Col. Charles McGee autographs the tail of Rod Hightower’s Stearman
after putting it through its paces over the Columbia, Missouri, area.
plus 40 or minus 20 feet. That’s easy in
smooth air, you say? Let’s hope you and I can
do that in a Stearman when we are his age!
SHOWING HOW IT’S DONE
For the better part of an hour, we gracefully
“Stearman 817, the airspace is yours.
fly west over the early morning town of
Columbia and its suburbs, down the
Missouri River Valley nearly to Jefferson
City, then back north toward the airport.
As we neared the airport I hear in my head-
set the words that I was hoping for: “Mind
if we do a low pass?”
“Not at all, Colonel. In fact, I was hoping
you would say that!” I see him smiling in the
mirror. I call the tower, request our inten-
tions with a left turn-out to downwind, and
they approve. Charles lowers the nose, levels
at about 50 feet, flies the length of the run-
way—we see the airport has come alive with
activity since our departure—and executes a
gorgeous photo pass with left wing low and
right rudder, immediately followed by a
smooth right turn to downwind. I turn down
the volume on his side of the intercom and
call tower to amend our intentions, adding
that Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee is at
the controls and we may need some flexibil-
ity. The wonderful controller responds with
words I have never heard before.
I will hold all traffic until you’re done.”
Can you believe that? We have our own
personal TFR! It truly is a good day to be a
pilot. Little do we know that the air boss,
Kevin Nowack, is listening to all this and has
patched our transmissions over the PA for all
to enjoy. Charles performs two more low
passes to the delight of all around, and with
the smoothness and precision you would
expect from a front-line fighter pilot. Still grin-
ning in the mirror, he says, “Well, I suppose we
should probably land after this next one.”
“Only if you want to—we’re full of gas,
you know,” I reply. He then repeats the pat-
tern, but this time he does a pulling left
turn-out past the gathered cameras and flies
an arc around the ready-room crowd of vol-
unteers, honored guests, and air show pilots
as they are enjoying breakfast outdoors on
linen-covered tables in the gorgeous morn-
ing. Perfect, I think. Just perfect.
A VETERAN’S WELCOME
By now a crowd has gathered around the
airplane, and Charles graciously offers the
fighter pilot pose from the cockpit as we
chat privately on the intercom about how
beautiful the flight had been, and how much
we enjoyed the morning air and good flight.
Cameras click and whirr; apparently word
had gotten out about our secret flight, but
we’re in no rush to dismount. My son is on
the right wing to help out, as we stow straps
and helmets and get ourselves safely off the
wing. Charles is ever gracious thanking us
for the flight, and simply comments, “That
was a good flight. You never know, it might
be my last Stearman flight.”
I thank him for the flying lessons, then
ask him to sign my rudder.
EAA President/CEO Rod Hightower began flying
when he was 16. He owns and flies a T- 6 as well as a
Stearman that he restored. He is a founding member of
Stearman Flight, a FAST signatory organization dedicated
to standardized formation training in Stearman aircraft.
To see EAA Timeless Voices of Aviation interviews
with Tuskegee Airmen, visit www.SportAviation.org.