1980s wooden toy airplane

The day I co-piloted and flew a plane at three years old

I remember the day my favorite uncle picked me up at daycare to go flying. Originally I thought I was four, but a quick google search on a historical event and a phone call to my Dad tonight confirms I was only three. So, this was 1985. Must have been spring, or could have been fall, otherwise my mom would have been home with me since she had summers off as a teacher.

1980s daycare in Madison, Wisconsin
Me at my daycare

I was playing with a big red firetruck in the driveway of the daycare. It was one of those large ones a kid can sit in and drive. I always wanted a hot pink Barbie car like it growing up but we never had anything like that, too expensive. I must have thought this was the next best thing. (My oldest sister once promised to buy me one if I didn’t talk in the car for a whole day on a road trip we took out west. I did what she said but never got the Barbie car. I still remind her of this.)

This day in 1985, I was leaving early for a special adventure with my mom’s oldest brother who was a pilot. (He served in the United States Air Force as a rescue helicopter pilot in Vietnam.) He would often go flying for fun in small two seat-er planes at our nearby airport in Madison, Wisconsin. I admired him so much and remember being so proud and excited when I learned he was going to take me flying, just me and him.

For some reason that red fire truck and him walking up the driveway sticks in my mind. I must have been so excited to be going up flying with him. I had to leave one of the coolest toys for the other kids to play with, but must have felt like I had other things to do. Bye bye firetruck. Hello airplane!

1980s wooden toy airplane
My toy airplane

Tonight I’m looking at a small wooden toy bi-plane. It was a little dusty when I pulled it out of the curio cabinet I keep most of my little treasures in. I couldn’t start writing about it and my memories until I took a cotton Q-tip out of my bathroom and carefully wiped it clean. Ahh, that’s better. It’s a little wobbly and loose, but the propeller still moves. It’s the inspiration for my nostalgic story here.

Growing up, I wanted to be a pilot like my uncle. When he took me flying that day it was the first time I had ever been in a plane that I can remember. (My parents took me to New Jersey when I was an infant to visit my grandparents but I don’t remember that) Although I’m sure at the time I was so impressed with how small everything got when we were up in the sky, the thing I remember most was when he let me take the steering wheel and control the plane! I got to pull the wheel out and push it in, which made the plane go up and down. (I think I’ve got that right, if not, it’s just the opposite.)

That feeling of being in control of such a large thing like a plane at only three years old I believe has shaped my perspective on life. I realized in that moment how I could make a choice, take an action, and then see and feel a reaction immediately. It made me feel unafraid to take risks, and to be grateful for having guidance and mentors like my uncle that offered me opportunities like this. I couldn’t believe he simply let me try. Even for less than 15 seconds, it was enough to stick in my mind as a really cool experience I’ll never forget. It’s what I think of when I look at this toy airplane.

Whenever I’d see my uncle I’d tell him I wanted to be a pilot. It always seemed to make him feel proud and happy. I might have gotten this toy from him. I can’t remember honestly, but I do know I held on to the idea of being a pilot, at least for a little while.

1980s miniature toy bi-plane
The back of my toy plane

My Dad has told me more than once over the years that I started to change my mind about wanting to be a pilot when I saw footage on TV about the space shuttle The Challenger crash. Like I mentioned above, after doing a quick google search here tonight, I found out that happened January 28, 1986. At only three years old I started to put it together in my mind that flying could be dangerous. I remember telling my aunt at a dance recital years later that I was a afraid my uncle would be so sad if he knew I might have changed my mind about being a pilot. Of course he understood, but this is what comes to mind when I see this little plane.

After I initially posted the above story I found the picture below. It’s of my Uncle Len and me at the EAA air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin a few years after he first took me flying. He told me after he read my blog that he remembered me as this bouncy girl sitting on a boat cushion he brought along so I could see out the side window. I just had to add that detail and our picture here. (added May 31, 2018)

1980s EAA Air Show Oshkosh, Wisconsin
1980s EAA Air Show Oshkosh, Wisconsin

How about you? What did you want to be growing up? Is there a story you remember or a person you looked up to that influenced your childhood dream? I’d love to hear your nostalgic story. Leave a comment below.

3 thoughts on “The day I co-piloted and flew a plane at three years old”

  1. Your Grandpa K taught you and your sisters how to make paper airplanes. He also enjoyed making paper hats out of newspaper. He would fold the paper one way for an airplane and another for a hat. The hat would keep the sun out of your eyes and protect the top of your head. It was very helpful for anyone who did not have a lot of hair, young children and adults included.

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