By Vic Syracuse, EAA Lifetime 180848
This piece originally ran in Vic’s Checkpoints column in the September 2022 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.
Some of you may remember the column I wrote almost two years ago regarding my granddaughter Allie’s first flight in the Stearman. It was certainly a memorable event to watch someone go from reluctant to hooked in the same flight. I remarked then that I thought we may have created a “monster,” and I was so right — and I mean that in the dearest of terms. She absolutely loves the Stearman. We fly together in it quite a bit. She even has her own pilot logbook (pink of course). Now that she is 11, she has grown so much that she can actually reach the pedals in the Stearman, which means she can taxi and do the proper S-turns as any Stearman pilot would do.
Her air work is amazing to watch. She listens and catches on quickly. We even bought her the student pilot’s handbook, and she is counting down the years until she can solo. Her dad tells me that while discussing the age for driving a car, she remarked that she had less time remaining until she could solo an airplane. I keep reminding both my son and myself that it is both of our responsibilities to keep that fire lit. I’ve mentioned to Allie that we could fly gliders sooner, but for now she doesn’t seem interested in gliders. Perhaps that will change, but no pushing for now. Secretly, I would like to get my glider rating with her.
Allie has a younger sister, Lacey, who is not quite as adventurous but who loves to go flying in the family’s Cherokee 140. She is 6 now and started expressing an interest in a flight in the Stearman. There was a catch, though — she is very much a mommy/daddy’s girl and wanted her daddy to fly her. The fly in the ointment was that Nick, her dad, had never soloed the Stearman. Nick is now a 500-plus hour pilot and has flown all the Stearmans I have owned in the last 20-plus years, but always with me. It’s not that I was needed; it’s just that we were always going together in them. He flew from the front or the back, and I never had to do anything. He’s one of those natural pilots and probably flies better than I do. Of course, along the way there was also the matter of higher insurance requirements for the Stearman, which he now meets.
Lacey, being the “reserved” person she is, agreed to go taxi with her dad, and so they did. Of course, as they were taxiing she decided she wanted to go flying, but that briefing hadn’t occurred. So, the date was set for a week later. I really wanted this first flight for Lacey to happen with her father, but for a different reason, which I will explain later.
Luckily, the weather cooperated, and Lacey had her first flight in the Stearman. I had briefed Nick that sometimes the little kids are all “go” until the screaming noise of the radial at takeoff power hits them, so he needed to watch the mirror for her reaction and be prepared to abort. He said she never flinched, so away they went. She had a great time. Both Lacey and Allie flew in the Stearman on the same day. While Lacey and Nick were taxiing out Allie and I were sitting on a swing watching, and I remarked that it would be the first time that I had seen my Stearman fly. Allie asked why, and I told her that her dad was the only one I would trust with it. After a moment of silence, she thoughtfully asked if I would trust her after she soloed. I’m pretty sure it was the bright sun, but I could have sworn a tear leaked out from my eye.
By now many of you know that one of my favorite aviation activities is sharing flying with others, especially first flights. Taking veterans flying in the Stearman certainly tops the list as well. But seeing someone enjoy the wonder of flight for their first time in the Stearman is almost beyond explaining. Looking in the mirror and seeing my passenger’s eyes light up and the smile cross their face is almost indescribable. It’s fascinating to watch, especially when I am taking someone who has a little bit of trepidation with regard to flying. Watching the fear dissipate is amazing.
In the case with Lacey and Nick, I knew it would be Nick’s first time to take someone for their first ride. I also thought it would be great for that event to be with his own daughter. It’s a life event that can never be repeated or undone. I wanted to see if the excitement I had experienced from taking people for their first flights could really be there for another pilot. Of course, when the flight was over, it was all about Lacey, with the requisite pictures.
Then it happened. Nick said thanks for allowing him to make that first flight with Lacey. He mentioned all the things that I had hoped would happen. He stated how amazing it was to watch someone else get so excited about something that we are so used to, and probably shouldn’t take so much for granted. He was almost as excited about it as Lacey was. For me, seeing my son take his daughter for her first ride, as I had done for him so many years ago, and seeing the appreciation in him of the experience, was captivating. Nick said his favorite part was watching Lacey giggle and laugh as she extended her hands into the slipstream and felt the wind through them.
A week later they came back, and Lacey had her second flight in the Stearman with Nick, right after Allie had another lesson in it with me. Then, Allie and I went flying in the helicopter while Lacey and Nick were in the Stearman. Lacey even asked her dad to call me on the radio to say she wanted to go for a helicopter ride, too. Wow. However, once we all landed, it was clear Lacey wanted her dad to fly her in the helicopter. That would have to wait for another day.
No doubt there are many life events that get passed down from generation to generation, but passing the baton of flight, and then seeing it continue to get passed along, is fascinating. I know I am not the first pilot or parent to experience it, but it is the first time in the Syracuse family, as I am a first-generation pilot. I certainly hope the tradition continues here, and the aviation fun factor stays alive in the Syracuse family. I am certainly doing my part to ensure that it does.
For those of you who haven’t yet begun sharing flight, such as through the Young Eagles program, you should try it. There will be some very rewarding experiences that should help remind you of the excitement that brought you to aviation. It will definitely have a fun factor to it.
Vic Syracuse, EAA Lifetime 180848, is a commercial pilot, A&P/IA mechanic, designated airworthiness representative, and EAA flight advisor and technical counselor. He has built 11 aircraft and has logged more than 10,000 hours in 74 different types. Vic founded Base Leg Aviation, has authored books on maintenance and prebuy inspections, and posts videos weekly on his YouTube channel. He also volunteers as a Young Eagles pilot.