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Owner's Corner

Lloyd Stephens, Aircraft Owner WVFC  

Holiday Lights

I learned how to fly at Dee Thurmond Flight Service at SJC back in 1975.  Dee was a somewhat crusty woman in her mid 50’s back in those days, but a superb pilot with a ton of experience.  I always liked to look at the photo she had up on the wall, of her looking back down the aisle from the left seat of a DC-3.  Her “Flight Service” was a pretty minimal operation oriented principally toward instruction.  She had three Cessna 150s, a 172, a Beech Sundowner, and a Beech TravelAir (the forerunner to the Baron)--for multi engine instruction--that she shared with her friend Betty Hicks, a well known aviator and golf pro, who was also the coordinator for the aviation department at Foothill College. 

Besides herself, Dee had two or three other instructors who did the basic training.  She also had a couple of dogs (Aileron and Chandelle) who hung out around the office, and they also got to fly from time to time, though usually not with students.  She was an FAA designated examiner, so she did all of the phase checks and the check rides.  I learned in the C-150s, all of which had non-standard panels, so you had to look to see where the instruments were on the one you were flying.  For the most part, I flew with Dee’s other instructors and just saw Dee around the office.  Not too long before the Holiday season, I was ready for the check ride for my Private license.  Dee, of course, was the examiner.  She put me through my paces, and must have liked what she saw because she signed me off for my license.  I continued to fly and take instruction there for several months afterwards.

About mid-December Dee asked me if I’d been up to see the Christmas lights from the air.  I hadn’t, but I was just getting checked out in her 172 at the time, so she said we’d go up at night to see them.  On the night we planned to go up it was pretty hazy with only 3 miles reported visibility.  I was a little hesitant to go because I was worried that, as the temperature dropped, so would the visibility, and the field would become IFR.  Not to worry, said Dee, we’ll just stay in the pattern and then we can land even if the visibility drops.  I said I didn’t think that we could see much in the way of lights from the pattern, but Dee said we’d see plenty.  So my girlfriend and Dee and I piled into the 172 and took off into the night.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that Dee had called the tower and told them that we wanted to tour the valley and see the lights. 

On takeoff from Runway 29 the tower told us to fly a “wide downwind.”  I started to turn what I thought was a pretty wide downwind, but Dee insisted that it wasn’t nearly wide enough.  We ended up out by the Pruneyard, and at that time the tower told us to make a “wide 360” for spacing, although there wasn’t much in the way of traffic that night, and, on Dee’s insistence that I make it really wide, that took us all the way out to Los Gatos.  Back near the Pruneyard we were then told to extend our downwind, so we went well out past downtown San Jose before we came back to the airport.  After a couple of other trips around a somewhat extended pattern, I was night current in the 172 and, as promised, we had seen a lot of Christmas lights from the air.  Of course, I had caught on to what was happening about the time we headed out to Los Gatos, so Dee had to confess that she had arranged the whole thing with the tower but didn’t want to let me in on it right away.  For me, it was quite a memorable flight, and I got quite a kick out of Dee arranging it.

Pilots tend to get a little blasé about flying, but for folks who don’t fly, night flying over the valley at this time of year is absolutely magical.  For those of you who aren’t night current, this is a great time of the year to go up and do a few night take offs and landings.  And when you are current, grab your spouse, significant other, or a couple of friends and go up to see the lights.  You’ll enjoy it.  You might want to pick a nice clear, calm night, though, because that’s the best for passengers---and because the tower controller might not be as cooperative as the one at SJC that night. 

From all the owners:  Best Wishes for the Holidays and a Very Happy New Year!!