I will be 74 years old in December, and have wanted to own, or at least fly, a Wittman Tailwind since the very first day I ever saw one nearly 60 years ago.
The drill at our country supper table was well practiced. If we detected the magical sound of an airplane engine above us, or even taxiing for takeoff at the airport across the fallow field next door, it was “Katie bar the door” as my little brother and I leapt from the table and bounded from the porch accompanied by the plaintive screeching of our Mother; on our way in search of a sensuous delight.
On this still, warm, summer’s eve, we have abandoned our mashed potatoes to race across that field, hide behind an ancient Walnut tree, and spy on a tiny machine. It has landed on our grass and taxied beneath a huge oak; and the charming little machine is purring sweetly in the cool evening air, swinging its tail and waggling its rudder like a Humming Bird settling itself for the night. We strain our eyes to see what sort of outlandish person might emerge as the engine goes quiet. He appears, legs first, from that peculiar machine, and we duck our heads and hold our breaths hoping he will not spot us young voyeurs slavering in our lair.
He is gone now, riding off with a friend toward town. Just left it there for our appraisal. We approach with great trepidation. What is this? Why is it so small? Look at those stubby wings. How does he control the ailerons (a strange new word for our vocabulary at this point) the elevator or rudder? Look at that weird landing gear. Touch it tentatively. Open the door and peek in. So frail. Certainly not the Taylorcraft we are familiar with. Thus is born a lifelong fascination.
Jump forward 25 years and witness two brothers, now both commercial, instructor, instrument rated pilots, beneath a tree at a remote Florida strip. “How does anyone get these bungies stretched enough to fit onto this landing gear?” “Boy, these things are stiff!!” “I know what, lets hook one end of the bungee to that tree, and the other end to my Chevrolet.” That will stretch those suckers enough to get them in place. “What if the rope breaks?” “Will that gear leg snap back and bash my brains out?” “Maybe!!” It has forever been anything airplane related that excites us.
I have flown for both business and pleasure; Aeronca 7AC Champ, Citabria, Piper Cub, Colt, Super Cub, Tri-Pacer, Cherokee 140, 180, Pitts Special, Aztec, Maule, Cessna 140, 150, 180, 185, 210, 310, 411, 414, Beechcraft A36 Bonanza, E55 Baron, Stearman PT 17 and PT 19, and a whole bunch of other stuff. I earned my float plane instructor’s rating years ago, but my little brother has surpassed even this in experiences and categories; we are well beyond anything we might have dreamed of while hiding behind that Walnut tree all those years ago.
My little brother called recently and asked if I would assist him in making some videos for his VLOG; Airplanes of course! And “yes,” of course! What could possibly be better than meeting your brother at that same grass strip of years ago, and playing with airplanes? He flew. I photographed. Maybe some young folks will see these videos online and run to the airport, hide behind some ancient, shady tree, and find a wonderful, magical life in aviation.
I taught two of my three children to fly. My little brother did the job for me for the third one when I was financially embarrassed. Now, when any of us meet, what is the source of our conversation? Maybe fishing, or grandma’s new hearing aids, but always airplanes, and pilots and brothers.
Author: Jim Speerstra
J.R. Speerstra is a well-traveled 4000 hour instrument rated, multi-engine, commercial pilot, with flight instructor land and sea ratings and a deep love for all things aviation. He and his wife Candy now reside in SW Lower MI along with his best buddy, “Rocket.” Jim may be reached at email@example.com.