Roger had a BIG heart. And Roger loved to talk. But unlike many of us who like talking about ourselves, the overflow of Roger’s heart caused him to speak of the God he loved and served and about those God placed in his life. Rarely did his speech start with the dreaded “I”. Rather, his conversations consistently spoke of others. “How’s work going Erich? How’s the ministry? How are Jessica and Bryan? How about Valerie and Page? How is Pam doing? You have such great kids." Even if a sentence started with “I”, it would be in reference to a memory he had of someone else or an event. “I remember when you...”
Of all his kids (because that’s how he made his kid's spouses feel, like one of his kids), I was the lone recipient of being questioned about one of our favorite past times... “Have you been flying lately?”
One flight we experienced together was of special significance. It would be his last flight as pilot-in-command. It was a typical severe clear California summer day in the year 2000. We departed Columbia Airport (O22) for a quick hop to Pine Mountain Lake (E45) and back. On the way we flew to Twain Harte and circled the Comfort Cabin, barely visible through the tall pines. After completing the exercise of steep turns, we broke off toward Columbia and Roger began announcing our intentions as we neared the airport. For the 98% of you non-pilots, the world of flying has standard phraseology when communicating with the tower, or in the case of the non-towered Columbia, to advise other aircraft around the airport of our position. The normal advisory would go something like:
“Columbia traffic, Cesnna Skyhawk 5 miles south at four thousand, inbound, Columbia traffic ”
Roger’s overflowing heart could hardly allow him to state such a succinct advisory. Instead, Roger keys the mic and announces:
“Columbia airport, we’re in a rented Skyhawk and just got done flying circles over our cabin in Twain Harte and are on our way back to Columbia”
Entering the traffic pattern at Columbia, the announcement would normally be:
Columbia traffic, Cessna Skyhawk entering the down wind for right traffic, runway one-seven, Columbia traffic”
“Columbia, we’re in a Cessna over the lake and heading for runway 17. The weather is beautiful today. We’re going to cut the traffic pattern a little short”.
And that we did. Instead of flying the conventional rectangular pattern and announcing every leg (downwind, base and final), Roger sharply banks the plane the right in a loop “pattern” and firmly plants the wheels on the runway, and we roll down the runway. And roll. And roll. No sensation of braking, just rolling. Suddenly a 4,670 foot runway doesn’t seem so long anymore when Roger asks “would you like to take over and stop the airplane?”
Now it may come as a surprise to you, but I actually refrained from making any sarcastic remarks like “oh heck no Roger, I’ve always wanted to wrap a prop into a cyclone fence to see if it will cut through and then plummet 500 feet off the edge of this plateau”. Instead, my feet reacted before my mouth and jumped on the brake pedals.
And so ended Roger’s last flight as pilot. His neuropathy hindered his ability to feel his feet and press down on the upper portion of the rudder controls to activate the brakes. Though his days of an octogenarian pilot had ended, his love for flying never did. And now he can fly without an airplane.