One sunny morning in late July, the phone began to ring just as I walked in the front door. I had been outside starting sprinklers and bracing for another day of work trying to keep my plants alive in the 109° plus temperatures we were having. The inferno-like weather was really beginning to wear on me, so I was quite delighted to see the caller-ID indicating that this was my friend Ruthie calling. Her husband Randell had earned his pilot’s license this summer and they had recently purchased an older, 4-seat Cessna, which they took up for a fly almost every week. Ruthie was calling to ask, if they stopped at the local airport, would I like to come out and take a ride with them? “Well of course, YES!! Absolutely!”, said I.
It had been more than 30 years since I was up in a small aircraft. When I was in high school, I worked as a waitress during the summers at a rural airport called, “The Flying V“, located just a couple of miles outside of the small town of 600 population that I grew up in. The Flying V was an airport, restaurant and ballroom. In its time, it was a place of elegance and importance. The owner, Kenny Volzke and his wife Stella, managed to draw in big-name performers to the ballroom like Guy Lombardo, Tommy Dorsey, and many polka bands well-known throughout the Midwest. I remember Myron Floren and the Lawrence Welk Orchestra playing at The Flying V three different times, though Mr. Welk himself never appeared. Old Lawrence required an additional $10,000 fee to make a personal appearance with his orchestra. I never cared much for Lawrence Welk after that.
The airport at The Flying V was busy every weekend. The restaurant put out a huge buffet on Saturdays and Sundays. One Sunday, after the lunch buffet crowd had cleared out, Mr. Volzke sat with the wait staff and kitchen help to have lunch with us. He announced that he was flying that afternoon but his wife Stella didn’t care much about going up. Most everyone at our table had flown, and when he asked me if I had ever flown in a small plane, I admitted I had not. Hearing this, he asked if I would like a ride. Oh, I wanted to alright, but I was scared to death! What if my Dad found out? Why, he’d kill me for sure! So what did I do? I went flying of course! Mr. Volzke took me up for a short ride over the little town just a few miles north, and then turned back to the south to the I-80 interstate. What I remember most of that trip was how magnificent the rich Nebraska farm ground looked from above.
Being overly excited about this new opportunity to take to the skies this July morning, I arrived at the local airport much too early. Our house is just a mile from the airport, as the crow flies, so it took only a couple of minutes for me to drive there. Ruthie and Randell were flying in from a neighboring city airport where they keep their plane. I supposed they were still another 10 minutes away.
While I waited, I walked around, taking some pictures and thinking what a small and nondescript airport and runway our city had. I had snapped only a few photos when I noticed the battery power was very low. Dang it! I meant to replace that battery the day before, but had obviously forgotten. I felt foolish for wasting battery power taking pictures to kill time while I dawdled around. I only hoped I had enough juice left to get some aerial shots from Randell and Ruthie’s plane.
Within just a few minutes, my friends arrived. We discussed the weather and how their flight was and then Randell began to give me a few instructions as we loaded up in the plane. Though I argued against it, Ruthie insisted she ride in the back so I would have the better view. Sitting in the front suddenly felt strange to me. I didn’t remember feeling like this at all when I flew with Mr. Volzke back in Nebraska years ago.
As Randell began making preparations for take-off, Ruthie handed me a plastic bag “in case you need it”, and then pointed out the “Oh $hit” handle – in case I needed that as well. We did checks on our headsets. Randell went over his takeoff checklist, and soon we were taxiing to the end of the runway. I was beginning to relax a bit now. Maybe having all those controls in front of me in the front seat had scared me just a bit. Soon, the engine roared and we were speeding down the runway, and then… take-off!
The first few seconds after take-off were smooth as silk, but I soon realized my right hand was glued to the “Oh $hit” handle and my anxiety meter was pegged out. My stomach was fluttery and my chest felt… strange. The last time I had experienced such a feeling was when I tried some amusement park rides several years back and realized, quite quickly, they were no longer fun. I looked back at Ruthie who, recognizing my plight, calmly said, “Randell, I think we should go back”, and then to me said, “You don’t look so good. Do you want to go back?” I replied, “Noooooo, I think I’ll be OK”, but I wasn’t so sure. Randell glanced over at me and then back to his controls, assuring me that, once we got up a bit, the ride would smooth out and not be so bumpy.
I trusted Randell, and his calm demeanor and confident voice comforted me. Ruthie kept me occupied by talking via the headsets, and before I knew it, I was enjoying the aerial view, and the ride. Randell pointed out a popular, local lake. I soon began recognizing landmarks on my own, and marveled at the dark green crop circles created by center pivot irrigation. I had no idea our part of the county had such a demand for irrigation!
At some point I managed to relax enough to pry my right hand loose of the “Oh $hit” handle and began taking photographs. Randell was great at positioning the plane in just the right place to get me the angle I needed for my shots. Being high as we were, the ride was smooth and glorious. I thought of the vultures, Mississippi Kites and hawks, knowing this must be their view from above. When we took a northerly direction, I knew the cabin that FD and his friend were building was nearby. I spotted the reservoir first, and then saw the cabin at the end of a clearing off the water! Randell maneuvered the plane gracefully, giving me an awesome position and various angles from which to shoot photographs of the cabin area.
After circling FD’s cabin site a couple of times, we headed back to the airport. As we flew over our city, I spotted our house and buildings. I managed some decent shots of our property, thanks again to Randell’s ability to position the plane well. Before I knew it, the plane was descending and I was preparing myself for what I figured would be a bumpy landing… but it didn’t happen. There were no bumps on the descent, and no brain-jolting landing on the runway. It was, in fact, quite smooth. My anxiety was gone now, and a permanent smile was glued on my face. That “Oh $hit” handle was just an ornament that I no longer had a need for. Instead, I was washed over with elation and excitement.
After the plane was parked, we all bailed out. Ruthie and Randell posed for a few more photos with their plane, and then my friends loaded back up and bid me farewell. I photographed them taking off into the wild blue, becoming smaller and smaller, while climbing higher and higher, and finally circling back to the east. Looking after them, I thought what a beautiful day it was to be a bird…
© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…