Through a Child's Eyes — A Green Car and a Yellow Airplane
Some of us don't remember when we first got interested in airplanes and flight — seems like it's been a part of us from day one. Brett Justus, though, remembers very vividly some scenes from early childhood that got him started on the road to pilothood.
"It's just something they seem to have in their blood; I think they're born with it." Spend time around people who love to fly and no doubt you will hear this conclusion voiced often by the people closest to them.
It would seem almost unfitting for a young boy to not have an early interest in things that have engines -- things that make noise and go fast. The fastest thing I had when I was three, was, I guess, a tricycle. I don't even remember it, but I've seen the pictures. Of course, it was green, my favorite color until age seven or eight. One morning I was rustled up from my spot directly in front of the television and shaken from my Bugs Bunny-induced stupor. My big brother Jeff, who was about 25 at the time, had shown up to take me somewhere. We piled in his little MG sports car and zoomed on down the road. His cars were always fun to ride in. They always sounded like racecars to me, and I would try to talk him into entering a race somewhere 'cause I knew we were in the fastest car in the world. I saw a giant move out of the corner of my eye and turned my head, "Oh, we're going by the airport!"
The huge tails moved around, sticking high above the terminal buildings and hangers. Some were just one tall, tapered piece; some had a big top like a T. I decided instantly the T-tailed planes were definitely better, faster, could fly higher. I thought, Probably all the planes with the other type of tail were older but just hadn't quite worn out yet, and they didn't want to waste 'em. I strained to see more than just the tails, but only caught a brief glimpse or two of the tubular bodies and a flash of wing. But that was okay, just to see the tails was awesome enough. Some were yellow, but most were white with splashes of shiny colors in the forms of stripes and logos. Some had little blue worlds on the tail, but red and blue stripes seemed to dominate.
They were so huge! Airplanes had always looked tiny flying over the house. Bugs Bunny's planes were a little bigger, but usually fell apart on him. According to my brother these planes were big so they could carry a lot of people -- "Over a hundred," he said. I pictured people sprawled all through the huge metal beasts, sitting in huge masses inside the body and lying in the wings. I would want the highest seat in the tail so I could see everything. I told my brother this and he explained how the people sat in the middle of the plane, in comfortable seats. He pulled into a spot where we could see an entire plane and I saw all the windows, marveling at how many people could be in an airplane. Looking around at the multitude of jets, I discovered something: So, this is where all the airplanes are always going when I see them flying over my house. They're coming here to see all the other airplanes.
I could have spent the rest of my life there, watching tails move around. The little convertible MG was already turning out of the parking lot when my head caught back up to it and snapped back into place like a rubber band. My ears (no longer satisfied by the rumbling of this little beast that rolls along the ground) listened for airplanes, and could hear none, but my eyes found several of the big graceful planes with huge wings. Just as I thought; they were all coming to this place.
My brother motioned for me to get out of the car. My mind snapped back into place from its daydream. We went inside a building and walked up to a large circular display of small cars, just big enough for two kids my size to sit in. They were shiny; extremely shiny -- blue, red, gold and green cars, all just my size. I looked up at my brother and he said, "Well, which one do you want?" I smiled in amazement at my surprise, carefully eyed every car, even the "off" color ones, and then made my inevitable selection of the shiniest, cleanest green car in the group. I wondered what made it go and what kind of sounds it would make, but it didn't really matter. I was sure I could make the correct airplane noises as I pretended to fly it around. As clear as the memory of this acquisition is, I have absolutely no memory of ever playing with this car. I'm told it pedaled along like a tricycle, and that I did drive it some.
I guess I talked about airplanes quite a bit, and asked a thousand questions. The day after the car was purchased my mother took me to the library to load up on airplane books. These were the first "real" books I had ever looked at. They were so big and heavy I could hardly hold them. How fitting considering the massive stature of the machines they described. Wow, all these discoveries: I found the place all the planes fly to, and had my first trip to the library, a huge place filled with zillions of books. The ceiling was super high. There was a big open area in the middle where everyone stood around looking at books, and other floors with tons and tons more books, and stairs going up there! NEAT-O! I was worried when we went in that we would never be able to find the airplane books, but my mom worked magic as she always did, looking at some paper cards for the secret code, and we went right to 'em. Moms know how to do everything. If the quest for books was motivated by a need to quell my numerous questions it was unsuccessful. I would take a book with me and go from family member to family member pointing to pictures and saying, "Why is it like that? What does this part do? What are the words saying about this one? Why aren't there any green ones?"
