Sunday, September 27, 2015

Final Flight

I did not know him well.

Kristy, The Bear, and I had just completed a long cross country flight from Saginaw, Michigan to Sodus on a sunny, fall afternoon. Taxiing to our hangar, I pulled the mixture and quenched Warrior 481's internal fires. As the mechanical gyros spun down, humming quietly in the background, I checked my cell phone at just the right moment to receive an email reporting that fellow aviator and Williamson Flying Club member Marv had passed away.

Marv, a spry 77 years old, had been a fellow Cherokee owner on the field. Before I ever knew his name, I had encountered him a few times while preparing to fly. He would stop to chat, smiling infectiously and expounding on the allure of the clear blue sky, his eyes twinkling with an aviator's passion for flight.

I did not know him well, but I was privileged to fly with him once, just a few weeks before he passed.

DateAircraftRoute of FlightTime (hrs)Total (hrs)
16 Aug 2015N21481SDC (Sodus, NY) - FZY (Fulton, NY) - SDC1.21459.9

We planned a fly-out to the Oswego County Airport ("Fuzzy") on August 16 for breakfast at Puddle Jumpers. That morning, we mustered eleven people who flew to Oswego in four airplanes. Aboard Warrior 481 was myself, The Bear, and Lee. Lee is a student pilot who has flown with me to past events and it is always a pleasure to have him along.

Marv, Lee, The Bear, Me

When Lee asked if Marv could join us, I was only too happy to offer the Warrior's last available seat. Marv had mentored Lee, nourishing Lee's love of aviation with frequent flights in his Cherokee.

Photo by Puddle Jumpers staff

On the ground at Oswego County, once out of earshot from the rest of the group, Lee quietly explained that Marv had been diagnosed with cancer. A few months prior, his condition had forced him to surrender access to the sky; he sold his Cherokee. Our short hop to Oswego County that morning was Marv's first time in the air since selling his beloved airplane. I was stunned; Marv seemed so happily robust that I would have never guessed at his illness.

After breakfast, back at altitude, I trimmed the Warrior and leaned for cruise.

"Marv, would you care to fly us home?" I asked. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Lee flash an approving thumbs up from the back seat.

Marv smiled his charming smile and took the controls, smoothly guiding us back to Sodus. Back on the ground and parked at the fuel pump, Marv gripped my shoulder in thanks, his eyes twinkling in delight. He loitered while I fueled the Warrior. When I was done, he offered some cash to cover the fuel cost. I refused it with a smile.

"Thank you," he said, a hint of a tear welling in his eye. "You don't know what this means." He gripped my arm, silent gratitude flowing through the contact. In that moment, I genuinely believed that I understood the significance of that morning's flight. But I didn't. I was focused on the wrong aspect: the months elapsed since his previous time aloft. I did not know that I had just given this wonderful flying man his final time at the controls and that I would never see him again.

It was not until five weeks later, when I read of his passing to the somber requiem of decelerating gyros, that I understood completely.

I did not know him well, but I wish that I had.

Tailwinds, Marv.


  1. Thank you so much for taking Grandpa up one last time. I always loved and looked forward to our time together in the sky. Flying was one of his greatest passions and I'm lucky to share that with him. This is a beautiful tribute. Thank you again!

    1. Thanks, Nolan. Please accept my condolences for your loss. He is keenly missed by all of us at the Williamson Flying Club.

  2. Beautiful story, Chris.

    I don't think there's any doubt that you made that aviator in him very happy one last time.