For years, the people who know me know this: I have my head in the clouds.
Dreamer, I am.
It keeps me a bit sometimes from fitting in well in their “real” world, but it’s the world where I can imagine what might be, dream, and see some of them come true.
This is the tale of two pilots, a whole bunch of biplanes, the woman they inspired, and a magical ride over the Prairie State.
It’s also about a couple more pilots who made a dream come true.
I remember as a little girl, standing next to our Western Illinois farm house and watching an airplane fly slow and low near our home.
Much later, I learned that during my childhood and well into my teen years, my favorite author, Richard Bach, flew a biplane over many a small town, landed in numerous hayfields across the Midwest.
As I read his books and learned of his barnstorming days, I always wondered what it would have been like, small impressionable kid, to have had the opportunity to have a plane drop in my field, to see a sign, reading “10-minute ride, $3,” to look down in wide-eyed wonder on the home where I lived – to ride with Richard Bach or another pilot like him.
Growing up, there was another pilot in my life – a World War II vet, home from the war, back on the farm, raising a bunch of kids, aviator wings packed away. His youngsters, among them a freckle-faced girl, knew their dad had flown airplanes, somewhere, sometime a long time ago.
As time went on and biplanes from that war, Stearman aircraft, began to congregate just a mile from the girl-grown-woman’s home, she learned the open-cockpit wonders were the same planes in which her dad had learned to fly.
The woman drove for more than 20 years past the Galesburg airport on her way to work each day; she remembered the photo on her grandparents’ wall of that young aviator; she read again and again Richard Bach’s books of aviation and inspiration.
As time went by, she wondered what it would be like to fly, wind in her face in one of those planes. A little more time passed and she felt a pull, a “gotta-do-this” feeling. Eventually, it became a “can’t-not-do-it” need.
I am that girl turned woman.
Last year, I planned to spend a day at Galesburg’s Stearman Fly-in. I sent a couple emails, made phone call or two, and tried to arrange a flight. It wasn’t to be.
Then, fly-in done, through the wonder called social media, my path crossed that of a Stearman pilot. One thing led to another, and I had an invite to “Come out to the airport next year and I’ll take you up.”
That year couldn’t fly by fast enough.
Back to Bach for a minute – he wrote of barnstorming near the Monmouth, Illinois airport in at least one of his books, of taking a young girl and her grandfather over the farm, of the farmer’s wife waving at the duo.
Bach also wrote in his book “Illusions” of an advanced soul, Donald Shimoda, barnstorming with him – imaginary, perhaps to others, but more real to Bach than most of the flesh-and-blood people he’d encountered in his life.
Over the past few days, as I got more and more excited about my flight, I could tell my dad was itching to fly as badly as I was. When I met my pilot friend at the airport, I told him, “My dad trained in these,” and asked, “Know anyone who would take him up?”
Of course he did!
So yesterday, wind in our faces, wings on his chest, Dad and I flew in formation over a home where I once stood and watched Stearman overhead, to the Monmouth airport where I could imagine Richard and Shimoda flying with passengers – a girl and a man, both with child-hearts and a love of antique biplanes.
The excitement upon taking off, wind in my face, gentle turns and sharper banks, and feeling of tranquility in the air were all I’d hoped they’d be and more.
And, the feeling of camaraderie with fellow flyers – one who stood beside me when I was a child, pointing up, as excited as I was, saying, “Look, it’s a plane!” – was beyond description.
It was just as I’d imagined, growing up reading Bach’s books and feeling pride in my heart for my Dad’s service and piloting skills. And better than I’d dreamed, finding two modern-day barnstormer-types so willing to help my dad and me create this special memory.
I did wonder for a minute, though, as we were landing, if we were as characters in one of Bach’s books, Richard and Shimoda flying, a “girl” and a man as passengers, while a woman stood in the tent on the ground, big smile on her face, waving.
My mom’s ready to fly!
I’ll be back, Stearman.
© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012