Shortly after the books came my fourth birthday, something I didn't really have much of a concept of, nor do I really remember. Besides, what's the big deal of a kid's birthday? Who cares how old you are -- you're still not a grown-up, you look down and the floor is still just as close as it always has been, not real far away like when a grown-up picks you up to their level and you look down. But there was that one present. It was state of the art, ultra-modern. There was never before a toy anything like this. It was better than any green car, better than a tub of twelve thousand army men or a brand-new GI Joe with two machine guns. It was a white and red TWA jet that was absolutely perfect in its scale and form! It was huge and had a red flashing light and made jet sounds, very loud ones. It always amazed me that the batteries would never last more than a few minutes in that thing, when everything else that took batteries in the house lasted a long, long time. I would leave to go to the bathroom, come back and it wouldn't work anymore, even though I knew I turned the switch off first, and the funny thing is, it always seemed to feel much lighter too, hmmm. I would have been glad to put more batteries in myself, but everyone flatly refused to show me how to do it. The plane was still infinitely fun to play with, even though the batteries were "dead" all the time.
Occasionally someone would succumb to my constant pleas to take me to the airport. One day when my mother took me there we even got to get out of the car and walk up to the fence. It was pure joy and we got to stand there and watch planes take off, land, and roam around like huge dinosaurs. I also saw some other little planes, with propellers. Some of the propeller planes had one, some had two props. I even saw a huge propeller plane with four, it was as big as a jet, but looked weird with a straight wing. A huge yellow plane took off and I studied it intensely. It had black trim outlining different sections of its construction, which grabbed the eye and invited close scrutiny of how a plane was actually comprised of many smaller pieces. I deftly pointed this out, telling my mother, "Look, you can see the tape on that one where the pieces are put together." (I knew we had some black tape like that at home and I was ready to go build my own airplane, having carefully studied how this one was made.) Among the other people standing near us facial expressions varied from near shock and horror in one lady, to smiles and tweaked eyebrows and finally -- laughter prevailed. On the way home my mother explained to me the importance of not making statements at airports that could make people think the airlines are taping their planes together, and then she laughed heartily. I pictured the jet again in my mind; it had appeared so huge as it took off. Maybe I can stand a yellow plane after all; it looks so much bigger than all the white ones with only skinny stripes of color. They just don't seem to make green ones.
On another airport trip, this one facilitated by Jeff, in a different sports car, we went to the other side of the airport, where all the little prop-jobs dwelled. There was a veritable sea of little airplanes. Of course virtually all were white, with the usual skinny stripes of color. Some of these smaller planes even had the T-tail, but then I saw what had to be the newest and very best tails. About every fifth plane had a tail fashioned after a different letter of the alphabet, a V. The reason for this was so obvious even a four-year-old could figure it out: There are fewer parts to hit the air and slow the plane down -- these must be the newest and most expensive planes of all.
Jeff had a scheme he wanted to try. He noticed that there were a couple of aircraft dealerships at this end of the airport. He told me, "I think we can get a ride in one of these airplanes, I'll just tell them I'm interested in buying one and taking flying lessons; I'll bet they'll take us up for a demonstration." I was with him 100 percent and hoped the plan would work. I was too busy peering into windows and counting the dozens of dials in the cockpit to hear Jeff's pitch, but evidently it didn't work. I got to sit in the plane and work one of the "wheels." But for whatever reason, unknown to me, I would not get to go up to the sky in this airplane, which really didn't look so little up close. I can't believe it has two steering wheels! And the tail is taller than Jeff! (But it's not a V.)
One day my dad drove me by the airport after repeated requests, but we didn't get out. At least I got to see the planes; some lined up on the ramp, some other tails moving around in their slow-motion dance as they taxied. I wished we could stop, just for a minute, but we had to get home and eat. As we drove on dad told me about the guys who fly the big jets. He said, "All the planes have two sets of controls, so if the main pilot, the captain, has a heart attack, the other one can take over and fly the plane so all the people don't die." This made perfect sense to me. He explained that it's also so the guy in the right seat can watch the captain and learn for a long time before he actually flies the big jet himself.
We got home and dad, as usual, gathered up some nasty smelling and worse-looking concoction for himself. He was always eating something like that, caviar, limburger, oysters, and clams; if it wasn't slimy and smelly he didn't want it. He made me a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich and I went right to work as always, carefully peeling off the crusts. He told me, "You know, airline captains never, ever, peel off the crusts on their sandwiches."
That was all he needed to say. I never peeled a crust again.