A Young Eagle and an Aging Hawk

By Kerry Fores, EAA 131990

My brother and I (I’m in green) prior to our first airplane ride in May 1975. Almost 50 years later I arranged my grandson’s first flight in the very same Skyhawk.

My first flight was in 1975, at age 11. I was already a hardcore aviation enthusiast with two stated goals: Solo at age 16 and join the Air Force. Big goals for someone who hadn’t flown yet, or, for that matter, done much of anything yet. I was nervous before the flight. What if I was scared? I recall sitting in the back of Skyhawk N1864V (a number I remember as easily as my birth date) listening to the noise grow louder and feeling the runway’s imperfections vibrate through the airframe as we accelerated down the runway. Was this what flying was like? Then the noise settled to a soothing, steady thrum, the vibrations ended and Oshkosh’s Runway 27 fell gently away. My life’s course was cast. My 5th-grade goals would be achieved.

My kids got their first flights in a rented Skyhawk in the early 1990s. I was thrilled to command the controls for their flights. We flew a few times as family — three little kids buckled together in the back seat — before circumstances sidelined aviating, though not aviation. In time, they got to fly in the Sonex that grew from nothing in their garage. My children retain a passion for aviation and AirVenture, and have a keen ear for C-130s. They are raising their children with AirVenture a summer staple equal to swimming, little league baseball, and dirty feet.

My first grandchild, Colin, and his sister Mackenzie were too young to fly in my Sonex before I sold it. Colin, now 13, has a passion for aviation with an expressed desire to become a pilot and attend the Air Force Academy. He hates to miss a moment of AirVenture. He saved for a helicopter ride, which would have been his first flight, on the final day of AirVenture 2022, but the line was too long. I was disappointed for him. However, I knew pilots with airplanes — one airplane in particular — and I began scheming.

After decades of existing only in my memory, Skyhawk N1864V had re-entered my aviation sphere when it reappeared on a ramp, still in Oshkosh. It turned out, I knew one of its current owners, Thomas Helm, EAA 613847. I can’t do Thomas’ aviation credentials justice within my allotted word limit so I’ll summarize: Thomas is an ATP with a lengthy career as a commercial pilot (including helicopters and gliders), has received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, and has logged more than 30,000 hours of flight time over six decades. He has flown more than 1,000 Young Eagles. I knew Thomas as a Sonex Onex builder. I told him of my connection to his Skyhawk and asked if he would give Colin his first flight. His response was immediate: “Sounds great…”

The ruse was simple. Colin’s mom, Erica, told him they were going to tour Oshkosh’s new terminal with Grandpa Kerry. I met them in the terminal and introduced them to Thomas, whom I said I just happened to bump in to. Thomas asked Colin if he’d like to see his airplane and led him onto the ramp to walk around the ‘Hawk, where he explained the function of each control surface. Without pause, he asked Colin if he’d like to go flying. Colin glanced at his mom, then at me. We confessed this had been arranged. Thomas invited Erica and I along — three generations of family would share Colin’s first flight in N1864V, the airplane that baptized me in flight in 1975.

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Colin occupied the copilot’s seat, absorbing the start-up, run-up, and takeoff. Once level flight was established, Colin was given control and Thomas guided him through a series of gentle S-turns before directing Colin to turn toward Colin’s home, north of Oshkosh. Along the way, Colin picked out landmarks (“I see the high school”), held a steady altitude, and completed a 180-turn over his neighborhood. We flew over Wisconsin’s first airport, in Larsen, before returning to Oshkosh. On long final for Runway 18, Thomas explained the VASI lights. Colin had flown most of the flight, but had to relinquish the landing to more practiced hands. The flight was punctuated by Thomas presenting Colin a Young Eagles certificate and explaining the program’s benefits. Unknown to me, another surprise awaited. Thomas gave Colin a pilot logbook with the flight documented as his first flying lesson. A master stroke by a Master Pilot.

With hard work and some luck, Colin will attain his goal of attending the Air Force Academy. This experience fueled that desire. Maybe one day he’ll demonstrate an F-35 at AirVenture, in front of a hometown crowd and a very proud family. A grandpa can dream. As this was Colin’s first flight, I’ll give him the last words: “That was so cool!”

Kerry Fores, EAA 131990, is a Kitplanes Magazine contributing editor, freelance writer, and technical support manager for Sonex, LLC. His Sonex, Metal Illness, was awarded Plansbuilt Champion at AirVenture 2006. He is currently building a Onex.

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