Learning to Fly in the New River Gorge
I always wanted to learn to fly an airplane. I had no idea where it might lead me. In 1960 I showed up at Fayette Airport, just a hop and skip from my hometown of Oak Hill, and asked famed-pilot Frank Thomas ("Five-Dollar Frank") if I could work for him. I was willing to cut grass, wash airplanes, just about anything I could do in-trade for flying time.
Thankfully, he was kind enough to hire me and I proudly learned to fly from what I feel is one the greatest pilots in history. A true pilot's pilot.
In January of 1960 I took my first flying lesson in a Piper J-3 Cub. Not long after, at the age of 15, I took my first solo flight. During my years at Fayette Airport I was a member and Squadron Leader of Air Explorer Squadron 3, earning the coveted Air Explorer Silver Award. While working at the airport I made many flights over the New River Gorge before the New River Gorge Bridge was built.
I remember taking the long and winding road into the New River Gorge. Myself and other members of The Air Explorers would head to the river for a swim and on our way back we would load the truck up with river rocks. We used those rocks to make a small building at the Fayette Airport. It is still standing.
Over the years I moved to Indiana Pennsylvania, and became a charter board member (and 3-time President) of the Jimmy Stewart Museum. In July 2009, representing the Stewart family, I attended the National Aviation Hall of Fame induction ceremony. At the event, I had the opportunity to meet 13 Apollo astronauts including Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Gene Cernan, James Lovell, Charles Duke, Tom Stafford, Fred Haise, Vance Brand and others.
Learning to fly in Fayetteville, WV led me face-to-face with the first, second and last man on the moon: Armstrong, Aldrin and Cernan. It allowed me to meet the men behind "Houston we have a problem", (Apollo 13 crew members Lovell and Haise) and the first woman commander of the space shuttle Eileen Collins. What an experience!
Each time I travel through Fayetteville and over the New River Gorge Bridge, I am reminded of my beginnings as a pilot. It brings a warmness to my heart and a tear to my eye.
Special Guest Post By:
Carson Greene, Jr.