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Welcome to Wingnut's Wild Blue Yonder!

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Learning To Fly: In the VERY Begining...

When I was a kid, just like countless other kids, I dreamed of flying. I never really seriously thought that I’d actually ever do it, but I still dreamed of it. I drew pictures of planes and flying scenes. Hell, I drew pictures of everything.

I was born an artist, and can’t remember ever not being creative. Oh, I’ve done lots of other things to make ends meet along the way, but in my heart and soul I’ll always just be an artist. That’s probably part of the appeal of flying for me – the unique perspective. But perspective alone wasn’t the only thing. There was also the freedom, the mystique and the fact that I didn’t know anybody who was a pilot.

In my dreams, I wasn’t even in a plane. Instead, I was just able to fly like Superman, but I never quite had control of exactly where I was going. I remember many dreams of flying, maybe “hurtling” over the countryside is a better term, straining to change directions or maybe doing just fine until I wanted to come down, only to discover that it wasn’t going to be pretty when I did. But sometimes I was a fighter pilot, ripping up the skies in a WWII fighter plane in total control. I read everything I could get my hands on that related to flying. I memorized all the popular planes of each era and built countless models in my room. I never really hung and displayed my model airplanes, though. I built them to play with and imagine that it was me at the controls. I watched every  movie and documentary about planes that I could, and swore to myself that someday I would become a pilot.

When I was about eight or nine, while visiting my Grandmother for the summer in Northville Michigan, my mother’s cousin Cliff dropped in one night to say hi. It turned out that he was a pilot and was en route to deliver a new plane for one of the major manufacturers to it’s new owner. He had diverted just to drop in on my Mom and Grandma. I was so impressed with this larger than life character. I learned that he lived in Texas and had his own airstrip and ranch home, and that one time when my mother had gone out there for a visit, she had flown on a 747 into Austin. Cousin Cliff had taxied his little red hot rod homebuilt right up to the 747 and Mom got the VIP treatment as she disembarked. This was in the very early ‘70s, and NOBODY could get away with this sort of thing today, but things were different back then and this established Cousin Cliff’s coolness with me forever. Life has it’s way of changing our priorities, goals and dreams, and I wouldn’t see or hear from Cousin Cliff again for a very long time. After all, we lived in Florida and times were tight around the ol’ Hazlett compound. Dreams of flying were best kept to myself.

During this time, R/C airplanes were improving to the point that a couple of the older boys in our neighborhood had built models and were flying them in the field behind the neighborhood. Our house bordered the field, and my friends and I would watch them from the roof of my sister’s playhouse. These were simple two channel affairs that used Cox .049 motors and were very primitive by today’s standards, but they seemed magical to us. This hobby too was just too expensive for me to pursue, so I would have to get by on dreams and drawings for a while longer. I continued to read all I could about flight and dreamed of building my own plane someday, but soon paper routes, school, girls and college loomed up in front of pursuing these dreams. At this time, it would have cost me about $1500.00 to get my license. Way too much to seriously consider.

I went off to art school in Tampa, to become a Commercial Artist and find out just what the term “starving artist” really meant. After I got out of school, I moved back to Lake Wales where my one true love was just finishing high school. We’d met when I was a senior and she was a freshman, and I just couldn’t imagine life without her. We’re still married today. I had been unsuccessful finding a job as a Commercial Artist in Tampa, and after several unsuccessful attempts to make a go of it in Polk County Florida I decided that I had to take another path to get out on our own and into our own place. My father and I didn’t get along very well, and things were extremely stressful and tense between us. He wanted me out and I wanted to go, so I took an industrial job at a plant that made flavor bases for ice cream and drinks, etc. to pay the rent. I made the princely sum of $4.00 per hour, which netted me all of $120.00 a week after taxes. Julie was going to Community College, and her folks were helping us with the rent and living expenses. It was brutally hard work, stacking hundred pound sacks and lifting heavy loads all day. I unloaded and loaded trucks, filled pails and 55 gallon drums with product and learned how to blend product, etc. I got the job because I had learned to drive a forklift back in high school and was strong enough to muscle the 500 pound drums around – but only just barely. I’d be so tired at the end of the day that I’d drag myself home and collapse for an hour or so before I could even move. I’d have never made it if the guys who worked there hadn’t taken me under their wings and taught me the tricks of the trade. This is where I met my lifelong best friend, Mike Pasek, whom I’m privileged to call “friend” to this day. Struggle seems to forge the kind of friendships that no amount of money or success could ever hope to inspire.

