First Fright

From: A Gift of Wings

By Howard Eskildsen

I don’t remember my first airplane ride, but the first ride I remember, I wish I could forget. We lived on a farm by the Platte River in central Nebraska surrounded by a sea of corn and alfalfa. One bright summer morning dad landed his two-seat Taylorcraft (or the T-craft as we called it) on the alfalfa field south the house and parked it by the chicken coop. One by one, we all went for rides in the small plane. First mom, then Bruce, then Bernie, and then it was my turn. I had watched the blue aircraft with the yellow NC33932 painted on the fuselage and wing as it rose above the corn and alfalfa fields and headed for the sky. It looked like great fun.

I do not remember how old I was at the time, but I could not read, though I did know the alphabet. Dad decided to have Bruce ride along, and I sat on his lap while the long nylon strap of a “safety belt” went around all three of us. The unforgettable aroma of doped fabric and avgas lingered in the cockpit. I turned my attention to the big round dial in the center of the instrument panel with the long needle pointed at zero. The letters T-A-C-H… circled the rim. Dad’s hand grasped the big black knob of the throttle just below the instrument, and his index finger rested on the stem. With the other hand he grasped the round control wheel that was nearly the same size as the dial I was studying.

Someone shouted, “Contact!” and Bernie pulled downward on the propeller. With a puff of smoke, the 65 horsepower Lycoming roared to life. My eyes popped wide open as the needle I had been watching jumped to 600, nearly as fast as my pulse. The airplane bounced and jolted its way to the end of the hayfield, then turned smartly around into the wind. Dad’s hand pushed the throttle all the way forward and a hideous roar, like I had never experienced, before exploded all around me.

My eyes gaped open nearly as wide as my mouth, and I took a huge breath that nearly burst my lungs. As the plane rose skyward, my eyes closed, and a shriek arose from the bottom of my diaphragm that was surely heard by the neighbors on the other end of the section. Bruce and dad exchanged startled glances and then tried to suppress bewildered grins.

The plane circled around and passed over the farmhouse. Bruce pointed out the window, and for a brief moment I looked out.  Elm trees crowded around a white house that seemed way too small. Tiny chickens scratched and pecked by the miniature henhouse while toy-sized Holstein cattle flicked their tails and chewed their cud in the barnyard on the other side of the house. Bernie and Mandy, our black cocker spaniel, looked upward from the edge of the hay field.

That was it! I closed my eyes again and continued to howl until the plane rolled to a stop on the hay field once more. Mom wiped the tears from my face while Bruce and dad flew off to the airport.

Later when mom told Ruth Bell, our neighbor and close friend, about the incident, she surmised that the noise must have hurt my ears. It didn’t hurt at all; it was loud, scary, and I didn’t like it one bit. In kid-time it was eons before I sat in that airplane again, and that was just fine with me.