The flight instructor stands at the hanger, wearing old-school Chucks, beige cargo pants, a beige safari style shirt and a beige bucket sun hat. He’s scribbling into a small notebook using one of the many pens lining his left breast pocket. He occasionally looks up, peering over black-rimmed 1960’s style glasses to coach aspiring pilots through the nuances of a pre-flight check, expertly interspersing amazing tales of aviation history, daring feats of flight and near death encounters he’s personally experienced during his long and storied career. He smiles with each recounting and you can see the joy in his eyes from having spent his life doing what he loved.
Dr. Bennett is in his 80’s now, still crawling under a sailplane to check for the signs of wear and material fatigue that a novice might miss. He’s literally a legend but you’d never know because he’s utterly unassuming and completely approachable. He spends his weekends, oftentimes in grueling heat, climbing into a cockpit to pass on his vast experience to anyone wise enough to learn from it.
The flight instruction is being offered by the MSU Soaring Club provided through Mississippi State University. We’ve brought our son Roman to one of their meetings after a chance and kind introduction to the club by Jamie Jones. We’re hoping that Roman can join the club and start taking flying lessons. But as we look around, there is no one else near his age or his size. At eleven years old, the parachute nearly swallows him and probably weighs as much he does!
Being the expert that he is, Dr. Bennett makes mention of the minimum weight needed to achieve the proper distribution in the glider. At this point, Dr. Bennett could have very legitimately said Roman was not quite old enough to participate and that would have been that. But, Dr. Bennett looks at Roman and asks him directly, “You want to fly, don’t you? How much do you weigh?” After receiving Roman’s weight, Dr. Bennett makes a calculation and proceeds to use lead bags (those that typically holds down a wing of the gliders while it is stowed in the hanger) to make up for the lack in weight. But then, we’re faced with a new problem -Roman’s legs aren’t long enough to reach the pedals. Again, Dr. Bennett makes every accommodation so Roman can fly, telling him, “For now, we’ll focus on teaching you the stick controls and I’ll take care of everything else.”
From that moment almost five years ago, Dr. George, as we affectionally refer to him now, has not stopped pouring into Roman. He uses every break, every free moment between flights to share another lesson to prepare Roman for the next stage of his development as an aviator. It is quite something to behold how this man’s love of flying extends beyond the subject to his students. And, he does it all so effortlessly.
I’m not interested in aviation beyond supporting our son’s interest in it, but the apparent love around what Dr. George does has a draw to it. It makes me want to be around him, regardless of what he’s talking about. He’s teaching my son to fly but his example is teaching me a valuable lesson too. I’m grateful. #52WoG