Flying Editors and Their First Airplane Loves

Editors reveal what aircraft was love at first flight.

You never forget your first love, especially the first airplane that captured your heart and ignited a passion for aviation forever. Take a look at the Flying editors and the story of first airplane loves. And feel free to tell us what your first love was down in the comments below!

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Robert Goyer: Cessna 195

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Like many of our readers, the first airplanes I trained in were four-seat models from Piper and Cessna. My family ran a handful of small flight schools in Southern California when I was a kid, and when I learned to fly it was in Warriors and Skyhawks, with a little Cessna 150 Aerobat training thrown in to give me a taste for some mild acro, which I loved.

But my first real love was a boyhood crush. In the early 1970s my dad rebuilt a Cessna 195. He stripped the original paint and much to his delight, the metal beneath was nearly pristine. Our bare-metal 195 with blue trim was a beauty, and that was the airplane I fell in love with. The 195 was designed in the day when design was everything, and its interior was an art deco masterpiece, with a big control column, elegantly arrayed switches and knobs, and a throaty rumble of a sound unmatched in aviation.

At 12 years of age, my first (unofficial) lessons were given by my dad. From the right seat I learned to fly the big radial-engine bird straight and level, to turn in both directions and to climb and descend. My dad was smart enough to never let me try my hand at landing the big shiny bird, though he did let me follow him through on the controls during takeoff a few times. My takeaway, years before I'd become a pilot, was that flying required skill, awareness, some innate physical talent and a sensitivity to both the conditions and the machine. It was a lesson I took with me when I "learned to fly" several years later in less capable and far less romantic aircraft.

Martha Lunken: Piper J-3 Cub

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I learned to fly in an Ercoupe, was introduced to rudder pedals in a Piper Colt and then learned a lot more in a Cessna 120 on the hard surface runways at Lunken Airport. But life changed when a man named Dick Riddle at nearby grass Blue Ash Airport invited me to join a little club with four or five members and an 85-hp J-3.

From the first time I strapped myself into the back seat of that airplane it was a life-long love affair, and I've owned several more over the years. Cincinnati is "Aeronca Country," but I'm convinced it's in your DNA — you're either born with Cub genes or Champ genes and it never changes.

A contemplative nun I knew once described her choir stall in the monastery as her "official place before God in the world." I feel that way about the back seat of a Cub — it's where I'm most human, most "at home," happiest and, somehow, closest to my Creator.

Sure, I love AT-6s, DC-3s and almost anything that flies. But nothing beats a Cub for the pure joy of spinning, looping and cutting rolls of toilet paper; for the anxiety when you peer out the side, soaked by rain, trying to find the road back to the field; for the fun of landing in a farmer friend's hayfield; for the comfort of its almost human embrace when you're flying and sobbing over the loss of a friend. I've even wrapped my arms around the Cub, asking, "What are we going to do?"

Les Abend: Piper Cherokee Six and Super Cub

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When asked to write this assignment about my first airplane love, I found it difficult to include one without the other. Two airplanes defined my early years of professional aviation. Both of them became a part of my life within just months of each other. And both of them became fond memories.

First was N8895F, a brand new 1977 Cherokee Six 300. At 20 years old, having already embarked on the first step of my career as a flight instructor, this airplane was a small representative of the airliners I aspired to fly six years later. Assigned to be in charge of five other pilot employees from the FBO at my hometown airport in Syracuse, New York, I was the captain of N8895F when it was flown to Vero Beach, Florida. The other pilots were tasked with ferrying back five brand new Archers from the Piper factory. I carefully planned the entire trip, inclusive of a thorough weight and balance computation. Owning my own Cherokee Six today, I am still amazed at the hauling capability of the airplane and the rock steady flight control feel.

My second love was N83679, a Super Cub. It was my first tailwheel experience. I was reluctant to fly an airplane that would do nothing to further my airline career, but a friend convinced me to go for a ride anyhow. After a landing at the nearest grass strip, I was instantly hooked. Operating the Super Cub epitomized the art of flying. The airplane reminded me to stop and smell the roses.

As of this writing, N83679 is for sale. A sentimental purchase perhaps...?

Dick Karl: Beechcraft Musketeer

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Two-Four Tango Delta was covered in dust. She and her stable mates were for sale in a closed bid auction. There was no telling when she had last been flown. The battery was dead. I put in a bid anyway.

When I discovered I was the surprised new owner of a 1967 Beechcraft Musketeer, I raced to the hangar and arranged for a battery charge and permission to wash the airplane. The next day my instrument flight instructor, Gene Van Meter, held my hand as we took her around the patch at Louisville's KLOU airport. The funky radios only enhanced her intrigue.

