“Real moments fleetingly disappear from the mind, but good memories remain in the heart forever.”—Unknown
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“Leon, I randomly stumbled across your article where you mentioned N7804G,” the message in my email inbox last week read.
The article was one about my father, and the reference was to the “N” number on an airplane, a series of letters and numbers affixed to each aircraft worldwide as a means of registration and identification. Sort of like the license plate on your car.
N7804G was assigned to a green and white 1970 Cessna 172 based at the old Mount Pleasant Airport in the mid-70s. Owner Grady Firmin operated the aircraft as a flying club, a means of making flying more affordable by sharing expenses among member pilots.
“I thought I would reach out to you since for the past three years I have owned N7804G,” the message from Adam M. Wells continued. “She’s now kept in Ohio just east of Columbus. Since you flew 04G, she has had a new paint job and probably some other changes. Still has the same green plastic interior. Attached is a pic of N7804G and N7805G from annual (inspection) two years ago. Turns out her sister plane is now an Ohio plane too.”
The message concluded with, “I hope all is well with you. My wife and I are planning a trip to TX at some point in the next year. If you want to take another spin in 04G, we can meet up.”
“Absolutely,” was my first flash of excitement. What could be more fun than one more trip around the patch in an airplane with which one shared so many memories? My quick response was a sincere “thank you” for contacting me and for sending a current photo. I concluded with, “Let me know if you do make it down this way.”
The exchange and the memories it stirred up whirled in my mind. I started flight training and soloed in April of 1974. Grady established an aviation service at the airport not long after that and became my instructor, continuing my journey toward becoming a licensed pilot. That’s where “Zero Four Golf,” her name in aviation speak, and I first met.
She served me faithfully through the required hours and mandated cross-country trips. And she was my date for the dance when the big day came for my certification flight with an FAA check-ride pilot at what was then Gregg County Airport known today as East Texas Regional Airport.
Hanger talk back then was filled with stories of the legendary check-ride pilot at the East Texas airport whose formidable reputation for flunking student pilots caused shudders at the very mention of his name. So, who did I get with the luck of the draw that Saturday morning? Yep, that one.
Nervous jitters set in as I started the walk-around preflight inspection. Walking into the trailing edge of the wing probably didn’t earn me any bonus points. The bleeding was worse than the wound, but the worst part was the feeling that I had just flunked without ever flying the plane.
Lady luck may have been snoozing when I was assigned a check-ride pilot, but she woke up just in time when he threw a simulated emergency at me during landing. I compensated for his unexpected test with a maneuver Grady taught me saying, “you won’t need this on the check ride, but it’s good to know.” It worked and I landed 04G “on the numbers.”
“The legend” everyone feared was impressed, and I passed the test.
Memories that would follow during my days aloft with 04G are many and remain vivid. One highlight was flying down to Harlingen for the CAF Air Show and camping under 04G’s wing when the historic aircraft association was located there. Also crossing my mind is a hot, humid August takeoff from a small Texas tree-lined strip when she lifted me safely above the treetops defying any reasonable density altitude calculation. And there is the one last flight she performed for me; one for which I was not the pilot.
Grady made that flight to Abilene where I was living and transported my first child back to East Texas for burial. Ashley died unexpectedly one night from a rare childhood disease a week before his first birthday in 1977, and 04G’s final mission for me was to bring him home.
Yes, one more ride in the forgiving aircraft that never faltered—well, unless you count that time the altimeter malfunctioned crossing directly over DFW at 12,000 feet.
I’m sure she’s made lots of memories with other pilots since the last time we had fun dodging tall white clouds on hot Texas summer days just for fun. But I’ll bet she still remembers those moments we shared together.
I can’t wait to see her.
(Photo at top of the page: N7804G and sequentially numbered aircraft N7805G photo from about two years ago courtesy of current owner Adam Wells.)
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