Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bob White Fly-In

It sure is nice when friends drop in for a little lunch and some chit-chat and it's especially nice to share a fly-in weekend with another airport just 35 miles away ... this past weekend was the annual Halloween fly-in breakfast at Flying W, home of the Flying FOOLZ (Florida Order Of Lightplane Zealots) and the Bob White Fly-in lunch at my home field in Zellwood.

The day couldn't have been nicer and the airplanes and people just kept coming. Pete confirmed we had 90 airplanes and about 200 people, but there could have been more (I had to leave a little early due to a nasty cold coming on and didn't want to spread it around). Here's a link to Joe Dunn's video:

This was just a small part of the lunch crowd ... Our airport owner, Pete Counsell, had plenty of hamburgers and hotdogs and fixings and belly washers and even desserts to make it a special gathering and, of course, there were the airplanes. 

When all is said and done, there's just no better way to spend a weekend than to be among birds of a feather on a perfect day for flying.

Monday, October 20, 2014


Pete beside her Civilian Pilot Training Program Taylorcraft, 1941

When I was about four or five, I learned my aunt, Margaret "Pete" Dowsett, had flown airplanes. This was momentous. There was (and still is) a little airport in my home town and at the time it had a rotating beacon that swept the sky outside my bedroom window nightly with green and white beams of light. The runway was flat, green grass and when I stood at the end it seemed a doorway to every place in the world beyond the mountains that surrounded on every side. My Aunt Pete could fly around the world! I stood in awe.

Born Margaret Joanna Seagle on September 11, 1912, she grew up on the family farm. In the 1930s she followed her younger sister, my mother, as a nursing student at St. Luke's Hospital in New York City and as a nanny to the children of their uncle, the parish priest of New York society's gateway to Heaven - Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church on the upper west side. While in New York, she made a number of friends through the church members. One of those friends was a socialite and member of the St. Stephen's elite named Ruth Nichols. 
Ruth Nichols beside the Lockheed Vega owned by Crosley Radio Corporation and used by her to set records for eastbound and westbound transcontinental flight (with stops), altitude records and speed records. She made a transatlantic solo attempt but crash landed at St. Johns, Newfoundland, breaking her back in five places. Several months later with the airplane rebuilt and herself in a steel corset she set a nonstop distance record for women, flying from Burbank CA to Louisville KY. Nichols became a director of the prestigious Long Island Aviation Country Club, a managing director of the Fairchild Aircraft Manufacturing Company and was inducted posthumously into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1992.

Ruth Nichols was often branded the "Flying Debutante" by the New York press and she hated it. This was a serious pilot. She was introduced to flying with a high school graduation present from her father, who was prominent in his own right as one of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders and a member of the New York Stock Exchange. The gift was an airplane ride with Eddie Stinson and, though sickened by Stinson's aerobatics, she was immediately bitten by the flying bug. She secretly took flying lessons while a student at Wellesly College and was one of the first two licensed female pilots in the U.S. Her resume is long and varied and readily available with an internet search but the part that intersected with my Aunt Pete was her enthusiasm for the useful employment of airplanes.

In 1939, Ruth organized Relief Wings, a civilian air ambulance service, and by the fall of 1941 had established centers in most states. Relief Wings was absorbed into the Civil Air Patrol when the United States entered World War II in December 1941. Pete was an early recruit and began her own flight training under the Civilian Pilot Training Program ... but first there was "the parade".

Ruth Nichols (L), unnamed nurse, and 29 year old "Pete" Seagle (R) 
Ruth, Pete and a nurse/student pilot took part in the New York Women's Parade down Fifth Avenue. The parade organizers first refused to grant a permit for an airplane on the back of a flatbed truck, but Ruth picked up the phone and called a family friend - the Mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia - and that was that. Speed's Flying Service removed the wings of the J-3 Cub to make the drive from Flushing, Long Island, into Manhattan and bolted them back on again once their place in the parade was reached.

In 1942, Pete was nursing in Massachusetts. Wartime rules prohibited civilian flying within 50 miles of the coast. The commute to the closest training field proved too much and Pete eventually had to give up her plans to fly. It was a reluctant decision but by no means the end of her love affair with flying.

Photo scans thanks to Granddaughter Christena

Kids do the darndest things. Fall of the year is a wonderful time to fly in the mountains of western North Carolina and it so happened that there was a fellow giving hot air balloon rides so for her 80th and 90th birthdays, Pete was once again in the air, enjoying the view.

So it happens that in the natural course of life we eventually come to the end of it. We don't know when; all we can hope for is that at the end we have given more than we received, loved well and been loved in return. I miss her hugs, miss holding her hand and cannot help but to feel a great loss, now that she is gone. On the other hand, I remember her quick smile, her gentle counsel, her loving tolerance of my shenanigans, and how she waved to me from her garden when I flew over her house so many times. 

Once, on a trip to a faraway place, I found myself in an internet cafe with a book beside me by Antoine de St. Exupery, a French pilot and writer par excellence who was also a friend of Charles and Anne Lindbergh; I was looking for more information on their relationship. Upon St. Ex's death during World War II, Anne Lindbergh wrote of her regrets to her husband. I found his handwritten reply: "Do you have so little faith that you would mourn someone who is dead?" I thought that harsh, writing to someone in mourning, but on reflection, and I have done so many times, it speaks to a greater truth and is a most appropriate remark.

With love,
Margaret Joanna Seagle Dowsett
September 11, 1912
October 13, 2014