There is nothing more intimidating than following my brother. Whether it was rollerskating down steep hills or leaping off a speeding motorboat to see what it felt like, there is a little sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that is the fear of looking foolish. Especially in comparison. Following his writing is worse than trying to follow his driving. I have not his way with words, but there is a story to tell and I am the older (though less mature) brother.
I have wanted to fly since I can remember wanting things. My grandfather flew planes made of cloth and sticks, with wind whistling through the wires and his hair, goggles spattered with oil and not a radio or direction beacon to guide him.
I built models of plastic and could tell at a glance a Lancaster from a Mitchell, a ME109 from a Mustang. I assembled allied and axis airforces, carefully sliding paper thin decals onto pattered wing surfaces to make the planes take sides.
I read of Ball and Guynemer, Fonck and the Baron Richtofen. I read of the First World War and built the Second. I was not interested in building jets or replicas of my grandfathers planes and less fascinated with the exploits of the Second War and Korea than in the slow, deadly aerial dance of the First War.
Finally, I built working models. Planes that flew. The final one was a three foot model of a sea plane. The whole family watched its first and last flight. It climbed beautifully over our lake and then, as it passed too far out of sight for me to control, it went into a death spiral. It spun down from two hundred feet into our back bay, not broken beyond repair, but broken beyond my desire to fix it. It had flown. I still had not.
Several times I flew in small single engine airplanes, both land and sea, and occasionally from the right seat. There is lots to look at and from my reading I had a pretty good idea what was what, though the workings were a mystery. I checked into learning to fly several times. Each time the amount of money it cost was so far beyond my means that I was not even tempted to go the distance I could afford and then stop. Somehow, without the possibility of finishing it was not worth starting.
Shortly before his fortieth birthday my brother called me as I went into work. His stated plan, to take enough flying lessons to see if it was for him, was a shock. This was my plan, my DREAM. He was going to go try it without me.
I resolved to go with him on the first few flights. It cost nothing to ride along and the intro lesson is a bargain. From a fiscal standpoint this decision was an utter disaster. Sitting in the back seat watching my brother call ground, “Santa Monica Ground Cherokee 777VP at Proteus with Victor,” I knew I was going to spend way more money than my wife and I have. I got my chance in the left seat and was completely hooked. We did nothing special, just left the ground and swooped through the air for an hour, high above the Santa Monica Mountains, through the mild turbulence of the Simi Valley, in for several landings at Camarillo. Nothing special, but it was all I could think about. There was no doubt that I was going to learn to fly, the question was now one of timing and logistics. Already I was thinking of my wife working extra hours, perhaps picking up a third gig, maybe selling the cats. Something would have to be worked out.