This is something I wrote in 1996 about my Dad and an air strip landing that was quite frightening to everyone except him. In honor of his birthday, I have chosen to share it with you today. No, it’s not what I am known for in my writings now. But it’s from the heart. After all, what can you give a man who has everything. I can give him my words. Happy Birthday Daddy.
“There it is,” the pilot said. “The landing strip is just beyond the shoreline.” It was time to land the planes, and the only thing in sight was a strip of land occupied by large, boulder shaped, green objects. We were never going to make it!
My Dad, the pilot of the plane I was riding in, obviously saw or knew something we did not. He seemed so confident. So sure that everything would be just fine.
We had taken off from a regional airport in Dad’s single engine Piper with my uncle, his wife, and children following in a Cessna. Dad had flown this trip many times, but Uncle Mickey was from another state, and unfamiliar with the territory. Being the more cautious of the two brothers Mickey would require a lot of convincing and persuading before he would attempt a landing in a watermelon patch.
The melons had actually been planted on the sides of the landing strip. But as these plants are prone to do, they had grown sending out runners that now covered most of the once available landing area.
Dad’s plane was what is termed a high-wing plane. These planes have the wings located above the fuselage. Mickeys plane was of the low-wing variety, having the wings at the bottom. The bottom is a precarious place for such an important part of the plane. The closer the wings are to the ground, the closer they are to the watermelons.
There was no choice. It was either land here, or return to the safety of the airport and endure the ribbing and teasing of his older brother. No way Mickey would let his brother get the best of him.
“I’ll lead the way,” Daddy said over the radio. “You follow.” It was only then that Mickey realized the watermelons were just the beginning of the obstacles preventing him from setting the plane down safely. For there, at one end of the airstrip, crossing it just as it met a highway, were newly constructed power lines. Not the normal ones attached to wooden utility poles. Oh, no. These were of a different variety. Reaching to the heavens on metal towers they restricted the northern approach to the landing strip. The only way in was the southern approach, over the intercoastal waterway, down over the trees.
Once on the ground, clear of the threat of electrocuting everyone aboard the plane, the pilot would have to contend with the watermelons. While trying to avoid this ominous fruit, he had to break fast and complete the landing before reaching the highway.
“Piece of cake,” Daddy said. “Don’t worry about the melons. Any of them that bust will produce new ones next year.”
“Easy for you to say,” replied my uncle. He was not worried about what his plane would do to the melons. His concern was for the airplane itself and the precious cargo it was carrying. “Just what kind of damage will these melons do to the plane and how will they interfere with my landing?” thought Mickey.
With fear in his stomach, admiration and the disbelief in his eyes, Mickey watched as my father landed first, leaving a trail of busted melons for him to follow. Not to be out done, he nosed his plane to the north, and followed the unmistakable path of mashed fruit as he completed his one and only landing into a watermelon patch.
You could hear those melons exploding as the tires from the planes hit them. POP! They would go as one after another of them burst. There was absolutely no way to avoid hitting them. But at least, the only damage they were doing to the planes, was to cover them with a sticky, pink juice. The liquid would not cause any permanent damage as long as you washed if off the plane before it could dry.
Concentrating on hitting as few melons as possible, and stopping the plane before reaching the highway, should have given cause for alarm. And it would have, had the pilots not been absorbed in laughter. As they descended onto this strange field you could hear them as they laughed and joked about making this once in a lifetime landing. I can’t say that the melons helped slow the planes but they certainly added to the excitement.
Imagine the sight of these huge, machines designed to fly in the air, now reduced to making fruit salad on the ground. I don’t think this is exactly what the Wright brothers had in mind at Kitty Hawk.
I’m not sure of the relationship my father has with his brother now, or what effect this particular landing had on Mickey. I do know that the watermelon landing will remain forever in our minds. The children thinking it was great fun. The pilots, or at least one of them, regretting the day he decided to follow his brother. I’m sure the rest of Mickey’s vacation was spent in great anticipation, or should I say dread, of the day he had to fly home. Remember, landing is only one part of the flight. You still have to become airborne again!
From the life and mind of:
Wanda M. Argersinger
© 1996 All Rights Reserved