How I Learned to Fly: Flying, Spying, and All That Diving …

An ex-fighter-pilot-turned-CFI has an endearing but unorthodox teaching method.


TrainingI did not have a clue what I was in for.

Young, naive, but with a thirst for the air that has yet to bequenched, I approached Mansfield Airport some 20 odd years ago andclimbed into what I thought was a small trainer airplane, theformidable Cessna 150.

Then my instructor began the beguine. We climbed ever skyward, onthe lookout for mythical targets about us. “Look, there’s one!” hegruffly shouted. Innocently, I looked about and queried, “Where?”Why, our 6 o’clock. Let’s dive!” And off we were in a dive towardsour ghostly prey, not in a 150 built in the early 70’s, but in a P38fighter, ever ready for danger and high drama.

I loved it and couldn’t wait to get up those coming Saturdays asthe sun barely hit tree top level and we were airborne again and Iwas hearing over and over his stories of conquest and crashes and offriends long gone. We wore no headsets then, but his voice was easyto hear and from it I gained all the confidence I needed to masterthe air. It was in our blood and he never bored from it.

Others might have found his manner strange, the repeating over andover, but from it I found much to learn.

The yoke was mine from the start and only taken away on thosequick 6 o’clock dives for unseen targets. Through his eyes I scanned about the horizon and saw how the sky met the earth. He, through those too few lessons, tried to give me the accumulation of what he knew.

Fuel was running low in the early ’70’s, and at first I didn’tunderstand why, on my first solo, he was driving his car madly aboutthe runway. How was I to know I was supposed to just take off, go around and land and not fly away?

We had never used the unicom, so I could not hear him. All I knewwas that I had to solo and I was ready.

I miss you, Mr. Kenny Sullivan. I still fly, when the early sun isat tree top level, and look for 6 o’clock targets.