Greased Landings


Each month, this column will focus on aviation at Maple Lake airport. My column will take you out to our great, little airport and into the hangars and lives of the local pilots. They each have a story, and I thought you might want to know mine. It’s about not giving up on a dream. Uncle Marvin was a Navy fighter pilot, and I recently learned that we both served on the same aircraft carrier during our respective time in the Navy: the USS Princeton.  Imagine the pucker factor the first time a new Navy pilot lines his jet up to land on a moving carrier!  
Once, he came home on military leave to northwestern Minnesota flying his Luscome 8A, a two passenger, tail dragger with a 65 horsepower engine. I’m sure it seemed like riding on a turtle compared to what he was used to flying. I remember watching him lying on Grandpa and Grandma Peterson’s living room floor, aviation maps all spread out before him, working on the flight plan for his trip back over the Rockies to his duty station in southern California. Today, we simply enter a few pieces of information into a laptop or smart phone to design our flight plan, but before there was GPS in the cockpit and flight planning software, it took a lot of detailed, “old school” calculation, flight navigation and flying sense to put together a safe plan.    
During that trip home, he decided to invite his young nieces and nephews to fly with him around the countryside, and I jumped at the adventure. We flew low over the fields and trees, Lancaster’s little grass airstrip to Orleans and back.  I remember us zipping past Uncle 
Clifford’s farm and seeing the cows in the pasture running around in a panic, then quickly disappearing behind us. That flight and my pilot Uncle made quite an impression on me.  I decided right then and there that, when “I got big” I was going to fly.
During high school, I worked two summers as a flag man for Dan Illies, a crop spraying pilot flying out of the airport near Warren, Minnesota.  Nowadays, spray pilots release a small white paper flag from their wing to mark where they should begin their next pass to spray the crop.  
Back in the day, young fools like me stood waving a white flag, a target for Dan and his Grumman AgCat, as he raced 90 miles-per hour down the field about three feet off the ground.  
When the plane got a couple of hundred yards away, I would stick my flag stake in the ground, walk out of the way of the passing plane’s wing, go quickly back to retrieve my flag, pace off  seventeen steps to the side and start waving the flag again so Dan could line up on me for his next pass. My friend, Hank, was at the other end of the field, and we each had a walkie talkie strapped to our belt so Dan could yell at us when he wasn’t too busy flying the plane. Hank and I got paid $.03 per acre for every acre we flagged, and if the weather prevented Dan from flying, we were told to stick around the airport in case the weather improved.  So, we would play chess and watch a beat up, black and white, snowy TV and wait.  But there were many days when nobody made any money at Illies Spraying Service. 
After high school, I went to the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.  As a class, two high school friends and I enrolled in the Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp) program.  
We studied aviation, marched in formation and strutted around campus in our blue ROTC uniforms. My friends, Charlie and Jim continued on to graduation, earned their “wings” and their officer commission as 2nd Lieutenants, and eventually flew F4 Phantoms in combat.  But it wasn’t to be in my future. After my freshman year at UND, I decided to take time off to think more about my direction in life, and left to join the Navy.  
After four years in Uncle Sam’s Navy, I moved to Oregon and three more years in college, then moved back to Warren. I soon found my way to the airport and started taking flying lessons in a little Cessna 150. Then came a young lady, a wedding and a family to support. Diapers or flying lessons? Flying was on hold, again.
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