My friend, Jerry, soared to the Home Office, but not before learning to fly here on Earth
Jerry the Friend
My friend, Jerry the rocket scientist, passed away Tuesday morning. Saw him just a couple weeks before. He was fine. Old, as happens to all of us, but fine. Then suddenly gone.
Regina & I first connected with Jerry & Donna as fellow members of a fledgling church in northern California. They became both mom & dad and counselors to us, their lovely daughters as younger sisters. Jerry and I bonded over electronics, astronomy, and space travel. And I quickly learned he liked anything that flew. I gave him flight instruction through his solo flight.
Heading north, morning sun streaming in from the right, smooth air at 8,500 feet—what’s not to like?
Last Friday I flew to Sandpoint, Idaho in the panhandle north of Coeur d’Alene. MAF asked me to retrieve two pilots who ferried a Kodiak 100 to the Quest factory for adding a new option. My craft, a more modest Cessna 172, performed well in the smooth, cool morning air. Fitted with a 180 horsepower engine mod, it lifted me and full fuel tanks quickly to 8,500 feet. I had an easy schedule, so I anticipated a great day wandering north.
Fifty minutes out of Nampa, I crossed the Hell’s Canyon west of Monument Peak and He-Devil Mountain. Billed as North America’s deepest, its gorge plummets 7,993 feet down to the Snake river. Most of the area remains inaccessible by road, but I got a prime seat.
After 17 years flying the Amazon jungle and Andes mountains, I came to my first AirVenture at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Before first day opening, I flashed my Exhibitor badge at the dutiful guards and walked through the AirVenture gate. Thirty years of professional aviation experience provided no preparation for what I beheld. Without turning my head I saw three times more aircraft than occupied the entire civil registry of the country where I served.
As a pilot and air ops manager, who knew I needed an aviation fix? Like a starving man no longer feeling hunger pangs, I didn’t know what I needed until I immersed myself into the world of cold 2024 aluminum skin, taut cotton wings, red hydraulic fluid, flashing glass panels, spinning propellors, and clouds of 100 octane exhaust fumes—ambrosia and incense.
Hundreds of rivets connected the gray inlet ring to the white engine cowling in purposeful pattern
I first noticed it riding the airline back to Cleveland. A big turbo-fan engine hung beneath the wing just outside my window. Around its front, a single row of rivets connected the inlet ring to the rest of the engine cowling. Hundreds of of them set in precise formation.Their pattern revealed disciplined purpose, like a single beat keeping time. Other patterns in complex harmonies, reveal themselves only from unique perspectives. Like flying, for example.
I came to Wooster, Ohio, again. Met Don, again. Met the pert Pacer, again. High winds calmed, as they would again after the next hard blow. I flew the Pacer to Holmes County airport, again. Practiced takeoffs and landings, again. Refueled, again. Don flew back to Wooster, repeating a pattern every airplane owner knows—a first and last flight.
Inspirational Aviation & Space Writer