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Pilot’s Last Flight

This article is part of a series:
  1. F-100 Super Sabre (The Hun)
  2. F-101 Voodoo (the One-Oh-Wonder)
  3. 1/1 RF-4C
  4. F-105 Thunderchief (Thud) – 1/1
  5. F-4 C/D Phantom II (Rhino)
  6. T-38 Talon (White Rocket)
  7. Assorted Cold War Warriors – 1/1
  8. F-4C, Cam Ranh Bay, S. Vietnam
  9.   Pilot’s Last Flight

For Christmas of 2003, I found a gentleman at a local airport who owned a T-28, one of the primary trainers my dad had flown earning his wings. I offered to pay him to take my dad up for a flight in his plane, but he agreed to do it and refused payment. For Christmas, dad unwrapped a certificate for the ride, and was ecstatic.

After the first of the year, in early 2004, we took him to the airport for his ride. Dad had been suffering from what the doctors called Parkinsons for about the last 5 years, though they were never sure that’s exactly what it was, and some thought it might actually have been the result of exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam. He could hardly even communicate effectively any more, and just getting him into the cockpit of that big bird was a chore. In that first photo of him and I, you can probably notice his slouching demeanor and almost vacant look on his face. That was typical.

When they returned, the plane owner told me he had turned the aircraft over to my dad, who took the controls and flew rock steady for most of the time they were in the air. Dad was way past the stage of being able to drive, and he could hardly even care for himself by this point. When dad got in the car for me to drive him home, he was more lucid and communicative than he had been for probably 2 years. His eyes were bright, shoulders not as slumped, and he conversed excitedly all the way home. All I can think is that the adrenaline kicked in. By the end of the year, dad was gone, saying good bye for the last time in Sept. He always has been my number one hero, not just as a pilot and USAF officer, but as a father and friend, and the best example I have of a faithful husband and compassionate minister.

I have just had all of the photos shared in this series made into a large format picture book, with that last portrait of him in an F-105 gracing the cover. As much as I love flight, aircraft and scale aircraft modeling, I love him even more, and it does and will bring tears to my eyes every time I flip through it (excuse me while I reach for a tissue…).

Thanks for indulging me just a little family background as I posted pictures that I thought most aircraft enthusiasts would enjoy. Now that I had these in a sharable format, I thought it would honor him and his love of flight to make them public.

4 additional images. Click to enlarge.


19 responses to Pilot’s Last Flight

  1. Greg @gkittinger, this is a great presentation of your memories. Dads are truly special when they are involved with their children. I think you had a good one!

    Thank you for sharing,
    James B

  2. Very touching. You were lucky to have him as your dad.

    There’s an interesting thing with these diseases, that something the person did that was intensely important to them in their life, if they come into contact with it again, it will “bring them back.” I had a similar experience when I interviewed Dan Bowling for “The Bridgebusters.” Fortunately he had sat down over the year he was first home from the war and written down everything, which was like being able to go back in time and interview him. Armed with that and other questions, and it being a “good day” for him, I sat down to do a 30-minute interview that turned into 3 hours after which his son (who had organized this) told me he hadn’t been so “there” in several years. Fortunately, he didn’t depart the pattern till three months after the book came out, and he managed to do two public appearances with me, where he was “there” and able to tell his story. His son and grandson were really thankful for the opportunity to get back with him before he left.

  3. Thanks so much Greg for posting these fine memories, pictures who knows will inspire some of us in this online community to build one of the fine aircraft he once flew in. I’m sure your father would be honored with this tribute you made to him. In these pictures, his memory lives on forever. @gkittinger

  4. Thank you again for this moving presentation, Greg.

  5. This series has turned into a quiet celebration of quite a man, Greg. This post is perfect. Impossible to read without stirred emotion – impossible to post these pictures without reliving those great memories too, of course. Thanks so much, again. Michel is absolutely right, although it is not your purpose, there will be a lot of jets presented on iM in 2019 built by those that look to these photos and stories and find inspiration. Magnificent!

  6. Paul, I salute you for saying all the right things. Greg, thank you so much for sharing these memories.

  7. Greg….Thanks for sharing the photo story about your dad. Clearly, a pilot’s pilot. Special.

  8. Thanks everyone. I didn’t intend this to weave itself into a story, just thought to share the photos as unique reference material. The series morphed into a bit of a catharsis as I attempted to provide some context for the photos.

    What a great bunch of guys to hang with! No pressure whatsoever, but it would be amazing to see any subjects posted that were inspired by the photos. It’s part of my objective to model each of his aircraft as close to original subjects as possible, and I’m just getting started on that one. I would selfishly love to see a group build focused on his aircraft, but I won’t launch that project, and I don’t want anyone to think I’m “asking.” If the idea strikes a chord it’ll take off, if not, I have plenty to do anyway!!!

    I won’t call you out individually, as so many have responded to the series with kind words throughout the series. Thanks again.

  9. This is similar to what I did for my Dad for his last birthday gift on June 10, 2014 three months before he passed except he “only” got a ride in EAA’s Travel Aire E-4000 at Pioneer airport. He had a glioblastoma and lasted 18 months. In July at EAA I was going to spring for a ride in Aluminum Overcast, but he wouldn’t have been able to get aboard as I could barely get him in and out of my car he had declined that fast in a month. (My Mom was pretty mad about me taking him in the first place, but I was okay with that. I wanted one last time at the airshow with him, brief as it was.) I wish he would’ve gone on Yankee Lady back in 2010 at Thunder Over Michigan, but he wouldn’t go unless I could go too and I couldn’t afford two tickets. That’s how my Dad was.

    Now I’m a little teary, but I love the shot of your Pop looking introspective in the Thud.

    1 attached image. Click to enlarge.

    • Josh, that’s a terrific photo. It’s a marvellous thing to share these memories with you and Greg. I never knew my father, and that fact often makes me want to be a better dad to my own sons. I thought about these posts today when I found my second son needed some help. I did what I could (which is more than he expected) and I just sent him a message to say I love him.

      Thanks.

      @jpatt1000
      @gkittinger

  10. A great tribute to great man, thanks for sharing it all, sir. Now I might have track down a F-101 conv, or Valom kit. or a Thud. My Pop left us in 2012, I was lucky enough to get him to the Cradle of Aviation on Long Island, before left. he helped build some of the subjects.

  11. Thank you for sharing your story and for sharing your dad with all of us.

    It is always hard to see people age and become a shadow of what they were and amazing when they flash back to life. Every time my grandfather talked about the airfields he was at across the South Pacific, 50 years would disappear from his face and he was 20 again.

  12. Hey Greg, what a great set of pictures and a lovely story to go with it, my love for flying and aircraft also came from my Dad, he used to love looking at the models I built, I remember sitting on a cushion when he took me flying as a youngster aged 8. He was also there when I did my first solo. I think of him often since his passing 7 years ago. Thanks for sharing Greg.

  13. Greg, A great experience for you to treasure!. Thanks for sharing !

  14. It must be nice to be proud of your father. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Great story and tribute to your father, Greg! Glad you shared it with us.

  16. Touching epilogue for a compelling pilot story teller mostly through those great photographs your Dad took. I must say Greg, all these highlights are truly unique. Thank you so much for sharing a piece of your life, and your Dad’s life, with us.

  17. I remember seeing the last photo in an earlier post, since my visit to Evergreen found rain like you did. Glad you have those photos and the memories. A moving tribute, fitting for an American hero.

  18. Sorry you lost him but an awesome experience for you both and a memory forever.

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