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December 24, 2006

When I’m Looking Up, He’s Looking Down

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By: Tom Alfano
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747-sky-100-derner
It goes without saying that anyone who loves aviation instinctively looks up to the sky when they hear a plane passing over. It doesn’t matter what kind of plane, any time I hear that whine of prop or the roar of a jet, I always look up. Recently on this site there was a post in the aviation forum titled “How you got into aviation.” I read through many of the responses by the forum members and it got me thinking what sparked my interest in aviation.

I thought it appropriate being it’s the holidays and that since a big part of the holidays is family, that I’d share with you why I love aviation so much and why every time I hear a plane overhead I look up. I can say without hesitation my father is the reason I look to the skies today.

I don’t know what sparked my father’s interest in aviation. Perhaps it was that he grew up during the dawn of the jet age and served in the U.S Navy on a number of our Carriers, but he loved aviation. Growing up as a child, our house was full of books about aviation and planes. I can remember going up to that big dark wood bookcase and staring at each of his books. Knowing not to touch them, my father would come up behind me and take a random book from the shelf, sit me down and show me the pictures of the different planes. I vividly remember one specific book titled “The Lore of Flight.” It was this huge hard covered book with these colorful pictures of all aspects of flight. It was perhaps one of my favorite books as a child even though its text was a bit advanced for a young boy. I went through it page by page countless times. Even today I cherish this book in my own personal library as a wonderful memory of my childhood.

There was another time as a child I recall being in my room playing and I heard the front door open. It was my father coming home from work. My mother promptly came into my room and said “Daddy has a surprise for you, but you have to stay in your room for a minute.” I remained there until he called me and when I came out, sitting on the living room floor was this Fisher Price airport all set up and ready for me to play with. To this day that was my all time favorite toy.

My father had his private pilot’s license and his own plane, a four seat Cessna. I’m not sure how I remember the first time I went up flying with him but I was outside playing with my friends and he came out and said it was time to go. I didn’t know where we were going, as a child I just knew if my parents said it was time to go, it was time to go. We jumped in his truck and off we went to MacArthur Airport. I recall him being very strict with me walking around the ramp, probably for my own safety. The excitement of being near all those planes can only now be described as surreal. A Cessna to a 7 year old might as well be a 747,I remember it being so big. At that time Islip was a pretty busy airport and I think for the first time in my life that this is when I looked up. I remember hearing this deafening roar of what must have been a 727 or DC-9 at the time. I can still picture that beautiful plane climbing higher and higher into its playground of the sky. I’ll never forget that site.

I went flying with my father frequently but the first time was unforgettable. I can remember how smooth everything felt and how he let me fly the plane. I put both my hands on the yoke and he said to me “There’s no need to hold on with both hands, just take the yoke gently like this.” It was the first of many experiences I had with him flying our plane.

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Fisher Price airport set

My father was only part of my life for the first ten years, he passed away from cancer in May of 1986 and with that what might have been was lost. However by then my love for aviation was ingrained into my soul. I continued reading about planes, putting together models, sitting on top of our shed with binoculars “spotting” the Euro heavy’s flying over my house after school, and whatever else I could do to fulfill my addiction.

Today I’m very grateful to my father for his influence on me. Without his influence I’m not sure what my passion would be today or who my friends would be. Because of this passion and hobby I’ve met people who I don’t just consider friends, but family. His impact on me as a young child has given me the ability to create memories today like the first time I spotted at LAX with Phil, standing runway-side at JFK with Mario, Freezing in the winter at Bayswater, and taking pictures of an F14 with Fred until 3 AM. All these wonderful times were made possible by my father and is the reason why I look up to the sky today when I hear a plane passing over. While my father may be gone today, somehow I feel when I’m looking up, he’s looking down.