First Flight

Tom, John and Frank were the three brothers who lived in the house directly across the street from me.

One day we decided to build an airplane. A real one. This was probably 1976, which means I was 12 years old.

I grew up on a dead end street. Behind my house were infinite orchards. Behind the houses on the other side of the road was a long steep hill ending in something that may have been a river, but was more likely just a creek. In any case, there was a lot of room. Enough for an airport.

Nearby was a handy lumberyard where we could steal find all the wood we would need. We gathered up a bunch of it and set to building our plane. I can’t remember exactly what the frame of it was made out of, but I’m pretty sure it included the base of an old lawn mower. Whatever it was, it had wheels, and all good planes had wheels.

We built a fuselage and wings, then wrapped them in plastic sheeting. In the center we mounted a seat from an old tractor. It would only have the one seat. There was no motor or anything, so we would be pulling it behind my mini-bike. At least until it got off the ground. Technically, it was a glider.

Frank, the oldest, was elected to pilot the thing. I would drive the mini-bike. Not knowing how long he would be airborne, Frank packed a lunch in a small brown bag, just in case. He was also equipped with a helmet and a walkie-talkie.

We used a chunk of plywood and a couple cinder blocks for the take-off ramp. The plan was that I would pull the plane with a rope behind my mini-bike until it went up and off the ramp and started to fly. Frank would let go of the rope and communicate with us via walkie talkie once he got too high to hear otherwise.

I pulled him as fast as I could. The plane’s wheels hit the ramp, sending it into the air.

It flew!

Okay, “flew” is not exactly the right word. “Bounced” is more accurate, but it did leave the ground. Frank was airborne for somewhere just shy of one second, but it sure seemed like longer than that. He then came down hard and the whole thing broke into a dozen pieces.

After that we shared his bag lunch and played pirate ship on the old woodpile instead.