Good to be me

Earning the right to sport a goofy grin

“It’s good to be me,” beamed my father from the right seat of N47331, the Cessna 152 he bought and put on leaseback through Atlantic Aero in Greensboro, North Carolina.

His polished mien arrogated by a goofy grin underneath glasses skewed by his headset. We cruised west on a sunny fall morning a couple of thousand feet above the Florida panhandle. Sun behind us lighting the emerald coast and sugar-white sands below us. The flight remains one of my most cherished. I didn’t fully understand my father’s beatitude then, but I do now.

Those were halcyon days in my dad’s life and he was fully in the moment, blissful from a concoction of emotions: amazement at the beauty surrounding us over our adopted home, the sparkling Florida gulf coast, and the pastel blue above us. The sheer joy of flying an airplane and the senses it arouses. Pride in the skills developed to master an airplane, but beyond that, for my father, pride in working from a childhood sharecropper’s home, dreaming of airplanes and building models, to becoming an executive with a major corporation and the means to buy his own, real airplane. Amid all he has accomplished as a person and a pilot, I believe he still fights an underlying incredulity that he pulled it all off.

I was in college at the time of that flight, just learning to fly. Dad flew to Athens, Georgia, then I joined and took the left seat as we headed south to the Florida panhandle before cutting west to cruise the coastline home to Slidell, Louisiana. Our father-son time was carved out of increasingly independent lives. He savored our scarce time together, and he took pride watching me embrace a skill that would offer a lifetime of benefit. I get that now.

Fully present, I cherished the experience, aware that these moments were interstices amid growingly independent lives.Decades later, I’m a couple thousand feet above the Ozarks in a CubCrafters Carbon Cub, chasing my son, who’s flying our Piper Super Cub east to Georgia. Grant is just out of college, about the same age as I was on that memorable flight across the Florida panhandle. I fly a few hundred feet from him in echelon as he navigates his first extensive cross-country trip. The flight developed by happenstance, as some of the best flights in general aviation so often do.

Grant had an idle week before starting a new job that lined up with my business trip to Bentonville, Arkansas. He jumped in the front of our Super Cub with me in the back and we flew west to meet Michael Goulian for backcountry work with the Fly Oz team. We finished our work early, thanks to good weather and efficient scheduling by Fly Oz. Busy schedules and closing weather had us scrambling to get the airplanes back home. Michael needed the Whelen Aviation Technologies Carbon Cub ferried back east, so I offered, which gave Grant and me the opportunity for a son-father Cub cross-country. Another win-win-win in general aviation, and another opportunity for my wife to marvel that with GA pilots, somehow, situations just always work out, and usually in extraordinary fashion.

Grant led the flight with me flying chase and occasionally beguiling him with advice cloaked as observations. Fully present, I cherished the experience, aware that these moments were interstices amid growingly independent lives. Cue Harry Chapin.

We chatted, joked, I ribbed him about his complex love life, and he mocked my playlist. We remarked more than once on our good fortune to share the experience. The SS Carbon Cub has shorter range than our Super Cub, so Grant had to modify his fuel stops and monitor time zones as we raced daylight eastbound. He managed the typical issues pilots face flying long, VFR cross-countries, low and slow seeking gas and grass. I watched him fly with the same brew of emotions that overcame my dad watching me fly his 152 that sunny fall day over the Florida panhandle.

Grant and I suspected Dad would be at the airport, tracking us on FlightAware and awaiting our arrival on his hand-held radio. We devised our denouement for his benefit: a Cub flight up initial and a left break over top of him into the downwind for a grass landing. We taxied up, Dad nodding in appreciation, this time me sporting the goofy grin.

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Richard McSpadden

Senior Vice President of AOPA Air Safety Institute
Richard McSpadden was appointed executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Institute in February 2017 and was promoted to senior vice president in July 2020. He currently leads a team of certified flight instructors and content creators who develop and distribute aviation safety material –free of charge— in order to advance general aviation safety industrywide. ASI distributes material through a dedicated YouTube channel, iTunes podcasts, Facebook, and a dynamic website. ASI material is accessed 12 million times annually. A native of Panama City, Florida, McSpadden started flying as a teenager and has logged over 5,000 hours flying a variety of civilian and military aircraft. McSpadden is a commercial pilot, CFII, MEI with SES, MES ratings and a 525S (Citation Jet Single Pilot) type rating. He taught his son to fly, instructed his daughter to solo in their Piper Super Cub, previously owned a 1950 Navion that was in his family for almost 40 years, and currently owns a 1993 Piper Super Cub. McSpadden holds a degree in Economics from the University of Georgia, and a Master of Public Administration from Troy University. He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Air War College. Prior to joining AOPA, McSpadden had a successful career in the information technology industry, leading large, geographically dispersed operations providing business-critical IT services. McSpadden also served in the Air Force for 20 years, including the prestigious role of commander and flight leader of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flight demonstration team where he led over 100 flight demonstrations flying the lead aircraft. Additionally, McSpadden currently serves as the industry chair for the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee.

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