Pilots

The Furlongs

March 1, 2006

My grandfather's story started in a Velie-powered Monocoupe on a grass field in Butler, Pennsylvania, in August 1936. A private pilot license followed five months later. Lou Furlong's passion for flight convinced his father, Dale, to take lessons. In fact, Dale flew a Stinson SMA-8 on the first scheduled airmail flight from Clarion to Pittsburgh in May 1938.

Lou's interest in flying led him to the mechanics of aviation, and he designed and built an early version of the controllable-pitch propeller for his Stinson HW-75.

In 1942, Lou started flying with the Civil Coastal Patrol in Portland, Maine, and earned the rank of captain. The CCP, an early branch of the Civil Air Patrol, patrolled the coastal waters for enemy ships and submarines during World War II — all VFR flying, no instruments. In 1946, Lou founded Furlong Aviation, then at Compton Airport in Los Angeles. Later, Furlong Aviation moved to Long Beach Airport, now Long Beach /Daugherty Field.

Lou joined North American Airlines in 1951 as a captain on the DC-3, -4, and -6 models — the DC-3s and -4s on domestic routes, and the -6s from Travis Air Force Base to the Phillipines, Okinawa, and Korea. Lou's introduction to the jet-age was in the DC-8 for Airlift International (originally Riddle Airlines, based in Miami, which he went to after North American closed its doors). Later he flew as a Douglas production flight test pilot on the DC-8-62 series.

He started teaching his son Lou Jr., my father, to fly in 1966 in a Piper Stinson 108-3. My father is now an MD-11 captain with FedEx. He flies worldwide routes, but finds solitude in flying his Piper Super Cub from a grass strip — Stony Point Field, in Cummings, Georgia.

At 77, Lou Sr. with Lou Jr. built an Aerocomp Comp Air 6 at Merritt Island Airport in Florida. After completing it in mid 1999, my grandfather built an all-wood, plans-built Barracuda, which was licensed in late August 2003.

In 1988 Lou Jr. purchased a Cessna 140 for me to learn to fly in. I was 15. My father taught me some but didn't solo me. A few years after I earned my certificates and ratings I began flying for a regional airline. I had the honor of having my father present me with my wings at my FedEx indoctrination ceremony in April 2004, as a flight engineer on the Boeing 727.

At the Celebration of Flight in Kitty Hawk on December 17, 2003, my grandfather, father, and I stood together on a bluff in Kill Devil Hills. At the end of this month, I hope to fly as first officer on my father's FedEx retirement flight.