Flight instructor Arlene Alexander has a vivid memory of the time she flew from Plymouth, Massachusetts, with a local pilot who was getting back into the air after cataract surgery.
“I thought it was a flying lesson. He thought it was a date,” she recalled.
The pilot shared his version of the story during a joint phone interview. A mechanic they both used had delivered a perfunctory introduction. Then, “I got in this airplane with this woman I never met before.”
“Hi, I’m Jack,” he said, adding, “I was impressed. She was a very good pilot.”
Over the next few years, Jack Alexander, retired Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University horticulturist, private pilot, and Cessna 172 owner based at Plymouth Municipal Airport; and Arlene Myers, acupuncturist, CFI, banner-tow pilot, and owner of a Cessna Hawk XP based at the Cape Cod Airport, would run into each other here and there.
At a Christmas party they discovered they had something in common: Both were vegetarians. By coincidence, both also had flown the same Cessna 150 trainer, N2223J, about eight years apart.
Now connected, “I managed to find an excuse to send her an email or two,” Jack said.
Emails, however, did not appear to be bearing fruit.
“She only replied with the information I asked for, nothing extra. I didn’t feel encouraged,” he said.
In July 2014, Jack volunteered at the AOPA Fly-In in Plymouth. There was Arlene, also working as a fly-in volunteer.
He walked up to her and—kid you not—opened with this line: “Not much vegetarian food here, is there?”
The salutation seemed to take root.
“We ate lunch together, and you guys paid for it. Egg salad sandwiches,” Jack said.
About a week later, Jack showed up at the airport one day to find Arlene already there, weeding the vegetable garden maintained by the close-knit general aviation community.
Jack saw a chance to present a professional plant propagator’s penchant for pleasantry in fullest flower.
“Being a horticulturist, he started telling me the names of the weeds in Latin,” Arlene said.
The syringa (lilacs) were in bloom—including cultivars Jack had developed himself—on May 21, 2016, when Jack and Arlene participated in a fly-in of a different sort at Arlene’s home base on Cape Cod.
Jack arrived first in a Van’s airplane. He was escorted by his adult sons to a place of honor before a seated audience. As onlookers scanned the sky, Arlene arrived aboard a Cessna 172. Again the escorts performed their duties.
The wedding was topped off with a congratulatory banner tow, after which Jack, Arlene, and their wedding party boarded Christopher Siderwicz’s DC-3 for a scenic tour of Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard.
“I got 15 minutes of flying time in a DC-3,” Jack exulted, confessing that he had no hesitation to relinquish the controls for the landing on Cape Cod Airport’s 2,700-foot-long runway. (Flying a DC-3 is like dancing with your grandmother, he said. “Knows the moves, slow to push around.”)
Arlene, at 65 and with 3,600 hours, is now retired from most of her commercial flying, except that she loves to get rusty pilots airborne again, and takes on other occasional short-term projects. In 2004 she bought the Cessna R172K (Hawk XP) that had been her banner-towing workhorse—as was a Piper Pawnee, which, with 260 horsepower “can tow a house,” she said—and the couple has ordered major upgrades to its panel.
Making that call was their first big decision together after getting married, she said, and will result in a brand-new GPS/nav/comm, autopilot, and ADS-B In and Out for the Cessna.
Jack, 68, can barely contain his delight with the renovation project having won out over another endeavor that was under consideration.
“New kitchen? New avionics? I knew I had the right woman when she said ‘new avionics,’” Jack said.
The upgrade also will mean that Jack’s 1965 Skyhawk will go up for sale—unless, says 700-hour pilot Jack, who soloed in an Aeronca Champ and likes taildraggers, they can find a side-by-side tailwheel aircraft with dual control sticks and remain a two-airplane family.
But that’s for later. For now, they enjoy the little things, like being able to “talk flap-gap seals over coffee,” said Arlene.
“I can hardly believe at our age, we have a new life together,” she said. “When I wake up in the morning I can say, ‘Is it VFR?’ and he knows what I’m talking about.”