AidSpace Blog

Recalling a First Flight and Flying “Firsts”

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Roger Connor

Roger Connor, curator, National Air and Space Museum

When I was twelve, I had the opportunity to sit left seat on a Bell 206 JetRanger at Lunken Field in Cincinnati, Ohio. The pilot had me follow his movements on the cyclic while he hovered around the ramp. It was a transformative moment. I was hooked on helicopters and flying from that moment on. I started flying lessons when I was thirteen, soloed on my sixteenth birthday and earned my Private on my seventeenth.

- Roger Connor, curator, National Air and Space Museum

Dorothy Cochrane

Dorothy Cochrane, curator, National Air and Space Museum

I was at the old Page general aviation terminal at Dulles Airport (IAD), Virginia, to greet my brother-in-law who was flying into IAD from Trenton-Robbinsville Airport (N87) in New Jersey. He had recently joined a flying club up there and was eager to start building cross country time and share the fun with his brother Curt and me. Though I was working at the National Air and Space Museum, I had never flown in a general aviation aircraft. Peter arrived in the club’s four-seat Piper Cherokee Arrow making his first of many flights in it and later a T-tail Arrow to Dulles and even National Airport (DCA). Yes, those were the days when small general aviation aircraft could show up in the pattern at either airport and be merged into the arrivals. Still, it was best to consider the timing of your flight vis-a-vis airline traffic.

The next day Peter took Curt and me up for a beautiful flight over the Virginia countryside which began right at takeoff since Dulles was then still out in the middle of nowhere. Few buildings existed near the airport as the closest houses were in the little town of Herndon and the planned community of Reston which sat to the east along the only major road around, the Dulles Access Road. Dulles Airport had been carved out of farmland and one little community named Willard. It was our first low level (between 305 and 914 meters/1,000 and 3,000 feet) flight and we turned west to fly over Bull Run Mountain (378 meters/1,240 feet), Middleburg horse country, and up through the Thoroughfare Gap of the Blue Ridge Mountains at Front Royal into the Shenandoah Valley. The first airborne view of the Shenandoah River was amazing as it wound its way north to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, in lazy S-turns between the north-south mountain ridges. It was a gorgeous afternoon. On our return flight east, we watched the stunning concave roof of the Dulles terminal, designed by Eero Saarinen, come into view. Air Traffic Control (ATC) instructed Peter to plan to intercept the approach to Runway 19R and encouraged him several times to keep up his speed but the Arrow only cruised at 130 knots. As we approached the turn to final for 19R, ATC suddenly directed us to quickly continue east and turn onto the approach to 19L on the other side of the airport. We figured we might be in the way of airline traffic and indeed were. As we touched down in our little Piper Arrow on 19L, a Lockheed L-1011 Tristar airliner (which cruised at 500+ knots) touched down on 19R–simultaneous landings, thankfully on parallel runways. Being squashed on landing by the L-1011 would have certainly ruined our fine day of flying.

- Dorothy Cochrane, curator, National Air and Space Museum

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