In his journal on April 16, 1943, my dad wrote, “I look forward to the days that we don’t have to fly. I shouldn’t be flying. I’m too nervous and I don’t like it. If ever I get a chance, I am going to quit flying all together.”
Dad survived the war and mostly kept his promise about flying, airplanes, and leaving the ground. In retrospect, I find it quite interesting that he was the person who lit the first spark of my interest in flying and later fanned the flames and much later came full circle, in a way to let me share my love of aviation with him.
My earliest memory of aviation and me was formed in the parking lot of the Westside Baptist Church of Natchitoches, then located at the corner of Dorothy St. and Berry Ave. We lived almost directly across the street from the church at 1513 Berry. The church parking lot was the neighborhood playground each weekday save Sunday. It was on that parking lot that dad helped me learn to fly a control line airplane the Jim Walker Firebaby powered by a Cox 1/2A .049 Baby Bee engine. I spent many an afternoon with that little airplane flying around in circles. Though I tried, I never perfected the art of flying it without help so my dad was a willing (reluctant?) accomplice in the adventures. After more than a few misadventures, I wore the first one completely out and bought another (with his money, no doubt). I recall this one as a biplane (precursor to future adventures) that I managed to fly through a tree and remove and destroy the top wing, transforming it back into the classic Firebaby. I wore this one out as well. One Christmas, Santa dad brought me a “flying wing.” It was all aluminum and had a larger engine. We never got that engine to run, probably just as well because the model was seriously heavy and probably would have flown poorly, if at all. I have searched for one of those and recently found one on eBay with an asking price of $399. Sentiment is a valuable item but, in this case, not sufficiently valuable to warrant four of my Benjamins.
Forward a year or two and I was building plastic models. Some cars but mostly airplanes and mostly WWII planes. I loved the process of reading instructions, dabbing a touch of model airplane glue (the kind you can’t buy anymore) on the little pins and assembling these models. After assembly, I’d take the decal sheet, cut it apart, soak in water, and carefully detail the model like in the picture on the box. I learned a lot about reading, following instructions, and patience through the experience. At times, I think that kids of today should be required to build a model of something before they are ever allowed to touch a video game controller, but that’s probably just old people talk coming out of my mouth.
The biggest event that lit the fire of aviation within me happened when I was in fourth grade. That would have been sometime in 1958 or 1959. My dad was a life insurance agent and one of his clients, J.C. Tarver was a schoolteacher with a love for flying and a V-tail Bonanza. He offered to take me (and my dad) for a sightseeing flight over Natchitoches. When dad told me about this, I was as excited as a ten year old boy can be and I am certain that my excitement was only matched in intensity by my dad’s trepidation in agreeing to take the flight.
There are events in our lives that at the time seem small that in retrospect loom large in forming the persons we become. I remember the little details about that flight but not much of the big stuff. I recall my amazement at how small cows and cars seemed from above. In the words of Amelia Earhart, “You haven’t seen a tree until you’ve seen its shadow from the sky.” I remember little else other than knowing that flying was something that would occupy my dreams and hopes.
Much later in life, in 1987 my dreams of flight began to take real shape. After many days of bench flying, dreaming of flying, and talking about flying with my friend, Curtis Guillet, his son, Barry walked in on our conversation about airplanes and suggested that we were either going to put up or shut up because he had found the airplane we were going to buy. Now Curtis was a local photographer who, among other things instructed WWII pilots in P-51s and flew crop dusters before setting into a career in professional photography and Barry was a former Army helicopter pilot who had scads of hours in fixed wing airplanes as well. I was a zero time pilot with a whole bunch of dreams. In short order, I was a third owner in a restored 1947 Aeronca Champ 7AC. I was committed to the dream, some in my family thought I should have been simply committed to a mental health facility.
During the years, 1987 and 1988, I managed to get trained and licensed in that wonderful taildragger that was, and remains, N3857E. I am pleased to say that it lives well in the T-hangar next to the one I currently rent at Natchitoches Airport (KIER). N3857E was a great friend and wonderful trainer and I have hundreds of fond memories of time puttering around the skies above Natchitoches. There will likely be future blogs that will share some of those memories with whomever wants to come along.
In particular, there was this one day, December 17, 1988 when my dad, Ben Rushing, Sr. dared to escape the surly bonds again in the back seat of N3857E. We flew for an hour and looked around the area and at the time, I didn’t really think so much about it. After the time since dad’s death and the time I’ve spend transcribing his WWII journal, these memories have taken on particularly special significance.
With some 200 hours in my log book, most of it in N3857E, my aviation adventures took a hiatus during the years 1991 – 1999 when the judge ruled that most of my income was to be handed over to my ex-wife. I was mildly annoyed but found comfort that, though he could keep me in poverty, he could not force me to go back and live with her so, all in all, it was a reasonable trade, I suppose.
The next chapter of my aviation life was written in a 1959 Champion 7FC that had been restored from tornado damage and converted to conventional tailwheel configuration. N8513E was, in a way, a son of N3857E. It had a bit more horsepower, 90 compared to 65, it had an electrical system and starter rather than the start by propping method and it had twice the fuel capacity. For the next 7 1/2 years, the Champion gave a lot of love and shared in building a bunch of memories. On September, 2007, I said adios to N8513E when I delivered her to her new owner in Jasper, TX where she lives and flies today.
In January 2007, Cathy and I became the proud owners of N8WX, a Donald Tisdale built Sorrell SNS-7 Hiperbipe. It took me about half a year before I found the same level of competence in 8WX as I had in the Champs. I am happy to say that she is a wonderful flying machine and continues to give me great aviation experiences as I continue this aviation adventure that has run in and out of my life for a long time.
So, in conclusion, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little journey down the airways of my memory. I’ll share some other adventures with you along the way.
Thanks for reading,