Flying With Dad: Terry's Memories

Terry's story as told to AOPA.

Photo courtesy of Terry Barbee

I was very fortunate to grow up with a dad who flew in WW2 and loved to fly all his adult life.  My dad flew P-38 Lightings in the Pacific Theater.  He taught me the love of flying and we were always very fortunate to have been able to own an airplane of some kind.  He taught me to fly in a Piper Cub and that is the plane I soloed in.  I even have the home movies they took when I soloed.

Growing up we always took family trips in our private plane.  Growing up through the high school years we mainly owned Piper Cherokee's or Piper Comanche's.  When I got in college dad bought his first Bonanza, a 1959 K model.  That was one sweet flying Bonanza.  I graduated from college in 1975 and by the late 1980's dad had traded for a 1982 A36 Bonanza.  It was in this Bonanza that dad and I took the trip I remember the most.

Dad and I had flown to Palm Springs, California for a business meeting.  The meeting was finished after lunch and by the time we got to the airport and did our pre-flight, we took off around 2pm local time headed to El Paso where we intended to spend the night.  We knew we would arrive about an hour before dark.  After departing Palm Springs we climbed to 9,500 feet, leveled off, and had center tracking us on flight following.  At this altitude we were hitched to a tremendous westerly tail wind.  Our ground speed was 195-200 knots all the way to El Paso. 

After landing at El Paso we decided to fuel up and take off for our final destination T-65 (our home town of Weslaco, Texas).  We did not realize at the time that a full moon would soon be rising.  Once again after departing El Paso, we climbed to 9,000 feet on an IFR flight plan.  The sky was perfectly clear and the air so smooth, we felt like we were suspended on a magic carpet.  We could see the lights of towns  nearly 60 miles away.  Once again our ground speed was in the 195 knot range.  The controllers keep calling us a Baron instead of Bonanza.  After we made the turn at Fort Stockton, it was not very long before we could make out the lights of Del Rio.  After crossing Del Rio we headed direct to Laredo, and then direct T-65.  The night was so clear and the air so smooth it was surreal.  I have never experienced a flight like this since.  From takeoff to touch down we made the flight in 2 hours and 42 minutes.  Normally this flight would have taken 4 hours. 

This flight for me was magical.  It was just me and dad.  We relived that flight so many times in the years that followed.  We have owned several more Bonanza's since that time.  Our current Bonanza is a 1998 A36.  I took dad flying when he was 89 years old and put him in the left seat.  By this time dad's health was deteriorating quite a bit and he had a hard time flying the plane.  It was also very difficult to get him in and out of the plane.  This flight proved to be the last for my dad.  The Lord told him to break off his holding pattern and he was cleared due West into the setting sun.  I could see him pushing the throttles full forward on his P-38 and climbing like a home sick angel.  Dad passed away March of last year at 90 years of age. 

My dad provided memories for me that will last a life time.  Our time flying together was fantastic.  We flew out to the Reno air races five different times and numerous business trips, yet nothing has ever compared to the night flight we had from El Paso, Texas.  Tears fill my eyes now as I relieve this story and it reminds me of how much I still miss my dad.

Thanks for the flying memories dad!

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