Wings

As I mentioned in Balloon Memory, I first flew alone in 1971. Today’s Object At Hand is a memento of that trip. A pair of vintage tin TWA Junior Pilot wings.

Disclosure: This pair I now own stands in for the (lost) wings that were pinned on me in 1971. They are the same vintage and evocation, if not the precise provenance of that original pair.

I was sent alone to fly the friendly skies at the age of ten because my father had to remain behind to manage a minor crisis in a NASA project, instead of escorting me home. I was quite uneasy about flying alone. Probably petrified. My father proposed a wager: If I enjoyed the flight, he’d give me a whole dollar. This was serious money to me in 1971; 100 gumballs, or 10 big candy bars, or a box of Lego plus change.

I was reminded of this wager when I read this post by Dale McGowan encouraging his children to overcome their fear. Thus inspired to relay my own story, I sought my original wings (futile) and sought and found a matching tin pair. TWA had switched to plastic in the 1970’s.

Anyway, back in South Dakota, dad handed me off to a stewardess on the tarmac (this was before enclosed jet-ways) and I walked unsteadily up the stairs into the big 727. The uniformed pretty miss saw how terrified I was, and plied me with sweets there in the front seat of the cabin, and pinned the wings on my jacket.

She promised me that I could see the cockpit after the first leg of the flight, possibly implying a contingency on my good behavior. Now this interested me.

I don’t remember the flight from Sioux Falls to (I’m guessing) Chicago. But I do remember getting a tour of the cockpit. So many dials and switches in such a small room. In retrospect, the tour served as a distraction to have me wait as the other passengers deplaned, so they could escort me to the pilot’s lounge to wait for my next leg. So I idled there for about an hour, watching pilots have a completely conventional snack. It was somehow disillusioning. I suppose that I’d expected these Gods of the Airways to eat space food or something. Remember, this was the pinnacle of the space age.

Then another stewardess came for me. She had to persuade me that yes, she was going to take me to the plane home to Saint Louis. I’d expected that the escort appointed by my father would convey me personally all the way to my mother. But I adjusted to the change, and the rest of the flight was anti-climactic. I tried to score another visit to the cockpit, but this new stew took me off the plane first and handed me to my mother, who was waiting at the gate.

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1 Response to “Wings”


  1. 1 Dan Klarmann May 28, 2010 at 6:19 am

    The politically correct reader might balk at my use of “stew” and “stewardess”. This was an intentional time-ist attempt to evoke that era when flight attendants still had to be young, pretty, tall, thin, and personable. And male flight attendants were as rare as female pilots.


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