By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Getting butterflies before joining them in flight
Placeholder Image

I couldn't believe it - I felt nervous.

Actually it was more of a combination of euphoria, immense pride, and giddiness. True, I was nervous, but I felt as though I had arrived at the end of a great journey. Only, this journey was one that would not end; I had merely rounded a corner. I had arrived at this point, despite great odds, and was preparing to disembark once again. Relief - that's it. I felt relieved and rightly proud of myself.

This was it. The old Ranger engine throbbed as I squeezed the throttle, coaxing higher and higher RPMs. Left rudder, with a touch of brake, and the machine swung its tail around. I was now to the side of, but facing directly down the runway. I pulled the throttle back to an idle and took a moment to collect my thoughts.

First I did the standard run-up. I moved the control stick, checking for free movement. A visual glance out the window confirmed that the ailerons and elevator responded appropriately. Input to the foot pedals likewise moved the rudder. I released the brakes and added power. The enormous propeller wind-milled into a translucent blur. The machine rolled ahead. I tapped the left, and then right brake pedal, noting how the fuselage lurched left or right as the appropriate brake grabbed. I held both brakes and brought the engine RPMs up to 1,700. The Ranger roared, and the propblast caused the control stick to jerk in my hand, as the control surfaces were drenched with charged air.

From the cockpit and using an electric switch I isolated the right, and then the left magneto. The magnetos provide electricity to the engine. They would keep the Ranger humming, even if the aircraft suffered a total electrical failure. There were two, for redundancy. I then pulled engine heat through the carburetor. The RPMs dropped slightly with each test, and I smiled. Everything checked out.

That was it. Back to idle. The propeller slowed, forming a concise circular blur out the front window. At a low RPM the propeller sings. In the cockpit, above the chop of the blades and the chatter of the radio I can hear it - a delicate whine. It is the sound of the counterweights disturbing the forward air.

I now glance across the instrument panel. A myriad of dials and gauges greet my eyes, and I check each one. Altimeter, set. Directional gyro, set. Artificial Horizon turned on. Oil pressure, Fuel pressure, and Manifold pressure, Cylinder Head temp, Exhaust temp, Oil temp; all read normal. Ammeter reads positive, Suction gauges both correspond. Most of these gauges and gyros are original to the airplane, and are exactly what aviators during World War II would have used.

Finally, I make a call over the radio. My headset adjusted I push a button on the control stick and announce, "Brodhead traffic Fairchild two-niner-five-Yankee departing Two-Seven, will remain in the pattern, Brodhead."

This was it.

I had that feeling again, of slight nervousness and immense pride. I was about to fly my airplane solo, for the first time. I would never again be able to replicate exactly how I felt now, about to squeeze the throttle, shoot down the runway, and defy gravity by climbing into the sky. All for the first time.

As an afterthought I glanced to my left, toward the airport picnic area. I did not see Glenn. Not that I expected to see him; he would remain out of sight. No need to put any additional pressure on me. Nor did I see Mike. I was slightly disappointed Mike wasn't there; he had mentioned a desire to see this thing fly. I took a moment to think of all the people who contributed to make this dream a reality. I thought of Gary, Mike, Richard, Bill, Glenn, my Dad, and my wife. There were others; many, many others.

In fact, perhaps the greatest aspect of this experience was the people who helped, and the personalities I met along the way. There is something truly unique about the atmosphere of a grass-strip airport. When authors drip nostalgia for the bygone Americana days of apple pie, baseball, and cookouts on the Fourth of July, they fail to recognize that the ideals symbolized therein still exist.

The can-do attitude, the ability to improvise, the genuine desire to slow down to savor life; the very principles that allowed us to build cars without seat belts and doors without locks. Throughout the journey I discovered such a place, and met the people who live there. It is not a bygone era; one must only search a little in order to find it. In my case, I stumbled upon it, almost by accident.

Like any great journey, mine has a very definite beginning. I had always dreamed of owning my own airplane, of possessing the freedom and ability to fly whenever I wanted. Not just any airplane, though. My first ride was in a 1939 Fairchild model 24R. My dad had one, and a facet of my childhood was airport picnics, grass-strip fly-ins, and pancake breakfasts. Such events still exist - just look for the banners alongside the road. They're out there, particularly during the summer months. You just have to look.

At any rate, this story begins in March of 2011. At that point I had no idea how long it was going to take, or how much it would cost. I simply recall sitting down for dinner with my wife and exclaiming:

"Just so you know, I'm going to buy that old Fairchild of my Dad's and fix it up. Are you OK with that?"

- Dan Wegmueller of Monroe writes a column for the Times each Monday. He can be reached at