A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

Learning How to Fly in 1948
by Gordon Eskridge (Apr 2009)

         I have always wanted to fly like a bird. I have had dreams of flying, and I am not sure what that means. At the age of eight, I had read every book about flying that I could find in the library of Oklahoma City. The book about the Wright Brothers and their first flight was great. They built their first airplane at home and so would I. My best friend, Tommy Rucker, and I had built about everything out of a cardboard box that we could think of from a log cabin to a fort for Daniel Boone reenactments to a two-man Buck Rogers space ship to fight Ming’s Marauders.

         We had just moved up to more durable products using wood. Our first project was a Model “A” Ford. We made it from an orange crate, some two-by-fours, and a pair of roller skates. The roller skates were the all-metal kind, which you could adjust to almost any length of foot or separate into four sets of wheels. We built the car and had a great time riding it down the hill on 35th Street, from Becky Finkelstine’s house, past Mary Hilderlie’s, then David Downing’s house where it went to the west across Dewey Street past MacOwen’s house and James Walker’s house down to the middle of the next block where Melba Money lived.

         Tommy and I felt that we could modify the car and turn it into an airplane, just by adding wings. We knew that the Wright Brother’s airplane’s wings were made of cloth so we could do the same. There was some cane growing in the back yard of Tommy’s house to make the wings frame. Because my dad was a part time painter, there were some old sheets in our garage that he used for drop cloths. We could use them to cover the wings of our airplane.

         We tied the cane poles together and formed the bi-plane wings and covered them with the drop cloths. They were very long, about ten feet, and two feet wide. We then mounted them on the orange crate fuselage. Behind the seat backrest we added the cardboard rudder and elevators. We oiled the wheels and pulled it to the top of the hill.

         We flipped a coin to see who would be the first to fly, and I won. So Tommy ran down to Dewey Street to make sure that no cars were coming, and at his signal down the hill I flew. I rolled very fast, the oil had been a good idea. The air streamed past my ears as never before, and I willed the airplane to fly. The wings filled with air, and as I went over a bump in the street I knew that this was it. I flew about two feet and then started rolling again across Dewey and down the second hill faster and faster, but never leaving the ground again.

         Having found that the bump in the street had started me flying we decided to build a bigger bump. The new bump was to be made out of an old wooden door that we had been using for the roof of our tree house and a stack of bricks.

         We built the ramp half-way down the first hill and pulled the airplane to the top of the hill. Tommy climbed into the airplane and was ready to fly. So I went down to the corner of Dewey and 35th Street to watch for cars. I signaled Tommy that it was OK and down the hill he sped and over the ramp. When he landed on the other side of the ramp, the wings folded down and dragged the airplane to a stop. We picked up the pieces of the airplane and dragged it back to our hanger, the garage behind Tommy’s house, and on to bigger and better ideas.

         If at first and then second, you don’t succeed, then try something else. Tommy and I decided to glide to the ground with a parachute from the top of Tommy’s house.

         The first thing you must do is see Alan Ladd in the movie “Paratrooper” to see how easy it was. Next you must start early in life, say, when you’re about eight years old. Then you must have a next-door neighbor that is younger than you are whose family has a large beach umbrella and a ladder.

         Climbing to the top of the house was not too hard, but carrying an umbrella up there was. I walked along the ridge of the roof to the highest peak near the edge of the roof on the side of the house where the yard is largest. There I would have the most space to glide around on the way to the ground.

         I opened the umbrella, and, taking a firm hold on the pole, I leaped into the air. The umbrella caught the air and I swung like a pendulum. Unfortunately, the air escaped out of the umbrella, and I landed hard on my back. Well, back to the drawing board.

         So we decided to make a real parachute out of a sheet and some ropes. We made it, and I climbed back to the rooftop and tied the ropes to my belt. I then walked out to the edge of the roof. But, remembering how fast the ground jumps up, I decided to throw the parachute up into the air to open it before I jumped off, and I did. Unfortunately, the parachute arched behind me and caught on the peak of the roof - I swung like Tarzan swinging on a vine back into the side of the house. The parachute ropes gave me a great wedgey.

         Tommy helped me down, and we called it a day. That ended my boyhood flying career.

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