“Forty Years Aloft,” Greg’s November column

Forty years ago this month I took flight as a private pilot – and never came down. While others have flown longer than me, it’s astonishing to think that a guy in his 50s should have soared over more than a third of the history of powered flight.

I remember little from that autumn day I earned my wings at Madison, Wisconsin’s Truax Field; just that examiner Claude Frickelton was dissatisfied with my sparing use of elevator trim. “Here, I’ll show you,” he said, and demonstrated our final touchdown using just rudder pedals and the trim wheel.

My logbook yields no hint of excitement at passing, nor the decades of joy to follow – only that I earned my certificate the day before Thanksgiving, 1972, with 48 flight hours. More telling entries reveal I treated my girlfriend and best bud to rides within days afterward. When I met my wife-to-be, Jean, two years later, she was stuck with flying as part of the package. Thousands of hours on, the technology has changed, but not the adventure…

Read the entire story in Greg’s November Flying Carpet column, “Forty Years Aloft.” (See mobile-device version here.)

Photo: Greg & Jean at Lebanon-Warren County Airport, Ohio, on a 1977 day trip to Kings Island Amusement Park. See more photos here.

©2012, 2020 Gregory N.Brown

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

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

9 thoughts on ““Forty Years Aloft,” Greg’s November column

  1. I got my private in 1994 and this STILL brought a big smile to my face — especially the part about getting wx via payphone. Ha! Forgot all about that. What “old” pilot hasn’t gone on a phone hunt at some point? Technology makes things easier and safer, I’ll grant you, but, like surviving boot camp, there’s just something bonding about dealing with those sorts of challenges that I always miss on some level.

    GREAT column!! I bet you’ll get a ton of feedback on it, especially from the older generation. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Heather!! Your comment about searching for phones reminds me of when there were no pay phones at Flagstaff’s GA terminal. If you flew in after hours, you were stranded! When we used to fly out late at night following Hannis’s Macy’s jazz gigs, I always asked him to wait around until after we took off, so if we had any starting difficulties we wouldn’t be stuck at the airport all night.

  2. Thank you very much for your article. I am also in my 50’s, but just earned my private pilot ticket last year. I noticed that you earned your wings at Truax, now known as Wisconsin Aviation. I fly there from time to time, as I am based across town at Morey Airport. If you haven’t been there in a while, you should visit. Very nice facilities, including The Jet Room restaurant. And you can still watch the Wis ANG jets take off from the window seats.

    1. Dear Dr. Bartell, Thanks much for your kind comments. I often overflew Morey Airport during my training, but don’t remember ever landing there. I need to rectify that! And perhaps we can meet for breakfast at the Jet Room next time I’m out your way – been meaning to get back there. Congratulations on earning your Private! What airplane do you fly? Any favorite destinations so far? Greg

  3. Hello again, Greg! I really liked this article, but probably would have just mentally filed it away as one more “golden age” piece…things were definitely different and we’ve come a long way – for better and worse.

    But you mentioned one thing that caught my attention, something that I’ve been puzzling over for a while: the ‘declining pilot population’. It’s interesting that your dad had something to say about it, even that long ago.

    I dug into some of the GAMA and AOPA data to see if I could come up with anything new, but I’d be interested in your thoughts as well. I think we can safely say that flying is more expensive now than it has ever been. And that cost is likely pushing people to pick other activities. But is this necessarily a bad thing? What motivated your dad to take note of the phenomenon (and how real was it then)? Are we just too invested in the governmental infrastructure to back down?

    Here are some of the fancy charts and graphs:

    I’d love to hear your feedback!

  4. Hi Greg. Just read this article in Flight Training the other day and boy did it ring a familiar note. I started my flight training in Feb 1975 as a New Year’s resolution. Probably one of the few I ever kept. I started in Manchester NH but ended up in WI, which was home, for my last training. I also trained at Frickleton Aviation for my multi-engine in Aug 1980. My instructors were Paul Halverson and Willy Becker, who was the chief flight instructor at the time. They were both excellent instructors but Willy insisted on doing the majority of the training. He had me sweating from working me so hard on all those engine out procedures. And I don’t regret a single minute of it.
    Unfortunately I have not been active for some time, about 25+ years. But my heart is still in it and I do plan on getting current again. So I guess we’ll see if an old dog can learn new tricks, or airspaces etc. 🙂

    No longer in WI though. Somewhat next door to you in CO now.
    Thanks again for such a great article. I really enjoyed it.

    1. Hi Paul!

      Please accept my belated thanks for your kind remarks! I made another interesting contact from that era at AOPA Summit. Field Morey, who operated Morey Field over at Middleton, shared an incredible story that will appear in my March column – you of all people will appreciate it!

      I do hope you consider getting back into flying. Based on my experience with others who’ve been away from it for a long time, you will be astonished at how comfortable you’ll feel taking the controls, and at how quickly you can become current again. To start the ball rolling 1) log in at FAA.gov and order yourself a new plastic pilot certificate (now required), and 2) check out AOPA’s online “Get back into flying” resources to learn what has changed. http://www.aopa.org/learntofly/getback.html

      See also AOPA’s free online courses, at http://www.aopa.org/asf/online_courses/

      Again thanks for sharing our connection, Paul. Let me know if I can be of any help getting you flying again!


      PS: Are you by chance related to Scott Gauthier, the Scottsdale jeweler? He and his wife used to be neighbors of ours, just after they moved from Wisconsin.

      1. Hi Greg,

        Thanks for the reply, and no problem on the belated reply. I know you’re busy. Yes, I know of Field Morey and the airport Morey Field, although I have neither met him nor flew in or out of the field.
        But my brother works across the street from there and has flown there to commute to work when he lived further west in the town of Reedsburg, WI. In fact his first flight after receiving his Private Certificate was to Morey Field when they were redoing the airport. In fact the runway was still under construction and he had to land on the new taxiway. He said it was like landing on a sidewalk.

        And regarding getting back into flying, I have taken my first step and signed up for ground school at Western Air Aviation here at my local airport, Rocky Mountain Metro, in Broomfield, CO. I figured so much has changed since I last flew that it would be a good idea to take the course. A good way to immerse myself in aviation again by being with others with the same goal. Plus I had obtained my CFI way back when so it will be good to get as much information as possible in case I want to renew that also.
        I have my new plastic pilot certificate from the FAA, ordered that several years ago. And I really appreciate the links you gave me in AOPA’s web site. Looks like they will be very helpful.
        Thank you for the encouragement!

        Sorry, I don’t know Scott Gauthier. Although my sister and her family live in Scottsdale, but a different last name than mine now.
        I know there were several Gauthiers in WI but none related.


        1. I too long knew of Field Morey and the airport, but never personally encountered either before. He’s coming to Sedona next month with a couple of students, so I’m hoping to meet them for dinner or breakfast and get to know him better. Seems like a neat guy.

          So you were a CFI, too! That is very cool! And easier to reactivate than you might expect. Keep me posted on your progress!

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