Sunday, June 19, 2016

Pilot for a day

Harry Monroe adjusts his microphone as he prepares to taxi down the runway at Ottumwa Industrial Airport. Monroe, 87, was fulfilling a lifelong dream in getting a lesson in flying.


OTTUMWA — Years ago, Harry Monroe met Clarence Chamberlin. It’s not a name people remember now, not unless you’re a serious student of aviation. If you know of him, there’s a good chance it’s in the context of Charles Lindbergh.

What people forget is that Lindbergh was one of many pilots chasing the Ortieg Prize, a $25,000 reward waiting for the first pilot who could complete a nonstop flight from New York to Paris. Lindbergh won, of course.

“I got to shake his hand and meet him,” Monroe said. “And [Chamberlin] was the second.”




At age 87, Monroe has seen aviation go from a spectacle to a commonplace occurrence. He watched as basic propeller-driven aircraft evolved into jets. Wicker seats in a fuselage carried early passengers. There was glamour to it. Now flying often resembles nothing so much as having a seat in a sardine can.

Airplanes had a hold on Monroe and they never let go. He wanted to fly. He pursued earthbound activities. He sailed. Biking was a favorite. He did 30 miles on RAGBRAI as recently as a couple years ago, but finally had to give that up. But flying remained just out of reach.

“It was exciting. I gave that up a long time ago. But I wanted to be a pilot so badly,” he said.

On Sunday, he was.

Monroe is quick to say he’s not going to get a pilot’s license. He rattled off health concerns he said would make that unlikely. They’re hard to believe when you’re around him, though. He has a quick mind and a ready wit. His gait isn’t as fast as it once was, but there are people a fraction of his age who have a harder time getting around.

Sunday’s flight was a gift. Keeley Paris was his instructor, and Archangel provided the plane. The time was donated. Monroe’s family set it up, and he thinks a passing remark led to the flight.

“To be truthful, my daughter and her pilot husband-to-be one day I’m sure, were talking at a wedding,” he said. Monroe mentioned wanting to fly. They made a few phone calls. The flight was set for Father’s Day.

Paris and Monroe did a pre-flight check of the single engine plane while family watched from the shade of the Ottumwa terminal building. It was warm, but a steady breeze out of the south kept it comfortable.

Monroe was nervous. He wasn’t sure he wanted to handle the takeoff. “We’ll do it together,” Paris promised.

But behind the nervousness was an obvious pleasure. Monroe was about to be in control of an airplane, fulfilling a boyhood dream.

“I’ve had a real adventuresome life without being a pilot,” said Monroe, “but this is going to be exciting.”

The plane taxied to the north end of the runway and turned to point into the wind. The end of the tarmac was hidden by a building. When the plane re-emerged it was already 20 feet off the ground.

It slowly gained altitude, heading into a clear blue sky with Monroe in the pilot’s seat. He was flying.

After decades of longing, he was a pilot. If only for a day.

Original article can be found here:  http://www.ottumwacourier.com

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