The World's Busiest Airport – Part 2
told by Bill Reyer
I have had the privilege of sharing a few of the five thousand hours that Lyle has spent flying an airplane. Each hour was interesting especially since Lyle focuses on the tasks at hand and either cannot or will not discuss the evils of government and the perfidy of politicians while so engaged. It is difficult to pick one Lyle experience out of the twenty plus years we have known each other. Since much of our time together has been in and about aviation any experience must of necessity come from that trove in Lyle’s and my logbook.
Whenever I had a chance to hitch a ride to wherever Lyle was going in those days I would gladly run and meet him from wherever he was taking off. Often he was gracious or just plain lacking in something better to do he would fly into my backyard in Westhampton and pick me up for an adventure. We flew to Ohio, California, Arizona, the Carolinas, Florida and all around Chicago and Wisconsin and there was that scary flight from Phoenix chasing and catching up with an early snow and howling ice shit storm, which grounded everything but Lyle and that landing in in what seemed like a crosswind hurricane at (then) Palwaukee that had the guy in the tower saying Wow! Whatta landing!
But my most memorable trip and experience was the opportunity I had with Lyle in my plane going to the aviation gathering in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 2014. Oshkosh, during the last week in July, is the site of one aviation’s busiest and exciting events. It is reported that during that one week Wittman Airport has more take offs and landings than any airport in the world. Every type of aircraft, all sizes and shapes come to that gathering once a year. It is a event that is a bucket list Mecca and a Haj that all pilots would like to make. It never occurred to me that I would ever do it in my 1963 wind up toy Piper cub.
One of the more interesting and often annoying Lyle traits is his persistence and the ability to get under one's skin. Somehow he got the idea that flying a small, slow tube and canvas airplane like a Piper Supercub a thousand or so miles there and back would be a real cool idea. He must have known his target audience as I was sorely tempted but scared shitless about doing it. He kept at it each time we spoke on the phone and I listened but had serious doubts about my ability despite years of flying. Most of my flights were for that $100 hamburger a few miles down the way from my home base. Lyle kept at me and I allowed him to encourage me and I figured I would shut him down by suggesting a non-starter in that I would do the trip if only he could come along.
Before I could take back my words Lyle said he would fly to NYC, take lessons to get current in my tail wheel antique and we would fly west to Oshkosh. The months passed and July arrived and so did Lyle. I was prepared for an extended stay with Lyle taking flight lessons in New Jersey forever and maybe someday hopefully never, we would embark for Oshkosh. Well, it took Lyle one hour of instruction on a Friday and was about to be stamped ok but he opted for a second lesson just to make sure and he was good to go. I thought we could hang out in NY for a spell but the next day on Saturday we were airborne and on our way. We left New Jersey and headed for Lock Haven, PA, our first stop and the plane’s birthplace. I was still dazzled from the rapidity in which we flight planned and fled the scene. We refueled and I guess my head was still back home asleep and I failed to secure the gas cap on one tank and we merrily flew across Pennsylvania trailing aviation gas over the whole state. The trip was going to be at “game over” without a gas cap but a call back to Lock Haven turned it up on the tarmac where it had popped off. An unexpected but required overnight on the Penn/Ohio border found us sharing a stinky smoking room in a motel while awaiting a Fed Ex overnight gas cap delivery. The next morning Fedex came through with the undamaged cap and we were on our way. We split the flying with each of us alternately folding our six-foot frames into the back seat. We sat out a storm in Ohio, flew under scud low and slow and over the course of the day got ourselves to Waukegan where I was totally fried and flopped into the an easy chair in the bosom of the Ark and swilled several tumblers of scotch. I slept the sleep of the dead that night. But over the weekend in Chicago some doubt and anxiety started to creep into my head. I was uncertain whether to go on or turn around hightail it for home being satisfied with having gotten as far as I had. Lyle said nothing and was not judgmental and seemed willing to do whatever was easier for me and after wrestling with myself decided to damn the torpedoes, bite the bullet and mixed metaphors aside, set out for Oshkosh. Lyle smiled and expressed his approval. The next day we agreed Lyle would be better taking the front seat as pilot in command and making the trip into OSH from Waukegan, as it required a bunch of dance moves. He was familiar with the drill, which involved merging into a moving line of aircraft crossing at right angles to our flight path and joining the double Conga line of traffic being vectored into the airport. It was fairly busy with planes at two levels and lots of them. Acknowledgment of landing instructions radioed into us was by rocking of the wings. No verbal communication to the controllers except the dutiful following of instructions. Planes were landing every thirty seconds and our landing was on the first fraction of the runway and Lyle was asked to do a fast taxi. He obliged by making the longest airborne taxi that day at Oshkosh. We landed finally at the end of our taxi and were finally escorted to vintage parking. I assume it was in regard to the plane’s age and not the guys in it since we were probably at the mean age of the coots and codgers attending that day. We hung out for the day and flew back at sunset to Waukegan. It was a day to remember.
The trip was an experience worthy of the bucket list and although I knew Lyle was a helluva pilot (he flew and landed the Cub lots better than I) he was also a great friend and instructor. His steady competence and calm approach throughout gave me the confidence to return home solo and I logged the longest trip I ever made by myself. There was no wild and crazy moment but only the great feeling to be in the company of a good friend and encouraging mentor. I hope there are more such moments.
Happy Birthday Lyle