My first airplane flight almost wasn’t. Let me explain.
I’ve always liked airplanes, models as well as the real things. My first model was given to me by an older first cousin, years before I was capable of building it. And, during the 40s and 50s our home in ‘Doodleville’ of south Jackson, MS was right on the landing pattern of Delta and Southern airlines flying into Hawkins Field.
Two weeks after graduating from Mississippi College in 1963, I was sworn into the 172nd Military Airlift Group of the Mississippi Air National Guard… and immediately shipped off to basic training at Lackland Airforce Base in San Antonio, Texas. That trip was to be the very first airplane flight in my life… the flight that almost wasn’t.
At that time the 172nd was flying the aircraft in the photo… the Lockheed Super Connie, the military version of the highly successful Super Constellation commercial airliner.
I was really looking forward to that first flight. It seems strange now, for someone who’d always loved all things flying, that this was to be my very first flight – at age twenty-two! But that was how it happened. And now, that exciting time had finally come!
One by one, the four powerful engines roared to life, and the whole airframe shook like a living being. I’m sure I must have been grinning from ear to ear. After a brief engine warm-up, we taxied out to the end of the runway. Soon… we’d be airborne!
The engines roared to full power and the plane lunged forward. We slowly gathered speed, and within seconds we were really streaking. Then suddenly, all four engines throttled back, the brakes began squealing, and we came to a squealing stop near the end of the runway. The engines were shut down. A few moments later the pilot walked back through the cabin explaining that ‘we’d had a slight problem.’ I didn’t consider not being able to takeoff as ‘a slight problem.’
Soon, a truck came along side, and a couple of mechanics set up a ladder next to an engine on the right side. They removed a few panels to expose the ‘problem’ motor, and began ‘tinkering.’ After about twenty minutes, they put the panels back in place, climbed down the ladder and had a pow-pow with the flight crew beneath the engine. A few minutes later the mechanics drove off. Our crew came back aboard and announced that were were going to ‘try it again.’ That was the exact words!
Once again, the engines roared to life, we turned around, and taxied back to where we’d started… and, as the pilot said, we ‘tried it again.’
This time, our take-off was a complete success. After a quick climb out, we turned and headed toward Texas. I was on my very first airplane ride!
But that was not the end of the story. The ride to Texas was somewhat bumpy… actually, it was much like a roller-coaster ride on a very old and rickety roller-coaster! I was totally embarrassed when I became air-sick! How dare myself! I, the lover of airplanes, was air-sick! How mortifying! It was all that I could do to keep the contents of my stomach down. When we landed at Lackland I was probably the only one on the base to be GLAD and THANKFUL to be down on the ground so that I could begin basic training!
But that’s not the end of the ‘Bill got air-sick on his first flight’ story.
My time in Texas included about a month and a half of basic training in San Antonio, and then on to technical school in Wichita Falls which lasted until the second week of December. A holiday fell about the mid point of that time which effectively gave us three days ‘off,’ Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. We were allowed to travel only a hundred miles, which was great for those from Texas… but to Mississippi was much farther. Taking a HUGE chance, I booked a flight HOME anyway. (Technically, I was AWOL!)
My second flight would be with Delta Airlines. And this time, I firmly RESOLVED that I would NOT get air-sick. I willed myself not to. And, to prove to myself that I would not… I tempted fate! This was in the mid 1960s, before the days of airline peanuts. Back in those day, hot MEALS of REAL FOOD was served. We also had a SELECTION! So I chose FRIED FISH… and selected MILK as my drink! And yes, I ate it all! And no, I didn’t get sick! Also… I’ve never gotten air-sick again!