Open Fire

My Dream of Flying

One night in May 1927, when I was quite young, Lindbergh flew over the small county seat town of Alva, Oklahoma where I was born. He was flying from San Diego to New York preparing for his famous solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Alva, located in northwestern Oklahoma, was on the route that he was following. There was a large beacon light near the edge of town that marked the way for him to follow that night.

Radios were very new at the time, but we had one. It was an Atwater Kent, powered by a car battery, with many strange looking dials on it. To me, it was like a magic box.

Lindbergh's flight across the country was big news. The newspapers had been full of it for weeks. And those who had radios could tune in for up-to-the-minute reports as to where he was supposed to be at the time. We listened to the radio for over two days following his progress before he flew over us at about 9:30 that night.

We had all sat quietly on the front porch for a long time, listening for the sound of an approaching airplane. Finally, when we heard it, we all rushed out into the yard. We stared up with our mouths open as it passed overhead and disappeared into the darkness. Wow! What a thrill!

Shortly after that, there was a cross-country airplane race. Woodward, a town not far away, was a stopover point. Events like this were rare in those days, so we drove over to see it. For the first time, I was introduced to airplanes, up close - not flying over as before. What marvelous machines they were and how impressed I was with the pilots and mechanics running around in their sheepskin helmets and goggles, wearing their flying pants and high-topped boots as they tested their engines amid a mighty roar. Then, they would take a test hop around the field and land again.

I suppose if a flying saucer landed in my backyard today and little green men came out, I could not be more filled with bewilderment and excitement than I was then.

That settled it! I didn't want to be a cowboy anymore. I wanted to be a pilot and that ambition never left me. I could never imagine myself doing anything other than flying an airplane - especially a military fighter.

Airplanes became my love and my passion. I made a scrapbook about airplanes and pilots. I built model airplanes that flew. I hung around airports whenever I could.

Then, in 1934, Ameila Earhart flew low over our house at Oklahoma City a number of times in her Kellet Auto Gyro, a brand new type of flying machine that was a forerunner of the helicopter. She was giving demonstrations at the State Fairgrounds located near where we lived at the time.

The next day we went to the grandstands to see her demonstrate its remarkable short take-off and landing capabilities as 20,000 people watched this heroic woman daredevel.

About that same year, the famous Oklahoma aviator, Wiley Post, completed his record flight around the world. He was paraded from downtown Oklahoma City to the State Capital Building, sitting in the back of a convertible. As he went by, I pictured him like a knight on a white horse.

My First Ride

My first ride in an airplane was a few years later when I was in the fourth grade. It was from a pasture in Arkansas City, Kansas in an open cockpit biplane flown by a barn-storming pilot.

A few years later, I earned a ride in a Ford Tri-Motor that stopped for a few days to take up passengers at our local airport (Wiley Post) at Britton, a suburb north of Oklahoma City. When I saw it land, I jumped on my bicycle and rode out to see it.

As I was walking around it, the pilot came by and said,

“Hey kid! Do you want to earn a ride?”

I could hardly believe my ears.

“Yes,” I hurriedly replied.

“OK,” he said. “Then take this whisk broom and these rags and go clean up the inside very good, then wash around the landing gear and tail section. But get the windshield and windows real good.”

Little did he know that I would have gladly done it all for free, just for the opportunity to go inside and work and maybe pretend to be a real pilot. I spent several hours doing my work well. I remember sitting in the pilot's seat for awhile and polishing all the instruments and imagining that someday I would sit in a seat, just like this, in my own airplane. I shall never forget that magical day, nor the wonderful ride that followed. How superior I felt when I looked down on the house where we lived.

As time passed, my interest in airplanes grew, and I could never resist running outside when one flew over. I became an expert in knowing them all just from the sound of their engine, and I kept track of all the latest military models as they were introduced.

Airplanes were in my blood!

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Copyright© 2003, Roy William Roush. All Rights Reserved.