Monday, September 28, 2009

Remembering Don Huseth, Intrepid Flight Instructor, and the day of my first solo . . .

I learned to fly in a Cessna 150
My intrepid flight instructor, Don Huseth, passed away September 25, 2009. He was 87. I'm sure I singlehandedly aged him by at least 20 years during the time he taught me how to fly.
It was during the 1970's. I was a single mother, working full time, on a limited budget. Somehow I managed to scrape together the $30 per lesson I needed. But I couldn't afford more than one lesson a week. So each week, I would have to spend half of my hour relearning what I had already forgotten from the week before. This made for slow progress, to say the least.
I remember my first solo in vivid detail. Don worked with my brother John at Thunderbird Aviation at Flying Cloud Airport. For a couple of weeks he had alerted my brother that I would be ready to solo "next time."
When Don finally determined I was ready, there was nobody to cheer me on. Except Don, of course.
I remember the giddy feeling right after takeoff, looking down to see smiling Don standing there by the runway. Then came a sobering thought, "Don't forget, you've got to get this baby down again."
I was on my downwind leg, getting ready to turn on base, when another pilot called the tower to say he was approaching on a long final. The tower responded that she had a student pilot on a first solo on downwind leg so she would appreciate it if he would enter the pattern. The other pilot refused. He was given permission to land and asked to report to the tower immediately afterwards. Yikes!
Believe me, I didn't need airport drama at this point. Especially when I was feeling that I was the cause of it!
I was told to extend my downwind. This, in turn, gave me a long final.
When I successfully touched down and was taxiing to pick up Don, who was still standing by the runway with a "thumbs up," the tower made my day with a "Nice first solo!"
I went home, bursting with my news. Nobody was there. I was deflated. So I went to Target, clutching my first solo certificate, signed by Don Huseth. I bought a frame for it. I was hoping the cashier would ask me why I was buying the frame. She didn't. I told her anyway!
When I got back home both my son and a friend of mine were at my house. We went to Taco Bell to celebrate. We were excitedly talking about the events of the day when a man at a nearby booth came over. He said, "I couldn't help but overhear that you did your first solo today. I just had to come over to tell you I still remember every detail of my first solo. I am a captain for Northwest Airlines, but I have to say my first solo was the biggest thrill I ever had to this day."
I wish I remembered your name, NWA Captain! You added a very special postscript to that memorable day, so long ago.
And none of this would ever have happened if it weren't for the skill, patience and kindness of one Don Huseth.


Anonymous Terri Burnor said...

Great post! I can't believe that other pilot was such a jerk. I hope he got chewed out big time by the tower. My first solo was out of STP in 1995. I dearly love the polaroid my instructor took of me with the plane afterwards.

October 6, 2009 at 10:51 PM  

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