Flying my dreams

Ralph Thomas


Dreams do come true, but oftentimes not in the way we anticipated. It seemed like yesterday when I watched my grandson, Bradley, sitting on the floor of our home playing with his blocks. Little did I dream he would be the fulfillment of my dream.

As a boy of age five in Fairbanks, Alaska, I was thrilled when my father took me to his place of work as an aircraft mechanic. The year was 1939 ... the year a dream was born. I remember sitting beside him in the co-pilot’s seat of a Ford Tri-Motor airplane. The almost unbearable roar of the engines as he tested their operation planted a dream in my mind that some day I wanted to be a pilot.

My dream was never far from the surface of my mind. I would often lift my eyes to the sky when the sound of an airplane awakened my senses.

Always, I wished I was riding that speck in the air, looking down at the earth below. Then, my dream came true. In Nome, Alaska, a small airplane landed on the ice of the Bearing Strait to take my mother and me to Seward to meet a ship that would take us to Seattle for a visit with my grandparents.

But, this wasn’t enough. I wanted to be the pilot, not just a passenger. Then life intervened as it does in many dreams. School, Korea, marriage, children, job, retirement, all pushed my dream aside. Suddenly, 81 years had passed. My hearing and eyesight had failed somewhat, but I still looked to the sky whenever I heard an airplane carrying my dream.

Obligations prevented me from completing my private pilot training at Peachtree-Dekalb airport. But the dream still lived. I began building and flying radio-controlled airplanes. In my mind, I was in the airplane. My grandson would visit my shop where we would talk as I built and repaired my airplanes. We would often stand together in the pasture in front of our home as I flew them, living my dream as best I could. I did not realize then that my grandson had captured my dream as his own.

Recently, after taking a one year break between high school and college he enrolled in pilot training, working full-time to pay the cost of the training. I followed his progress closely. I was there when he took his first solo flight. I flew as a back-seat passenger on some of his instructional flights with his instructor. Then came the almost magical day when he completed his check ride and received his private pilot license. But the magic did not end there.

“Grandpa, do you want to be my first passenger?” I must admit I was somewhat hesitant to accept his offer. How can an 81 year-old possibly put his life in the hands of a 19 year-old in a small airplane. My rational mind whispered in my ear. “You are safer with him in an airplane at two-thousand feet than you are with him in his small car on I-75, where nothing and no-one is predictable. At least in the air, everyone observes the rules. No rude and rule-breaking drivers to contend with. So why would I hesitate?”

It was a beautiful evening for flying. Bradley pulled the small airplane out of the hanger, went through his pre-flight check list and announced it was time to climb aboard. Enviously, I watched as he adjust his instruments, checked the weather and announced his intentions over the radio.

My wife stood in the pasture where his dream was born and waved to us as we flew overhead. Bradley was living my dream. We were living it together.

Ralph Thomas is a Locust Grove resident and the author of Doing Great, but Getting Better and Getting Old Can be Fun.