Paper Wings, from AMERICAN SKY

My first memorable aircraft sighting came when we lived in Maple Heights. My dad yelled for me to come out front to the driveway. He pointed at the sky—“Right there! Can you see it? A jet! No propellers.” The swept wings were dazzling. Perhaps it was a B-47, America’s premier bomber by the mid-1950s. We stood in the driveway craning our necks at its silent path across the sky and then heard a low growl as it passed overhead and soon disappeared. (more…)

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The Silver Thing


“Old man Miller died this morning,” Frank said. “I need to go and comfort his wife.” He stared at the windsock. “You have any flights in that pretty twin?” He smiled, referring to the Cessna 402.

“Nothing until next week. I came down to do some paperwork. Did Russ die at home?”

“He sure did,” Frank said. “He was walking out to work on the Silver Thing. Every day I told him to wait until I came by. He was always doing too much. Oh well, he loved that stupid homebuilt. I’m surprised he didn’t die in it.”   Frank shook his head. “He was a better mechanic than inventor anyway.” (more…)

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Fair Play in Action, from AMERICAN SKY

Frank Corbi had survived the Bataan Death March, over three years of imprisonment, and the Hell Ships that carried him to Japan to work as slave labor. After the war he found his way into the testing division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Later on, Frank and his son would take over Miller Field outside of Alliance, Ohio, where I started working for them as a flight instructor in the early 1980s. The Corbis changed the airport name several times while they had it, but I simply refer to it here as Miller Field, in deference to Russ Miller who built the airport prior to World War Two.

Often I had to wait for the fog to lift on an early morning flight out of Miller’s. I’d call flight service for weather, file my flight plan, preflight the plane, and run the takeoff data. At the plane I’d check the cockpit for the navigation charts, pens and plotter, update the altimeter and review the initial radio frequencies for communication, handwritten on a piece of paper clipped at the top of the control wheel. As the fog thinned, unevenly up and down the three-thousand-foot runway, a faint blueness slid into view. As the powdery blueness spread, my spirits lifted. Above was an American sky, spanning blue space and time. Once airborne with the power set, the plane trimmed, pilot and machine balanced in three dimensions, I accomplished practical tasks for every phase of flight, yet never forgetting that every mile of the journey commanded the same respect given to navigating the great oceans of the earth.

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Miller Field, from American Sky

I arrived at Miller Field in 1981 with a few hundred hours and all my ratings, looking to build my cross-country time flying the gas pipeline. Just a few miles south of the Berlin Reservoir, the airport was outside of Alliance in the rural town of North Benton.

Frank Corbi met me that day and I followed him as he hunted for the keys to the plane, stopping in the restaurant to tell his beautiful young daughter that he was going flying. When Frank introduced me and mentioned my credentials, she just shrugged and told us to go fly. In defiance of his daughter’s command he started toward his office, stopped, and spun around, muttering that he’d better avoid it since it was too easy to get lost among the papers and lists of things he needed to do. He looked at me brimming with things to say, slowing before we walked outside, startled by a “message from on high.” He dug deep into his left pocket finding the keys.

We stepped into the sunlight and Frank commented on the pretty day. He said he didn’t get a chance to fly as often as he liked, and wished his son Alan was here to go with us. We flew together for thirty minutes in a Cessna 172. At two thousand feet, north of the runway, Frank banked steeply to the right, saying that the empty field and woods below could support a dozen cottages around a lake that still needed to be dug. His dream would be alive at the end of the eighties, though unfulfilled, and I’d be in the seat of a corporate jet thanks to Frank and Alan Corbi.

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