I want to fly Pipers!

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 $8/hour. A twin engine Piper Aztec was “expensive” $20!!!

If you took one of the planes in the pool on a cross-country, you paid for fuel and oil while you were gone  at the company’s contract rate for gas. 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, the trip between Lock Haven and Northport 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 kindergardener and a pregnant wife, I’ll let you decide what the trip was like.

For trips back and forth to my parents, the Cherokee Six 300 was perfect. Six seats, lots of room for kids, car seats, diaper bags, clothes, etc. etc. The plane was stable, easy to fly and had big windows for everyone to look out. Bad news was the Six 300 cruised at 145 knots at 12,000 feet and 75% power. In the Six, the trip from Lock Haven to the nearest airport to my parents house – Islip (now Long Island MacArthur Airport) took two hours.

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 the co-pilot’s seat on a pile of phone books (remember them!) and a pillow so she could see out.

On takeoff, 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 pull the wheel back and away we went.

The weather wasn’t bad, but still required instrument flight rules. By requesting to stay at 10,000 until you were past JFK, Newark and LaGuardia, the controllers would let you fly direct to Islip.  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 exactly what to say and said it was important to follow my directions. So, since we all wore headsets, I had her listening to the transmissions on the frequency.

We were droning along at 10,000 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 to 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 two years, and my daughter is now a precocious six 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!!!”

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