By Butch Filline
Looking back at my younger years, it’s hard to imagine a better time than my freshman year of college. A year earlier I had earned my pilot’s license just after graduating from high school. I was young, passionate about aviation and fairly certain I was going to be the next Chuck Yaegar.
I grew up outside of Chicago and enrolled at Northern Illinois University. An hour drive from home, it was far enough away to be on my own but close enough to mom and dad if I got homesick.
The other benefit to Northern Illinois was the little airport close to campus, DeKalb Municipal. DeKalb is a great airport; it’s uncontrolled and surrounded by rolling cornfields.
One afternoon, while hanging out at the local FBO, I came across a gentleman looking for a safety pilot. John was a retired United captain who learned to fly in the military and had 25,000 flight
hours in his logbook. He was impressive. He flew the airplane like nothing I had ever seen before. After our first flight, John asked me if I would be interested in flying with him again. Not wanting to pass up a free flight, I said, “Absolutely.” Flying with John turned out to be a regular routine. Every Saturday John and I would fly around for a couple of hours.
Our usual flight was up to Janesville, Wisconsin. Janesville had a restaurant on the field that had the best pies in the world. When I say they were the best, they were better than anything your grandma could make. People would fly in from all over the Midwest just for these pies. About a month into our new-found friendship, John offered to let me use his airplane to build time. I couldn’t believe it; all I had to do was pay for fuel and clean it after each flight. It was a deal I could not pass up.
About a week after John offered me the keys to his airplane, I found myself back at school talking to a beautiful girl. When I say beautiful, I mean beautiful. She had long blonde hair, blue eyes,
and I had no clue why she was talking to me. Not knowing what to say, I asked her if she had ever flown before. She said she hadn’t, and I offered to take her up. Much to my surprise, she said, “Yes.”
“As we began our climb, I looked over and she was smiling from ear to ear”
A week later we met up at DeKalb Municipal. She asked where we were flying to, and I told her we were going to Janesville for a big surprise. She seemed excited and a little nervous. This was her first flight. During the taxi out to the runway, I could see she was anxious. Her hands were clutched together, and she didn’t say anything. As we began the takeoff roll, my focus turned to the instruments, airspeed was alive, instruments were in the green, everything looked good. As we began our climb, I looked over and she was smiling ear to ear. I could tell her nervousness had turned into excitement. About 40 minutes after takeoff we landed in Janesville. At the restaurant I could tell she was hooked. All she could talk about was telling her friends and family that she flew in an airplane. She was so excited that she finished her pie in what seemed like 30 seconds. When she was done, she said, “Let’s get back in the airplane!” By the time we took off, it was late morning.
The cool and crisp air we had experienced earlier had now been replaced by hot and humid temperatures. As soon as we took off, I could tell this was going to be a bumpy ride home.
Fifteen minutes into the flight I looked over and saw that my excited passenger was quickly turning green. I asked her if she was doing okay. She politely nodded and asked how much longer until we got back to DeKalb. I told her about 25 minutes. I knew we didn’t have that long. I looked around for a bag, anything she could use if she got sick. I could not find anything. I looked everywhere.
Right as I was about to tell her to throw up in her shirt, since I was not smart enough to bring a bag, it happened. Blueberry pie, everywhere.
For those of you that have experienced a sick passenger you know what it’s like. For those of you that haven’t, I pray you never know. There was pie everywhere. It was on the instruments. It was on the windshield. Her beautiful blonde hair was now Smurf blue. I didn’t know what to do. It was everything I could do to not get sick. I opened my window and tried to breathe through my mouth. It didn’t work. Within in minutes I was sick too. Now there were two sick passengers. It’s funny looking back, all I could think of in that moment was John. What would he say if he ever found out? I don’t know how, but we managed to fly back and land safely at DeKalb. As we taxied back to parking, I looked over and thought to myself, “This is the worst first date in the history of the world.” Once we parked the fuelers came driving up. The poor fueler came walking over, and once he saw what happened, he got right back in his truck and drove away. I couldn’t blame him. As for my date, she didn’t even say goodbye. She opened her door and ran, literally ran to her car. I was left to clean up the mess. I should have known better. Who takes a date who has never flown before to eat pie?
“About 40 minutes after take off we landed in Janesville. At the restaurant I could tell she was hooked.”
I spent the next several hours cleaning up the airplane. Believe it or not, I did such a good job John never knew what happened. I never worked up the courage to tell him. Not long after that fateful flight, I saw my date back at school, sitting alone in the cafeteria. She didn’t see me, so I walked over and purchased a slice of pie and put it down in front of her. She looked up and we locked eyes. After a few seconds of awkwardness, we both started laughing.
Forty years has passed since that flight to Janesville. I think of it often. Every once in a while I will look over at my wife and ask her, “Can you be believe you married the guy who got you sick the first time you flew in an airplane?”