“Engagement Flight One,” Greg’s May column

Young Ryan Elliott was on a Wisconsin grade-school playground when he joined his friends watching a WWII-era Boeing B-17 bomber rumble slowly overhead.

“Hey! That’s my Dad!” yelled Ryan, pointing up at the giant 4-engine bomber.

“No it isn’t!” replied his friends. “You’re just making that up!” Ryan’s dad, my longtime buddy Sean Elliott, laughed while sharing the story.

“I was taking recurrent training in the B-17 out of Oshkosh’s Wittman Field,” Sean explained, “and found myself flying over Ryan’s school while the kids were outside for recess. After work, I asked Ryan, ‘Did you see me fly over?’ He said, ‘Yeah Dad, I saw you. But nobody believed me when I told them!’”

Sean has one of the coolest aviation jobs anywhere. As EAA’s Vice President of Advocacy and Safety, he’s also Director of Flight Operations. That includes training pilots to fly EAA’s 1929 Ford Trimotor , their B-17, Aluminum Overcast, and the many other vintage aircraft that fly out of Pioneer Field. In fact, Sean personally piloted the Trimotor for the scene in the movie Public Enemies, in which John Dillinger is depicted returning to Indiana following his capture in Tucson.

My friend’s duties also include flying EAA’s Socata TBM-700 turboprop. “My favorite is piloting the warbirds,” he explained, “but the turboprop does have its perks.” He told of circling Pioneer Field in the TBM one sweltering Wisconsin afternoon, with CSI New York actor and AirVenture musical performer Gary Sinese. “When some pilots flying the B-17 nearby started ribbing me for driving a cushy modern plane, I said, ‘Hey guys, listen to this. Hear that click? It’s the air conditioner switch!’”

Sean may also qualify as the coolest dad in the universe. When not flying radio-controlled model airplanes with his son, the two often convene at the EAA Museum after closing, where on each visit they spend hours poring over a given airplane. Among the latest was a 1930s Curtiss P6E Hawk biplane fighter.

Recently Sean treated Ryan to his first Young Eagles flight in honor of his 8th birthday, the minimum age for qualifying as a Young Eagle. Asked what plane he preferred for the mission, Ryan picked the Ford Trimotor. That would make any kid’s birthday memorable, but perhaps genetic influences also impacted his selection.

You see, Sean proposed to his wife René in that very airplane, aloft over the 2001 Oshkosh AirVenture fly-in!

Read the entire story in Greg’s May Flying Carpet column, “ENGAGEMENT FLIGHT ONE

(This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

Top photo: Sean and René in front of EAA’s 1929 Ford Trimotor, immediately after he proposed. Lower photo: Ryan and Sean fly an RC airplane. See more photos here.

©2012 Gregory N.Brown

If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!

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