Here in Central Florida, there once was a guy named Joe. Joe was a fairly well known aviator, antiquer, and homebuilder.
His day job was flying Lears and DH-125s for a bank; his passion was flying antiques and homebuilts.
Timing and geography were not quite right for Joe and me to become good friends. We remained strong acquaintances throughout the time we occasionally bumped into one another. I believe we would have become great friends had we lived closer to one another.
I met Joe for the first time at the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. He and the fellow who flew with him for the bank, Woody, seemed to be at the FBO quite a bit when they were not flying.
I was always hanging around the FBO because like many, I started in aviation by pumping gas and washing airplanes. I was a typical “line boy” working at making ends meet while trying to break into the flying business.
What I always remember and liked about Joe and Woody was that unlike other prima donna corporate or airline pilots, they always treated everyone, even us lowly line boys, as real people. Whenever they were working on the company airplanes, they had time to answer questions. And both were a wealth of knowledge. They seemed to know everything about airplanes, aviation, pilots, and flying.
One day Joe showed up at the FBO in something a little different than the corporate jet. He flew in at the controls of an antique Waco cabin biplane. This was when I discovered he was an avid antiquer. He had rebuilt the airplane and it was beautiful. You could tell every stitch in the fabric was lovingly tied, the fabric itself sanded and polished to the highest sheen.
We started talking taildraggers and he became aware for the first time that I had learned how to fly the old-fashioned way in Piper J-3s. He became interested enough to ask more about where I learned to fly and I appreciated his genuine interest.
I also became more interested in his projects. We talked about the airplanes he had flown, built, and restored. As I said, many knew of Joe in Central Florida for his exquisite work with antique and homebuilt airplanes.
After my stint at the FBO, I went back to college to finish my degree and started working as a journalist. My head was still stuck in the clouds, however, and I returned to the Central Florida area to complete my instrument, commercial, and flight instructor ratings. Soon I was teaching full-time at a small country airport near Tampa that had one single grass runway.
I thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing as a flight instructor. I would take my students flying throughout the region and on one flight, my student and I landed at Lakeland’s Drane Field (see Old Airports, New Names).
While walking around the ramp to give my student a short break from flying, I was telling him about the different airplanes we came across. One of those was an antique 1929 Command-Aire biplane, of which I knew nothing. And there was Joe, working on it.
“Hey, you wanna go for a ride?” Joe asked. I looked at my student and asked if he was in a hurry to get back. He was my last student of the day, so I was open. He said he wouldn’t miss this for the world and the next thing that happened was Joe gave us a safety briefing and fitted us into the wide front open cockpit.
I will always remember that flight because it was the very first in an open cockpit biplane for my student and me. I will always also remember Joe’s graciousness and the way he looked when I turned around to see him flying. Joe was back there enjoying the flight more than we were.
Thank you, Mr. Araldi.
©2010 J. Clark