By Loran Nordgren, EAA 169570
It was late in the afternoon almost 20 years ago. I was on a ladder at the fuel pump topping off the tanks of my Stinson Voyager before putting it to bed for the night. On the balcony of the airport’s all-purpose building just 20 yards away, two folks were watching me. After a while, one of them came down the steps. It turned out to be a man and his young daughter. He was very friendly, asked lots of questions and admired my recently refurbished airplane. He couldn’t believe it when I told him it was built in 1948. He finally got around to telling me about his teenage daughter, said she had never been in an airplane and sure would like to. “Do you know of anyone around here that could give her a ride some day?” He asked with a barely perceptible wink of his eye. I was hooked! “Call her down,” I said. Down the steps Erin flew and we weren’t in the airplane yet! After the walk around and the four rules of what makes an airplane fly, away we went.
An enthusiastic “yes” was her reply when I offered her the controls. Erin understood right away; gentle pressure, watch the horizon, air speed, smooth, gentle — that’s it very good recovery! She was a natural. When we landed she had a smile from ear to ear. Within a week she was taking lessons, learning to fly, and became active in the local flying club, helped serve at the pancake breakfast, hung out at the airport a lot.
Erin went to college and majored in aviation, earned her private, instrument, and commercial, and has flown a bunch of different airplanes. All the while Erin took time to follow another passion: photography, and she’s very good at it too!
When Erin was still in high school we went flying again. This time in my twin engine flying canoe, an AirCam assembled from a kit built by Lockwood Aviation. She took the controls right away and we flew over the farm where she often baby-sat. She knew there was an outdoor birthday party in progress so we had loaded a few zip-lock bags with candy and dropped them on the partygoers below. Great fun.
Incidentally, that’s what I do: I’m the Candy Man. Says so writ very large on both sides of my yellow and blue flying canoe. Yes, Phil Lockwood designed it to fill a need, an open cockpit, fore and aft seating, slow and stable aerial photography platform. He dubbed it the AirCam: Get it? It also enables me to make 80 to 100 Amish kids smile, when on a spring, summer or fall afternoon I fly low and slow over a dozen farms. As the boys and girls come out of their homes and barns waving straw hats and aprons we do a 180, we return and drop bags of candy, crayons, and little plastic animals to dancing kids below. I’ve got about two dozen regular “customers” and visit them once a week or so, all within 15 to 20 minutes from my grass strip in Southwest Wisconsin.
But back to Erin. Several years went by. We lost contact. I heard about her, learned she was married, had a couple of children and had been living and working up north — in aviation! One day last summer, a phone call, and then a visit from Erin, her handsome husband, and their two adorable children. We talked, laughed, remembered when on my screened-in porch. A fabulous reunion, a good time. She was home for a friend’s wedding. The birthday party friend. “Remember, we dropped bags of candy?” she reminded me. I could see it coming a mile away. It was going to be a big outdoor country wedding, couple of hundred people. I don’t remember who said it first: “Why don’t we fly over the wedding and drop candy?” Why not? And we did. Made two passes, made a lot of people happy.
On the way home to my grass strip, in a deep valley, 300 to 400 foothills all around, flying between them to land, it was windier than I like. Vortices, bumpy, I was flying. I suggested we land at the local flat land airport 4 miles away. In my headset I heard Erin say, “You’re going to do just fine,” and I did. It was a greaser. Then heard her shout, “That was great, fantastic! Let’s do it again!” We didn’t, we tucked Lady Luck away in my hangar. Then we talked and smiled a lot on the short walk to my home.
Who is this young Wonder Woman, you may ask? Skillful aviator. Extraordinary photographer. Lovely wife and devoted mother. She is an EAA employee — you will find her name each month in Sport Aviation: Erin Brueggen, and one of my favorite people. I once said to her, long ago, “Blessed is she or he who does for a living what they would otherwise pay to do!” Erin is doing just that!