Of course this web site is all about WHY we love flying and I’ll tell you MY reasons, one of these days. But while reading through some of the other contributions, I started thinking back, and wondering how it all started for me. After all, nobody in my family flies. And I don’t think any of them set foot in an aircraft before I did, let alone pilot one!
Here’s what happened …
Way back when—1957 or so—I was on one of my many visits to my paternal grandparents. Their house, in east Netherlands, near a town called Deventer, was a former farmhouse of the type poor farmers of the region owned in those days.
My grandparents had bought the house and grandpa, who was a photographer by profession, had a workshop in the former stable and built his darkroom over the cellar. Grandma ran a tobacco and sweets shop (behind the left window in the picture above).
I would sleep in the attic, which was the room my father and his brother occupied before they left the house. Some of their things had remained behind. Some old books, some pictures, an old porcelain wash bowl with a can of freezing cold water … and a bright shining metal aircraft model, about 3 inches long.
The little aircraft was nothing more than an aircraft shape, milled out of steel. No details on it, no undercarriage, no prop, no paint, no nothing. But it clearly was an aircraft and it always sat on a little shelf above one of the beds. It intrigued me, of course. We didn’t have many toys back then. Everybody was relatively poor, there were no luxury items in the shops; Holland was just getting back on its knees after the devastating war years!
I don’t know why, but I still remember standing in that room, with the model in my little hands, when my uncle walked in and told me I could have it! I don’t think I ever properly thanked him for it. I am not a man of (spoken) words and was already shy back then. But I am sure that little model aircraft changed the course of my life for the next 50 years.
It was one of my favorite toys. The little shiny aircraft must have literally ”flown” miles and miles through my bedroom, making loops and rolls, dives and landings … all without wheels, prop or engine.
My father must have noticed. One day we took the car (he had one of the first company cars in the country) and drove to Amsterdam. At that time there were no hijackers, no terrorists, no paranoid guards with their excessive rules and regulations. So it was possible to drive to the airport, stop on a little dike near the main entrance, and park next to the fence.
My dad would put me on the roof of the car, which gave me a clear view of the small, brick, airport building. What I saw and remember most were the large, three-tailed aircraft. The Airliners were occasionally visible when they taxied away from the “terminal,” and I soon learned these were Lockheed Constellations, or “Connie’s” (belonging to KLM, the world’s oldest airline, of course).
Not long after that, I was walking through town on the way to my guitar lesson, when I passed one of the two toy shops in town. I noticed a display of boxes with aircraft on them. “Airfix” they proclaimed. The first plastic model kits had arrived and I was sold.
For the next few years, all my savings went into those kits, and they got bigger and more complex, as my modeling skills increased. I moved rooms, going from the attic to a small room on the first floor because my brother’s electric train set grew and grew until there was no room for my bed anymore. My aircraft models were perched on shelves, hanging in fishing nets from the ceiling, and displayed in the ‘study’. Fortunately my father was doing very well, and as a result, so were we. We moved to a larger house and now had some “pocket money” every week. My brother saved his for railroad and radio stuff. I saved mine for airplane models, aviation books, brochures and magazines.
Most of those magazines were from the US (I learned English when I was 12, and French when I was 10), and showed what we then knew as “typical American” things; people in open cars, large sunglasses, women with waving hair and skirts, fathers with their children and all sorts of mechanical stuff like cars, models, boats and airplanes!
In Holland (and the rest of Europe) we didn’t even have television yet, or “hobbies” for that matter.
But my shiny little and oh-so-simple aircraft wasn’t forgotten. It had its place amongst the super detailed and very realistic Airfix and Revell kits for many more years. Even when I moved out and got married.
Now I was earning serious money, I could get into the expensive radio-control part of the hobby. But didn’t earn enough to get me anywhere near the business side of an airfield.
I had to stop after crashing my second R/C plane, and getting into a terrible row with my dear Nina about the money I had “wasted.” Nina came from a country where there was NO money and the word HOBBY had not even been invented yet!
So I went back to reading and visiting the airport with my ‘spotters radio’, listening to the aircraft and air traffic controllers, noting the models and their registrations in a big book… taking photos … and dreaming.
My first passenger flight was in 1985. And I had to wait until 1987 before I finally got my first real “stick time.”
But that’s a story for another day.
The next time we move, I must open the boxes that stayed closed the LAST time we moved. The little silver airplane must still be in one of them.
I now wish I had it on my desk.
What can I say?
Call me a softy.
About the Author
François A. Dumas. Yes, his second name really is Alexandre, but he didn’t write The Three Musketeers. He could have, though, because he’s a writer, a painter, a computer geek, an aviation freak and quite a few other things as well. So his “bio” depends on the audience it is aimed at.
In the case of Why Fly it will suffice to tell you that François was born and raised in The Netherlands, and has been trying to get out of there ever since (so far with little permanent success).
But he has traveled the world since he was three years old, married a foreign girl (they are STILL together after 35 years), and worked at a newspaper for 8 years before turning to IT. He spent 20 years as an executive working for a US company running IT teams in 21 countries, and then finally started his own company at the ripe age of 52.
Along the way he spent 50 years gazing at airplanes, reading about airplanes, building model airplanes and, ultimately, learning to fly real ones. Due to lack of money, lack of time and lack of money again, he never got a license. But … he did get to be a renowned flight sim specialist, writing in magazines and internet sites, and he now runs his own “flight-sim add-on company.”
If it flies on a PC, François knows about it!
And of course he still hangs out at any airfield whenever he gets a chance.