Taking Flight at Pearson Airfield

Ingrid McQuivey, Man Alive-6.jpg

Dave, our son, and I buckled our seatbelts in preparation for a discovery flight at Pearson Airfield in Vancouver, Washington. Tom, an Aero Maintenance pilot, sat in front with our son and cracked jokes. With fifty years of flight experience and humility despite his accomplishments, it did not take long for Tom to place us at ease with his calm voice and jolly humor. It was a partly cloudy day, and we shifted in our seats as waited for takeoff. 

Tom pulled a small key from his pocket, handed it to my son, and asked him to start the plane. My son inserted the key and turned it. The engine roared to life. The propeller began to spin slowly. Within seconds, it picked up speed, and the movement of the revolving blades vibrated to my body's core. It was like sitting in a thumping car with blaring base. 

Tom glanced over his shoulder and looked at Dave and I. "Everyone, please put on your headsets," he said. "It is how we communicate with each other." Then he turned to my son. "You are going to help guide the plane down the runway." 

My son nodded. He followed Tom's instruction and reached out to grab the plane's thrust lever. His lips pursed as he pulled it toward him. He shadowed Tom's tapping hand movements with his feet and gently pushed on the rudder pedals. The nose of the aircraft veered slightly left. My son applied pressure to the right pedal, and the plane shifted right. Another tap with his foot and the flying machine bumped down the middle of the runway. 

A sudden static filled our ears, and Tom spoke a strange mix of words and numbers across our earphones. A traffic control agent's voice blared in response and cleared the plane for takeoff. 

Days before, when Tom first met my son, he asked, “Are you nervous?”

With wide eyes full of intrepid fear, my son said, “No. I’m not nervous. I’m just scared to die.” 

Tom chuckled, and the wrinkles around his eyes deepened. He said, “There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots.” 

(The video below will tell the rest of the story.)