Why did I fly?

“When a plane flies by, there are those that look up, and those that don’t. Those that don’t, will never be pilots” 

When I was about 5 years old, I would look up at a plane flying over and say “see”.
I thought a plane was a “see”, because my mother would point up and say “see”.

When I was about 9 or 10 years old, my dad bought a ride for my brother and me in a Piper Cub at Big Beaver Airport. I think it cost dad $4. Our neighbor was the pilot. John Main and his sister Anna had opened a grass field in Troy, Michigan at Big Beaver and John R roads. John had been in WWII and his father allowed this piece of the family farm to be turned into an airport.

When I was able to ride my bike any distance, I would take a peanut butter sandwich and ride to Burz Airport on 15 Mile road and Crooks road. I would sit and watch planes, wishing I could get a ride. Finally at age 12, I would give Milton Burz my paper route money for a short ride around Royal Oak. It was wonderful.

My first commercial flight was from Kansas City, Missouri to Chicago, Illinois, in a Lockheed Constellation, on my way home on leave from the army. It was June 1955.

The business world allowed many flights in commercial and business planes which satisfied by interest. I became very interested in airline history and travel.

In 1985, at age 49, a man in my work group at General Motors, confronted me and told me it was time for me to start flying. It was a gift. Ray (Reynolds) Howard taught me to fly over a period of about 25 flights. But, it didn’t count toward a license. In 1986, I started with Harry Scripka, an instructor at Big Beaver.  

Anna advised me not to tell Harry I knew anything about flying. She said he hated smart alecks. About my second or third lesson, Harry let me bring the plane into the landing pattern. First downwind, then crosswind and final. I thought Harry would take over the plane any minute. He didn’t, and as pilot luck would have it, I made a decent landing without Harry touching the controls. As we were rolling out and I was handling the controls, Harry turned to me and said, “how the hell did you do that”?
I shrugged my shoulders and said I had a friend who taught me a little. He said, “he sure as hell did”. I could hardly pay the bill and get to my car before I burst out laughing.

My solo cross country test entailed flying to Kalamazoo, Michigan, Findley, Ohio and back to Big Beaver. When I left Findley to head back to Big Beaver, I contacted the Toledo, Ohio control tower to let them know where I was and avoid their air space.

After that I contacted Detroit Approach Control and they gave me the option to fly over Detroit Metro Airport at 8000 feet, or go up the Detroit River at 2000 feet. The river route sounded fun and as I approached Detroit, Metro Approach released me from their control and asked, “will you be all right”? They knew I was a student and apparently had not developed a seasoned pilot voice.

On May 13, 1987, I got my single engine private pilot license. One year from starting my lessons. Two days later, I took my first passenger, my wife Adair, down Woodward at 2000 feet to the Detroit River and Ren Cen. From there, we turned up river and flew to Algonac and then back to Big Beaver. I carefully contacted Detroit City Airport and Selfridge Field to let them know I would not invade their air space. I felt like I knew what I was doing.

I decided I would be a fair weather pilot and not use an airplane for transportation.

Adair and I made a few flights to places like Lansing and Frankenmuth, but mainly I was the Walter Mitty of the air. On Sunday afternoons I would fly north, pretending to be a P-51, B-17 or DC-3. I would make simulated bombing runs on Imlay City, Marlette and freighters in the St. Clair River. I liked to return at dusk, as the sun was going down and the lights were blinking on. I took brave friends and relatives up and flew a few kids under the Young Eagles Program sponsored by the Experimental Aviation Association.

I rented a plane in Roscommon, Michigan, Fort Collins, Colorado and the Florida Keys. It was a great adventure.

I quickly had joined a flying club that had three planes. A Cessna 152, Cessna 172 and Piper 181. I liked the Cessna 152 best. I learned to fly in 152’s and they took a lot more stick and rudder to keep them on track. The Piper 181 was just too smooth for me. 

About 1996, Anna Main died and the airport was closed. An era had ended. Our club moved to Troy Oakland Airport. (former Burz)

On December 9, 2002, I made my last flight. Adair and I did a photo mission, taking aerial photos of friends homes. From starting in 1985 with Ray Howard, until ending in 2002, it was 17 wonderful years of a gift from Ray. I quit because I was not flying enough to be proficient. I did not want to spoil my experience. 

Don Calder
April 26th, 2013