A New York Tour of Mind – Flushing Airport – Part II
There are times, when I feel the pull of nostalgia, the urge to visit the haunts of my childhood. Those places are mostly gone, existing only in my imperfect memory. Of vivid memory was Flushing Airport in Queens NY, where I spent many a wonderful childhood hour, dreaming a pilot’s dream.
I shoved over into the co-pilot’s seat and strapped myself in. My uncle climbed into the rear seat. Speed winked at me and began his walk-around, checking the fuselage, the tank caps and the ailerons. He uncapped the pitot tubes, checked the prop. He told me to exercise the control stick so he could check the other wing surfaces, the flaps, and the rudder. He ran his hand over the leading edge of the wing. Then he climbed into the left seat, closed and locked the door, scanned the cockpit, did his preflight, checked again that we were wearing our seat-belts.
Speed put on his headset, gave me a pair to wear, then began to go through the engine start check list, setting the mixture, carburetor heat, throttle, oil pressure, beacon. He’d tell me open the small side window and yell “clear”. I opened it and yelled clear, too loudly. Speed turned the ignition switch, the engine leaping into life, coughing, spinning then catching solidly. The plane began to shudder and vibrate, as anxious to get into the air as I. I remember each instrument panel dial alive under a green glow: the altimeter, artificial horizon, tachometer, oil and engine temperature. Speed tuned in the radio and began a dialog with LaGuardia control tower, Flushing Airport was uncontrolled; he gave them an idea of where we were going to be and what we were going to do.
Speed revved the engine, and we taxied out of the hanger into the late afternoon sun, turning right and heading down to the runway. At the verge of the strip Speed set the brake and went through the take-off checklist. No matter how many times we flew, he always went through the checklists. That’s what pilots still do, nothing was left to chance. He set the trim, the brakes, the fuel mixture to rich, scanned the engine temp, and then the oil. He called the tower again and let them know we were ready to go. Then he pushed the throttle in and kicked in some left rudder so the plane would center on the runway. I watched his eyes run over the instruments one last time. Then he pulled the power lever out and the engine roared. The little red and white plane began to roll, slowly at first, and then faster and faster, wheels thumping on the tarmac and then…into the air.
I was elated; the transition from the earth to the air was magical, intoxicating. From thumping and buffeting to the smoothness of flight, the roar of the propeller, with the ground dropping away and the majestic vista of the Whitestone Bridgeand Manhattan’s skyline glowing off to the right. The traffic on the bridge traffic was backed up, red tail-lights aglow, but up here there was no stop and go.
Speed cut back the throttles to cruising speed. The engine quieted as we leveled off at 1100 feet. I could see it on the altimeter.Above twelve hundred feet I knew we became a danger to the planes in LaGuardia’s landing pattern. Off to one side I could see the landing lights of the big airliners lined up like a gigantic heavenly strand of pearls, waiting their turn to land.
We seemed to hang motionless in the sky. But we were moving, knifing through the air at about a hundred miles an hour. We continued circling the bridge, Speed looked over at me and asked me if I “had it,” if I wanted to take control, if I wanted to fly. I gripped the yoke and told him that I “had it.” “OK,” he said and took his hands off the yoke.
I am deeply grateful to Mr. Timothy Vogel, whose wonderful images evoke and capture what I am trying to put into words. I have never met Tim, but stumbled upon his photographs while I researched images to compliment this post. May your generosity be returned a thousand fold.
Here is the link to the complete set of Flushing Airport Images