SHORT FINAL By DEB McFARLAND
I am blessed that my aviation experiences have been nurtured in a strong community of good-hearted souls who share and foster the passion of flying. There is nothing finer than to plop down in a northern Alabama grass field on a warm Saturday and enjoy the camaraderie of friends and loved ones.
It’s a comforting feeling to gather at such times and see the same faces and the same airplanes. This sense of continuity and community is a joyous thing, but we are living creatures and know that “to every thing there is a season…a time to be born, and a time to die. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
It’s a good thing to mourn that which has passed away. In our close-knit community, it means something or someone has touched us deeply and that part of him or her will remain with us long after they have gone away. In my community, 2009 has been a year for many passings, a sign, unfortunately, that we are all subject to nature and, frankly, that the pilot population is getting old.
Harley McGatha didn’t have a chance to get old, but he did have a chance to live — and live he did, to the fullest. As president of Harley McGatha Construction, he was successful and shared that success whenever possible, revealing he had a heart as big as his personality. As a pilot and aviator, he shared his love of flying and proved his commitment to it by being about as actively involved in various pilot and airplane organizations as a person could get.
A member of the International Comanche Society, Harley served as treasurer and president in recent years, as well as president of the Comanche Flyers Foundation. He was active in his Ft. Paine, Alabama, EAA Chapter, the Young Eagles program, AOPA, EAA, the Short Wing Piper Club, the Sea Plane Pilots Association and the CAP. Harley sure did love to fly, and he worked hard with organizations that strive to ensure that flying, just for the love of it, will be around for generations to come.
Harley passed away April 5, 2009, after his Aeronca 7HC Champ crashed into a house after take off from his home base in Centre, Alabama. We may never know the cause of this tragic accident, but we do know that Harley was a big guy, with a big heart, who was loved by many. A person can’t have a much better epitaph than that.
Cleveland Scott did get to be old, well older — although 78 doesn’t seem as old as it once did, and I know many active pilots in their 80s. Like many men of his era, he served in the Army during the Korean War, then came home to settle into civilian life and raise a family. I don’t recall when Cleve learned to fly. I just remember he was a constant figure at Cherokee County Airport (47A) in Canton, Georgia.
He wasn’t alone. Cleve’s two sons were ramp rats, too. They caught the flying bug and took the family obsession to a whole new level. The Scott brothers, Tony and Brad, started working at S&S Aviation in their youth and remain there today as flight line mechanics. Over the years, it has been a pleasure to observe and enjoy some of the airplanes these guys restored. The last was a beautiful 7AC Champ. The neat thing about this aviation family is that Cleve and his sons weren’t just building airplanes. They were building memories.
Cleve’s passing from natural causes in the fall was especially poignant for me. He was my Lester’s grandpa. I bought my Luscombe several years ago from Tony, who was adamant that the airplane remain in the area. They have watched as Lester has been flown and pampered, and I often fly the short hop to visit.
It was not surprising that Lester was asked to fly over the graveside service, along with several other airplanes whose pilots had known Cleve as a fellow aviator and friend. It was an honor and a privilege to do so. When our mission was completed, Lester and I flew back over the gravesite for one last goodbye, one last wing-waggle. Good-bye, Grandpa. Calm winds and blue skies.
This past year was not all about loss in my aviation community. It was also a time of joy, a time to laugh, and a time to dance. I don’t often relate my experiences as a woman pilot and don’t feel the need to differentiate myself from my local airport-bum brethren, but this past August was special for me. That was when my friend, Tiana Bishop, soloed a Cessna 172 at Dalton Airport just northwest of Pickens. Instead of trimming her shirttail there, her instructor, Lawrence Abernathy, brought her back to JZP and asked if I wanted the privilege.
I’ve known and met other lady pilots over the years. In fact, there are many pilot couples in our area and several are good friends. Nevertheless, something deep moved in me when he asked if I wanted to induct Ty into our aviation community. I was nearly overcome with emotion and can truly say that it felt like a good old country Baptist baptizing.
It was my time to rejoice and her time to dance.
And dance she did.
Deb McFarland is the proud owner of Lester, a 1948 Luscombe 8E, and part of the “Front Porch Gang” at Pickens County Airport in Georgia. She can be reached at ShortFinal@generalaviationnews.com.