Sometime in late 2016, I was talking with Dr. John O’Keefe about flying. Dr. O’Keefe, as most of you know, is an avid pilot, as is my father. We were talking about planes and pilots (well, Dr. O’Keefe was talking, I was prone, staring upwards through those dentist sunglasses, saying things like “ah ha” and “oh ho” and “um hmm”).
Anyhoo, when Dr. O’Keefe heard about my dad’s history with flying (beginning with his first solo flight on Veterans Day 1966, completing a tour in Vietnam with the Air Force, being part of the team that built and flies the Miss Veedol in Wenatchee, and serving as a flight instructor) he told me about this thing called the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, which can be awarded to pilots with 50 or more years of piloting experience. My dad, Jake Lodato, was eligible for this award in 2016.
Can you see where this is going?
It took my siblings and me five years to get the award application submitted because in order to keep it a secret (which we wanted to do) we needed to get access to our dad’s flight log.
Now those of you who are pilots will understand that a flyer is not easily parted from his logbook, and such was the case with our father. Had we managed to “borrow” it even for just a day, its absence would have been noted.
So, we had to do things the hard way. My brother had to become a pilot himself, training under our father, thus giving him an excuse to look at entries in the logbook.
That problem was solved, but another one arose. We also needed to submit a flight narrative, detailing our dad’s flight experience since 1966, which would then be verified by the FAA representative dealing with our application. We were able to piece together most of the timeline, but the devil is always in the details, and we weren’t quite sure if he trained in T-41s or T-37s or both, and when the 0-2A years happened versus the C-5A years.
We solved this second dilemma a little more easily. We had my daughter, Jake’s eldest granddaughter, send our cobbled-together narrative to her grandfather, telling him it was “an independent study project for school,” and asking him to correct any errors, which he did, subsequently thanking her for giving him a trip down memory lane.
The application was approved, and better late than never, on Aug. 25, our dad’s 80th birthday, he is going to learn that he is a Wright Brothers Master Pilot. And he’s going to learn it by reading this column in the Methow Valley News, which he gets in the mail every Thursday. So if you’re reading this on Wednesday the 24th, when the newspaper comes out, I need to ask you to keep mum. Loose lips sink ships, but they also spoil birthday surprises, and we didn’t get him another gift.