The flavor base plant was located on an old air base that had been converted to an industrial park, and I used to go down to the runways and watch the airplanes come and go during breaks. The Air Force had a deal with the Airport Authority and F16’s used to do touch and go’s on the runways. It is a truly awesome sight to witness a war bird touching it’s wheels on the runway then going straight up, afterburners lit and motor roaring! One day, Mike and I saw one flame out from the loading dock, and watched the pilot punch out in the ejection seat and parachute down to Earth safe and sound as the jet exploded in a huge explosion that rocked us where we stood. We also witnessed the space shuttle Discovery blow apart in a fiery plumb from that same dock. Julie was taking a photography course at the college at the time, and just happened to be out with the camera at the right moment and shot an incredible picture of the event as it transpired. We didn’t know what was happening as it unfolded. We just noticed that all the F16’s suddenly shot straight toward the Cape and thought it was some kind of exercise. Then one of the lab guys came out and told us he’d heard it on the radio. We were stunned.

During this time, I met a friend from high school who had been several years older than me and had become a CFI at the flight school located on the air base. He told me he could get me all the way through my VFR Pilot License for $2500.00, but that seemed way out of reach with my $120.00 a week income. Julie and I were also having some problems with our relationship and I felt that even if I could get the money I wouldn’t be able to devote that kind of attention to something that was strictly for myself. This is when I built my first R/C model. It was from plans I got from a book at the local hobby shop, and I still remember sanding that wing while on break on the loading dock. Actual flying would have to wait.

The years went by, and I had several other menial jobs that paid next to nothing. Julie and I had survived several apartments, several near breakups and the desperation/depression that comes from not being able to do much of anything more than pursue the almighty buck and avoid all the scumbags that seem to prey on young people who are still naïve.

At some point, Julie bought me a real R/C model for a birthday present and I began to build it as time permitted. The kits back then were nothing like they are today (thank God). The parts were just printed onto the balsa sheets. You had to cut them out, sand them to shape, then assemble them using white glue and Elmer’s Wood Glue. This was slow going, to say the least. Time and space constraints made it very difficult to make much progress, but the main thing was that I was on my way toward accomplishing at least one goal. We moved 6 more times over the next ten years, but I never lost a piece of that model and I finally finished it after we bought our first house and I finally had enough room to work on it. I’ve built dozens of planes since, and flown scores of them for other members of the clubs I’ve belonged to, but I still have that first plane in pristine condition and have never flown it once. It represents a determination and commitment that I didn’t realize I even possessed until I finished it. Today I am a master R/C pilot, an R/C instructor, and AMA Intro Pilot, and official Test Pilot for my current R/C club – all because I refused to give up then.

During the mid 80’s I started my own Graphic Art Agency, and also worked at a print shop and local newspaper as a production camera operator and darkroom technician. I had still never been up in a small airplane. Julie was working for a large golf course owner and land developer, and I eventually started part-timing for him too. It was while we were doing this that we met a guy who was a pilot and he took me up for a flight in his Cessna 152, and that was it for me. He took us both on several more flights over the next year, including a night flight that was hypnotic over a County fair, with all the lights in a sea of darkness. I was hooked for life. The developer also took me for several flights in his family’s Stearman PT-17, which was a ton of fun. The problem with going with him was that he always wanted to make it like I owed him big-time for taking me. I always ended up having to do some type of chore or another in return. One time he insisted that I go up in the 152 on an Easter Sunday and take aerial photos of the Stearman while he and his father flew over their property. Keep in mind that I had my own Graphic Art agency at this time and was a professional photographer with all my own equipment. I had taken some beautiful shots of the plane at the hanger in the past and given him framed giant prints as a house-warming gift, so he knew what kind of quality to expect, and he had told me this would be a paying job, so I went. When it came time to sell him the prints, he balked over the $120.00 bill. This was a guy who was literally worth tens of millions of dollars! I had even helped him clean the plane afterwards. In the end I told him to keep his money and that I would keep his pictures. You can see one on this site and I encourage you to download it and use it wherever you’d like for free. I’ve paid enough for it for all of us. The giant print itself still hangs in my den. This experience made me promise myself that I would one day become a pilot myself, and that I would take people who wanted to go up for a ride whenever possible and most importantly, not make them feel like they owed me something just for doing so. That mechanic who took us up in that little 152 had more class in his pinky finger than that whole family of millionaires combined. His name was John Woodruff, and john if you ever read this, know that it was an honor and a privilege to fly with you. Thanks, man.

As the Graphic Artist market was gradually strangled by desktop publishing, I moved into the Web Development field. I was working for an established Ad Agency when the www started to evolve, and I tried to convince every agency in the County that this was the future, but to no avail. I left the agency and went back to freelancing, but this time for Web Design. They all missed the boat while we got in on the ground floor. Julie learned to program too, and we ran a successful Web Design business along with Julie’s Landscaping for several years until I went to work for the Dot-Coms. I got my R/C pilot rating, and a few years later Julie got hers. She turned out to be a natural.

After the Dot-Com bubble burst, we moved back to Florida and got jobs in Tampa. I became the Webmaster for Hillsborough County Govt. and finally had a stable job that paid enough to take real flying lessons.



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