Once cleaned up and started up, I had a beautiful airplane; Imron paint in fuchsia and white; serviceable, but unusual, avionics and good interior. This would be my platform for learning, and learning I did do. My first real instrument flying was in this airplane. My first memorable encounters with ice and thunderstorms were in this noble beast. There was an ADF antenna mounted just in front of the windshield. It would wag back and forth with the slightest accumulation of ice — like a scolding teacher.

Short on money and long on the romance of flying, I fashioned a carpet for the baggage compartment from a discount flooring warehouse throwaway. When the Bendix radio wouldn't click over to the next frequency, I took it apart. I had to pay to get it put back together. I installed a strobe light on the tail.

This airplane was the first of several and it was the one that proved I could do it, both financially and philosophically. I would sneak out to the hangar at night and turn the lights on. I touched and polished the airplane on weekends. I still do these very things — gifts given to me 42 years ago by 24TD.

Sam Weigel: Piper Lance

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Given all the beautiful airplanes one could easily fall in love (or lust) with, it seems strange that any pilot should be taken with the ungainly, workmanlike straight-wing Piper Lance — but I am. It wasn't love at first sight, I'll admit, but over the course of several years as a young Part 135 cargo pilot, I came to appreciate and then to adore my faithful, sturdy companion.

Though I committed youthful transgressions and subjected her to ignorant mistreatment, she never let me down. I stuffed her full of canceled checks, well above max gross weight at times (my company used stated, often farcical bag weights); her stubby Hershey Bar wings shouldered the burden without complaint. I nonchalantly filled out paperwork and ate lunch while hand flying sans autopilot in hard IMC; she kept that long snout pointed right where I put it. I took her up the Owens Valley into some of the worst turbulence on earth, and though my head bashed into her roof and the lap belt left bruises on my thighs, she never so much as shed a rivet.

Mind you, I flew some of the oldest, highest-time Lances known to man — several had over 20,000 hours. That she was such a good airplane after all those years of abuse at the hands of young freight dogs, after all those hellacious trips up the Owens Valley, was a real testament to the quality of the design. I took comfort in knowing I was only the latest in a long string of pilots that my Lance had taken care of, the last of many students to whom she taught lessons that would remain with us long after we moved on to faster, prettier airplanes.

Martha and John King: Piper Cherokee 140

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A few years after we married, when John and I looked for an airplane to learn to fly in, we bought a Cherokee 140 — N7599R. It was new (only 2 years old!), it had a good heater, it had a fancy instrument panel (compared to the Pacer, anyway) and a radio I could understand, it looked and felt solid and reliable.

More important to me, though, was now I was in control. In 99R I flew left seat, instead of in back as I had during my previous flying, and it totally changed my perception of general aviation. Now I was sovereign, in command of a traveling machine that would take me to new and exciting places whenever I wanted to go. I loved that feeling, and I loved the airplane that introduced me to it. And I loved that its N number ended in "R" — for Romance! — Martha King

My first flying was restricted to two-place, tube-and-fabric tailwheel airplanes, so the Cherokee Martha and I purchased together early in our marriage was a remarkable step-up. It was a four-place, all-metal, tricycle-gear, low-wing, instrument-capable airplane — to us the essence of what a modern airplane should be.

But to Martha and me it was far more than that. It was a complete change in our lifestyle. We embraced learning to fly it with full enthusiasm. We learned everything we could, as quickly as we could. As soon as possible, we used it to get our instrument ratings. The Cherokee and flying became the centerpiece of our lives. It was our travel machine, and our recreation. It launched us on a life full of a passion for flying that has never abated. — John King

Peter Garrison: Midget Mustang

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First loves, in retrospect, can be hard to account for. In fourth grade my heart beat faster when I sat close to Cecilia Revilla. I still see her dark Latina skin and eyes and the faint down on her upper lip, but in class pictures she now appears to have been no more adorable than any other little girl. A few years later I experienced a brief and violent crush on Bing Crosby's wife; when I google her now I find her indifferent, if not, in some pictures, distinctly repellent. For many years I longed to own a Jaguar XK-120; but when I finally got to drive one and found the steering wheel weirdly close to my chest, my passion cooled. And so with the first airplane I doted upon when I had reached an age at which having and flying an airplane were a practical possibility: the Midget Mustang. It looks homely to me now — foreshortened, angular, humped — but ah, the speed and agility it breathed then!

Alas, I never kissed Cecilia, nor even met Kathy Grant Crosby, nor drove an XK-120 down Sunset Boulevard. And I have never flown a Midget Mustang. I'll never know what I've missed!

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