Back when we were living in Lock Haven, PA and working for Piper Aircraft, one of the benefits was one could rent planes from the company at ridiculously low rates. For example, a Piper Cub 180 was $2/hour wet! A Cherokee Six 300 was $10/hour.
If you took it on a cross-country, you paid for fuel and oil while you were gone and at the company rate for gas when you brought it back. All of this assumed one passed a check-out with a company instructor in each plane and had a valid license and medical.
At the time, my parents lived in Northport, NY located about half-way out on the north shore of Long Island. Via Interstate 80 to the George Washington Bridge or over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge it was between 250 and 275 driving miles depending on what route you took to get through/around New York City. If you didn’t hit traffic and didn’t get a ticket because you were doing 70 or more, plan on five and a half hours of driving. With a kindergartener and a pregnant wife, I’ll let you decide what the trip would be like.
For trips back and forth to my parents, the Cherokee Six 300 was perfect. Six seats, lots of room for kids and the equipment one needs for a trip with kids, stable, big windows for everyone to look out. Bad news was slow and cruised at 145 knots. Even then, in the Six, it would take less than two hours, take-off from Lock Haven to landing at Islip Airport, now known as Long Island MacArthur Airport.
As a family, the trips were perfect. Grandma got to see her first grandchild, Mom got to get off her feet and dad and granddad could go sailing. Sometimes the women came with, sometimes not.
So, one fine summer Friday afternoon, we all piled into a Cherokee Six and my daughter wanted to sit up from and be the “pilot.” To me, this was an improvement in roles because before that, she wanted to be the “flight attendant.” Now, there’s nothing wrong being a flight attendant, but mom and dad would have preferred that, if she got in the flying biz, she was a pilot. Mom said fine and climbed into the back of the cabin. My daughter was perched on a pile of phone books (remember them?) and a pillow so she could see out from the co-pilot’s seat.
I started the airplane and taxied out to the end of the runway. The weather wasn’t bad, but still required instrument flight rules and by requesting to stay at 10,000 until you were past JFK, Newark and LaGuardia, it that was the fastest way to get to Islip. I helped my daughter push the throttle forward and let the airplane roll. When it came time to rotate, a coupled of blips on the electric trim helped her rotate and away we went.
When we got above the clouds and were transitioning from Williamsport Approach and Departure to New York Center, my daughter says, “Daddy, may I talk on the radio?”
So, since the air traffic controller weren’t really busy, I said yes. And, then I told her that I would tell her exactly what to say and said it was important to follow my directions. So, since we all wore headsets, I had her listening to what was going on.
We were droning on at ten thousand feet when the New York Center controller called. “Piper 3164Z, fly heading zero-eight-five, stand-by for vectors to Islip.” I told my four and a half year old what to say. She keys the mike and precisely and professionally says ,“Roger, New York Center, Piper November 3164Z fly zero-eight-five, vectors from Islip.”
She released the microphone and gave me a big grin. I think mine was bigger. What I didn’t realize that silence had overtaken the frequency. Then the controller comes back with “Piper November 3164Z, how old is your co-pilot?”
I nod to my daughter who keys the mike, “New York Center, I’m four and a half, copy?”
By now I’m laughing and hoping everyone else on the frequency is enjoying the repartee. “Piper November 3164Z co-pilot, do you fly a lot?”
I didn’t say anything other than tell her over the intercom to answer the controller. “Roger, New York Center, I do. We go on trips all the time.”
This went on for another two or three transmissions. Then the controller asks, “Piper November 3164Z co-pilot, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
Without hesitation, my daughter keys the mike with a very serious look on her face says, “New York Center, I want to fly Pipers!”
I wasn’t smart enough to call the center and see if I could get a copy of the tape. It would have be priceless to keep. What I realized a few minutes after we finished, no one spoke on the radio while my daughter and the controller had their conversation. If you ever fly into the New York City area and get to listen to the conversations between the pilots and controllers, you’d realize how significant silence on the frequency was.
Fast forward four years, and my daughter is now a precocious eight year old. Her future career plans had apparently changed. When asked the same question by my mother, my daughter says with a straight face AND without hesitation, “Grandma, I want to be expensive!!!”