Fathers, Sons and Airplanes

By Robert Mark on January 1st, 2019

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Fathers, Sons and Airplanes, by Micah Engber

The New Year comes twice a year for me. Of course there’s this time of year, the first day of January for the year we all know. But there’s also first day of Tishrei, the Jewish New Year called Rosh Hashanah. While there’s a joy to the Jewish New Year it’s more of a time of self-examination and repentance, a ten day process that ends with the holiday of Yom Kippur.

So I started to write this just as Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, had ended, it’d been a week of reflection since Rosh Hashanah. And while this little piece was started at the beginning of the Jewish New Year, it’s just as applicable for the secular New Year.

When I started writing this it had just turned 5779 according to the Hebrew calendar. I just couldn’t get used to it, and I’d been writing 5778 on all my checks, but eventually I got over it. The thing that I didn’t, and I won’t get over though, probably for the rest of my life, is that I miss my Dad.

Lew Engber, NCO in the Army Corp of Engineers during World War II, First Lieutenant in the Medical Corp of the US Air Force during the Korean Conflict, brilliant psychologist, terrific raconteur, bibliophile, pulp fiction, western and science fiction fan, trivia expert, a gourmet and at times gourmand, airplane geek, beer connoisseur, but most important to me right now, my father. He’s the man who taught me not so much all I know, but kind of, how to know it. He shaped my tastes, my likes and loves, probably unwittingly and unintentionally, but nonetheless, most certainly. Perhaps more importantly he taught me how to learn for myself, how to love and appreciate learning itself, and love to pass on my knowledge to others.

It’s wasn’t just the High Holy Days that had me missing my Dad, although that may have been the impetus. There’s another thing that had me thinking of him. You see it was also the time of year when The Collings Foundation makes an almost annual trip to the Jetport here in Portland, Maine, PWM. This year it was the Wings of Freedom Tour including the B‑24J Liberator, Witchcraft, the B-25 Mitchell, Tondelayo and the TF-51D Mustang, Toulouse Nuts. The B‑17G Flying Fortress, Nine of Nine was stuck in Vermont having just “gone tech”. Yea, I missed the B-17, but I was missing my Dad even more.

You see I grew up with these aircraft, well not these exact airplanes, but these types, or similar. It was talking about aircraft, ships, science fiction and other common interests that I shared with my Dad that helped make us close. You often hear about baseball bringing fathers and sons together, well for me and my Dad, it wasn’t baseball, it was aircraft and flying, among quite a few other things.

I was fortunate. What am I saying? I am fortunate! You know many men of my father’s generation often weren’t able to share feelings. Their feelings would come through in other ways. My Dad and I shared feelings indirectly through aircraft, that’s not the fortunate part though. The fortunate part is, maybe through his training as a psychologist, my Dad could share a bit better than some others of his generation. Saying the words “I love you son” was not difficult for him, so there was never any doubt. Sometimes it was more difficult for me to say it to back him, but I am fully confident he knew how I felt, and still feel about him.

         Contributing Producer Micah Engber

We would often take museum trips together. We lived right outside of New York City so we weren’t strangers to The American Museum of Natural History, The Hayden Planetarium, and the Metropolitan Museum or Art. Being close to West Point as well we would travel up there often. We visited Annapolis a couple of times, and got to the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome twice. We were familiar with the USS Ling, and once made it to the USS Intrepid early in her career as a museum ship. We also made it to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the mall together once; geez we even got to the US Air Force Academy together when I lived in Colorado.

Thinking back on it we only saw two air-shows together. There was one tiny one in Athens, Ohio, sometime between 1981 and ’83 and then one a big one in Pueblo, Colorado in 1985. Pueblo was the first time either one of us got to see the Thunderbirds. What a great experience it was to see the US Air Force’s official air demonstration team for the first time with another airplane geek, and USAF veteran who had never seen them before either. When that someone else also happens to be your father, well, what can I say?

But you know, as wonderful as the Great State of Colorado Air-Show was to see with my Dad, the little one in Athens, Ohio is more illustrative of who he was and the kind of relationship we had. Like I said, it was a tiny air-show. Mostly GA aircraft on display, as well as Ohio University’s two DC-3’s that I’ve told you about before. They weren’t flying but it was the first time my Dad and I got to see a DC-3 in person together. There was an interesting helicopter demonstration put on by the local US Forest Service. It was a fire fighting display done by a small two seat helicopter that slung a big canvas bucket underneath as it flew. It went to and from a lake near the airport and showed how effective it can be in dousing wild fires.

The real amazing thing for me though was the Ford Tri-Motor. Based in Port Clinton, Ohio it was recently taken out of regular freight and passenger service and was giving sightseeing tours over Lake Erie. It flew down to Athens specifically for the air-show and was offering rides. We’d watched it take off and come back a few times as we walked though the static displays. You know what else, Airplane Geeks friend Bill Barry, Chief NASA Historian, recently got some stick time in the right hand seat of that very aircraft.

Anyway, after a while my Dad lit up cigar. Back then it wasn’t really unusual to smoke publicly, even on an airfield. He loved cigars and was, and had been a real cigar aficionado all his life. At that point Cuban’s weren’t available in the USA and he was smoking mostly Dominican’s that he bought by the box of 50. This was long before cigars became popular and the ones he smoked back then would go for $50 or $60 a piece based on today’s cigar economy.

He lit up his cigar and said, “So, would you like to take a ride on the Tri-Motor?” Now remember, I was at least 25 years old then, I don’t remember exactly, but I lit up like a little boy. “Sure I said, let’s go!” My Dad said that he’d rather stay on the ground, enjoy his cigar and relax. He smoked big cigars and they would last him about 45 minutes. He handed me the $35 for the ticket and told me to go have a good flight.

I was a little disappointed to go by myself but not at all reluctant. I took the cash, bought my ticket, and had a wonderful flight. I wish I were a camera guy as I have no photos, nothing but faded memories of rattan seats, a high wing, loud engines, and a low altitude flight that was all too short.

When I got back down my Dad ask me how it was. I remember telling him all about it and I can see his face and smile in my mind now as I think about it. We left not too long after that and went back to town for some terrific Mexican food, and beers at Casa Que Pasa. Then we headed to my regular hangout bar, Mr. Bojangles where my favorite new-grass band, The New Vinton County Frogwhompers Marching Singing Strumming and a Plucking Society Incorporated was playing. It was a great day!

But remember, I said this little air-show in Athens, Ohio was illustrative of the kind of relationship my Dad and I had. Here’s why, and understand it’s only recently that I’ve come to realize this part of it all.

Remember I said my Dad lit up a cigar and then asked me if I wanted to go fly on the Ford Tri-Motor, and then handed me the $35 for a ticket? Back then $35 was a lot of money. I certainly didn’t have that kind of cash to spend on a joy-ride. He’d never flown on a Ford Tri-Motor before, and never did before he passed, but he wanted to make sure I had the experience. I’m pretty sure he lit that cigar first on purpose because he really didn’t have the cash for two tickets, yet wanted to give me that thrill and not have to talk about the money. It’s only now, on reflection, that I realize he did it as a way to bow out gracefully and still give me, his Airplane Geek son a flying experience I would never forget. That’s the kind of guy he was.

So yes, while this story was started just after the Jewish New Year, it’s still a holiday story, or maybe a story for anytime. So thanks Dad, thanks for everything. And know whenever I go to a museum, drink a great beer, see an airplane, and countless other things, I think of you, and I miss you.

For the Jetwhine, here in Portland, Maine

Happy New Year,

From your Main(e) man, Micah

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