all of my training to Papa Louie, who I know was laughing as I bounced those first few landings. And in September, 1996, I earned my Private Pilot License, which to this day remains my most prized possession.
From '96 when I first earned this privilege to today, my passion for aviation has only grown stronger. As an airplane owner, I get to actually drive 7NM to the airport, open my hangar and see my family's personal flying machine, ready and waiting to take me aloft. As a full-blown and proud "Airplanista," everything I do has some relationship to airplanes, aviation, flying or pilots. If I am at a party and someone else mentions they are a pilot, my wife knows what happens next. As is the case any time I meet another fellow aviator, I'm soon drifting off into an endless conversation about my favorite topic. Oblivious to the world around me, I'm soon lost in tales of lift, performance and drag, high wing versus low, and of course, where the perfect $100 hamburger can be found.
We pilots are all alike. We dream of flying as kids, never miss a chance to stare intently as any airplane flies off to the horizon, and we struggle to cobble together the funds to hire a CFI and earn that ticket. But when we are handed that slip of paper signed by a FAA Designated Examiner saying we can legally poke holes in the sky with our magical flying carpets, our lives change immensely. We'll never again be tethered to the crust of this planet, forced to limp through traffic at 0' AGL. As a pilot, we literally become free as a bird...that is if birds had to deal with ATC, currency and regulations.
Would I do anything different? Yes. I would have earned my ticket as a young man, and pursued a career as a professional pilot, and today would have nine years left in a career that by now would have placed a serious amount of gold braids on my epaulets as I guided a large Boeing product - O.K., maybe even an Airbus - through the sky from the left seat.

If you are reading this and are not yet a pilot, go do it before you can't. Sell the extra car, work a second job, even take out a second mortgage...just do not wait a second longer to start your quest to get your ticket. Because you never, ever know what life has in store for you.

Just ask Papa Louie.