Beginnings of an Avgeek, Part 1: The Early Years

I may never know what first drew me to aviation. I do know that one of my earliest memories is of helicopters circling a wildfire on the ridge line that I grew up at the base of. I was probably 3 at the time and I must have spent a hour or two looking up in the sky at the whirly birds. In fact, I remember often having my eyes to the sky looking at planes, helicopters, and balloons. Each year, my parents would take me to a balloon festival in a nearby town and we would watch as the balloons were inflated and then flew away.

As I reached school age we moved to a new development with a good amount of open space that lent itself well to balloon landings. I quickly learned the sound of the burners being fired at low altitude and would run to my window looking for the source of the sound. When one would land I would join all the other neighborhood kids as we would rush over to help the crew pack the balloon away. I remember vividly one Sunday morning when a balloon landed a few houses away. As usual I went running, but this time they didn't start deflating it right away. Instead, one of the crew members pulled a long piece of heavy rope from their van which they tied to the basket and then they offered all of us kids rides while our dads held the rope. I was lucky enough to be in the first group and the pilot had a bit of a heavy hand with the burner. Soon, all of the men holding the rope on the ground were struggling to keep hold as the balloon yearned for free flight. The view that I was treated to that morning of my own neighborhood left me truly amazed, even if we made it no more than 100 feet off the ground.

I wouldn't say that I flew much as a child, though I definitely flew more than a little. My first flight was when I was 3 when my Nana took me to visit her sister in Florida. I do not remember much about that flight other than that we waited for what seemed like an eternity for the limo to the airport, we flew on Eastern, and I got a set of plastic wings. I didn't know it at the time, but I took my first flight 2 years before my parents took theirs. After that trip, I would end up taking a trip on an airplane roughly every 2-3 years. I always looked forward to the experience of the flight: the sights at the airport, the rush of takeoff, the amazing views out the window of the plane, and the fact that when we landed we were in a far away place. On one of these trips, a Delta flight that was most likely to Florida, the seat back pocket held a surprise for me: an illustration of all the different types in the fleet along with information on each one. I spent most of the flight examining each picture and the details that accompanied it. On future flights I would always look for a similar page, but I rarely ever found one and they never had the detail that the first ne did.

For some reason I was always keenly aware of the different commercial aircraft types. Each morning while I was getting ready for school, 7:47 had a special significance. I also always knew what type of plane I was flying from a little Saab Fairchild 340 that took us from Hartford to Newark in what felt like severe turbulence to this seven year old to the venerable Boeing 727 that were often our rides to and from Hartford, to the mighty Lockheed L-1011s that so often flew us the short distances from Atlanta to Florida. I fondly remember being awestruck as I sat at the terminal window in Atlanta watching the ULDs being loaded onto the L-1011 that we would be flying on. That our luggage wasn't being loaded onto a belt but was instead in these large containers that would be lifted up, spun around, and slid into the belly of the plane was absolutely fascinating. On one of these L-1011s, the pressure changed so rapidly as we descended that our ears were blocked for days, somewhat painfully. It's amazing how that technology has improved in 20 years.

In part 2, I will explore the several missed opportunities that I had to become a true avgeek.