The Liberty GazetteEly Air Lines
March 15, 2016
March 15, 2016
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Guest Contributor: Ryszard Zadow
A good wingman never says anything but "two” and “you’re on fire”.
Yesterday I flew an old warbird, hanging onto the wingtip of a T-28. For me, it was a place that was…perfect.
My second airplane ride was in a T-6 named Thunder Chicken. I was 15 years old. The T-6 was parked in the grass at Weiser airport in Cypress, Texas. We didn’t know it was Cypress, Texas back then; it was just an airport in the middle of nowhere. I took my first flying lesson there in a Civil Air Patrol Cessna 150. I was in awe of the T-6. It’s owners, Al Snyder and Pete Howard, were ten feet tall to me. One day Al Snyder was tinkering with Thunder Chicken. I sheepishly walked up and asked him if I could climb up and look inside. He said, “Ok…just don’t touch nuthin.”
It felt like climbing onto a skyscraper. I must’ve stood outside the front cockpit for 10 minutes, trying to absorb every detail. Wonder is the only emotion I felt. I finally climbed down and thanked Al. I got about 15 steps away when I heard him say “Hey kid!” I spun around and he said “You want to go for a ride?” I blurted out “Yes sir!”
Al strapped me in and for the next 45 minutes or so the only emotion I felt was awe. I was totally captivated by the sights, sounds, smells and feel of that grumbly old airplane. Once airborne he told me to try it. I flew around in a gentle 360 degree turn, then he said “Here, let’s try this…” Then the airplane started a nose dive; a pull up and there were forces pushing me into my seat I’d never felt before. In no time the world was upside down and it was much quieter. Then I’m looking over his head at nothing but the earth and those forces pushed me into my seat again. The old airplane groaned and rattled. Awed shifted to ecstacy! I’d confirmed this was my calling and could hardly contain myself.
I had to get home before my parents returned. I’d taken the car - I didn’t have a driver’s license. I kept thanking Mr. Snyder as I hurried away explaining to him why I was in a rush and he just laughed. It was a defining moment.
So yesterday I’m hanging on the wingtip of a T-28. It’s a sacred place for me. We all have our way of dealing with the world when it comes crashing in. For me, I drift back to the days when I was just a Lieutenant in a fighter squadron. When life was simple. When you earned your keep by how well you flew, how good a wingman you were, how well you could lead your buddies into combat, how well you landed on the boat. Life was measured in success and failures that simply let you live another day and you didn’t know any better to stress over it. Many days have passed since then but that doesn’t mean I can’t go back there in my mind. When you’re hangin onto the wingtip of a T-28 there are no problems in your life.
To the uninitiated it would appear all of your thoughts must be concentrated, focused on the fact you’re some mere feet from another airplane in flight, but truth be known, for those who once did that as a matter of course, it’s a relaxing place, a place to ponder. It’s a place to let your mind and heart bask in the wonderment of what God created. The sky, the land, the smoothness of the air. The noise, the smell, the vibration of the machine God gave man the skills to create. The Awe. The same I felt standing on the wing of Thunder Chicken. The humility of being human.
My manipulation of the flight controls are subconscious as I hold my position, mimicking the move of the lead plane. I think of my brother-in-law who just passed away. The day also marks one year ago that I lost another person close to me. It’s not always death that takes people from our lives, but often decisions. When someone you love passes on it’s so final. When you lose a relationship to life’s different paths it’s loss just the same.
So for that short time yesterday that I flew an old T-6, a peer to Thunder Chicken, I got to meditate in that sacred place, a few mere feet from the wingtip of a T-28. It was for me, perfect. And in my backseat, his first flight in a grumbly old T-6, was a 15 year old kid.
Ryszard Zadow is a Captain with Southwest Airlines
and former LCDR, US Navy