Our kids, Emily and Sid, felt the excitement of flying in a helicopter one sweltering summer day in Nebraska, 2011. This wasn’t just any ride, nor any ordinary helicopter. Emily was personally offered a ride in the air ambulance that was visiting a local town festival. The pilot had been impressed with her questions, and her deep desire to gobble up all the knowledge he was willing to spare time for. I don’t think even she had any idea just how much she liked helicopters, until she was given the opportunity to fly in one.
In the days and weeks that followed that ride, Emily’s world (and subsequently our’s) was filled with talk of helicopters. Overnight, it seemed, my computer became flooded with pictures of Black Hawks, Chinooks, BK-117’s, etc. She wanted another helicopter ride, and made it known this was her one big wish for a birthday present (oh ya, cha-CHING!). Since she knew it was unlikely Mom & Dad would splurge for that, she seemed open to the idea of getting a remote-controlled helicopter.
It seemed everything in her vocabulary now revolved around helicopters. It became difficult at times to listen to her incessant ramblings. I thought surely this apparent “obsession” would soon pass, and she would find something else to pour her energy into; something more doable and hopefully more affordable.
For her birthday that fall, she received a couple of different remote-controlled (RC) helicopters, as well as the book, “Learning to Fly Helicopters.”
The book was read from beginning to end in no time, and it seems it took even less time to wear out both RC helicopters. Call me optimistic, but I continued to believe that this was still a passing fantasy that she would surely become bored with. We certainly could not have been more wrong!
Our friend, Rod, continued to take Emily for plane rides when time allowed. On one particular day, she spent several hours flying with him around Nebraska, stopping for lunch, and doing a little shopping part-way through. He gave her some flying lessons while they were in the air, and quizzed her on what she knew and had retained. She loved it! And I believe it was from that point on, that we became regular patrons at the fly-in breakfasts at the local municipal airport (Rod is one of the cooks for the “fly-in breakfast”). Pilots of small aircraft fly in from all around to gather with friends over a delicious made-to-order omelet or breakfast burrito, and sometimes you might see helicopter-shaped pancakes for “special customers”.
The older gentlemen pilots may not know who CF & I are, but they sure know who Emily is; known as “that girl who loves to fly”. Not everyone shares their passion for aircraft, and it delights them to see the spunk and ambition she emits about flying. She gets a lot of waves and nods when she drops by.
In March of this year, our family became friends with another pilot; due in large part to Emily. While Emily & I were on an outing for groceries one afternoon, my husband called and said a helicopter had just flown over him, flying low and towards town where Emily & I were. We were about 5 miles from the airport, and had only just made it to the Wal-Mart parking lot. As much as I wanted to get the shopping done, I knew I couldn’t disappoint the young lady in the seat next to me, so we headed out. We didn’t see a helicopter at the hospital, so the next obvious place to try was the airport. Sure enough, as we were driving by, we caught a glimpse of a helicopter out front of one of the hangars. I really didn’t believe we had any business just walking up there, uninvited, but Emily was determined she would see that aircraft. I said I’d go with her if she did the talking, and much to my surprise she agreed!
The airport manager greeted us, and recognized Emily from the fly-in breakfasts. She asked to see the helicopter, and he let us right in. The pilot was standing there as well, and told her she could climb on in. I filled him in on her great desire to become a pilot, and he was surprised at the ambition and dreams she had at such a young age. He told us a little about himself and the work that brought him to our area. He’s not only a helicopter pilot, but an instructor as well.
Every day at about the same time, we were on the lookout for our new acquaintance, Fred; anticipating he would fly over our house on his way to or from the airport. We dealt with turning Emily down on a daily basis when she begged to go back to the airport. Our friend, Rod (the airplane pilot), made contact with Fred, and found that he would be more than happy to take her for a helicopter ride.
We certainly didn’t know this pilot very well, but there was something very comforting about him, something that made us put our trust in him. He offered to take the rest of us up as well, and although I was very tempted, I chose to stay on the ground and take pictures. CF and our friend, Rod, took the ride with Emily and our new friend, Fred. Sid and I, and my friend Jarrett, watched with excitement and admiration (and yes, a little fear from yours truly) as they lifted up and flew out of our site.
Fred flew them over the houses of some of Emily’s friends, and caused quite a commotion when he circled over the small towns. And if you’ve ever lived in a small town, you’ll understand the hilarity of it all. The townsfolk were all a-buzz that there surely must be a fugitive on the loose with a helicopter circling around town like that. Only Emily’s friends and family really knew what was going on, and the rest were left to gossip and wonder.
I don’t know how one can possibly describe a helicopter ride that is packed with so many cool things; I simply don’t know if there are words for it. CF said it was amazing, and he wished I would have experienced it too. For Emily, it only confirmed her desire to become a pilot even more. I think she loved flying backwards (yes, backwards!) probably the best!
The next morning, after returning home from my 11-7 shift at the hospital, I sent the kids off on the school bus and promptly went to bed. A few hours later, I awoke to the sound of my beloved dog, Annie, barking at someone knocking at the door. I was peeking through my bedroom curtain, wearing little more than a t-shirt, when I noticed it was the helicopter pilot. Oh Dear Lord! He’s walking back to his pickup and I can’t go to the door dressed like this! With no robe in sight, I stretched my t-shirt as long as possible, and ran into the porch to wave him down. He must have seen me waving like a crazy woman through his rear-view mirror, because his brake lights came on and he started to exit the vehicle. I took that as my clue that I had about 10 seconds to fly back into my bedroom and find some pants, and possibly a jacket to cover up with.
I must have looked a fright with my blood-shot eyes, bed-head hair, and disorganized clothing ensemble, but when the helicopter pilot that just took your family flying comes knocking at your door, you simply must answer, right? I quickly apologized for not getting to the door sooner when he knocked the first time, and explained I work nights, and so on. He felt bad for waking me; which was the furthest thing from my mind at this moment. He went on to ask about who owns which properties around me, as he had to set his helicopter down just “over there”. Everything else went right past me except, “I had to set my helicopter down over there.” Wait, wait… what? What do you mean you HAD to?
It seems there was a possible mechanical issue, and being the safe & responsible pilot he is, he immediately set the helicopter down. Of course the overly protective mother in me (and president of The Insanely Frightened to Fly club) immediately remembered that my husband and daughter had been in the helicopter just yesterday, and fortunately everything was working fine then.
Once repairs were complete, we were able to watch for Fred in the skies, yet again. CF and both kids went back out to the airport one more time before Fred’s job moved him on, and much to Emily’s delight she was offered another ride. This, however, was a very special ride, because Fred put the “extra” controls inside, and gave Emily her first feel at flying. She had definitely done her homework regarding helicopters, but in her wildest dreams she never thought she’d get a chance to take over the controls at her age, even briefly.
We didn’t know when we might get to see Fred again, but we were certain we would. This incredibly generous pilot/instructor chose to encourage and mentor a young lady with big dreams, and he did it all out of the goodness of his heart, and his love of flying. We feel blessed to call him our friend! Thank you, Fred!