To Fly: In the VERY Begining...
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.