To every aviator everywhere, aviation starts somewhere. That very place, that very moment when we take that first step to make the dream a reality. For me, it was that little office pictured above in the spring of 1973. My parents had moved that summer from New York City to the suburbs. I was just turning nineteen years old. It seems such a long time ago and yet just a blink of the eye. The clarity for which I can recall those memories is astonishing. I recall how intimidated I felt the first time I drove into the parking lot and just sat and watched the planes and the people who somehow knew how to fly them.
Ramapo Valley Airport was just a small country airport, the runway not quite 2000 feet long but to me it was the most special place I had ever known. The office was too small for the two people who worked there. Not quite having the courage to walk in to that little office, that first time I sat out in my car instead and tried to catch a peak threw the chain link fence at the airplanes, at what the inside might look like as pilots climbed in and out of the Cessna’s. I think it took three trips to that little airport before I finally found the courage to push myself out of the car and walk in and announce to the world that I wanted to live my dream, my passion and become a pilot. How those memories flood back, the very first time I sat in an aircraft, my first flight, and the first time I soloed, that private pilot check ride.
I can still remember vividly so many years later, my first instructor, Bill Savage, my second instructor, Rick Kurtz, the flight school manager, Al Gavassi, and even the office secretary, Cathy Waterman. I would love to know what ever happened to all those people that had such an impact on my life. I clearly remember the small office, all the pilot logbooks lined up in the little cubbies with each student’s names on the front, the counter I leaned on when I nervously introduced myself to those instructors in their dark sunglasses. I can recall coming back the following week for my first discovery flight. I can even recall the smell of the small wooden structure.
As I said, it was a long time ago. Next year will be forty years since I first walked into that little office pictured above. That airport became a part of my life. It was so sad when the airport closed years later. By that time I had moved on but I did travel back and was there when the last aircraft lifted off. Today, that property, like so many former airports is a shopping center, shoppers never knowing that it had once been an airport where young people like myself had spent much of their formative years. To me, it is sacred ground.
I hope that every day we are creating those same kinds of memories for our students. I hope that someday others will look back at our flight academy with the same memories that I still have all those years later. Hopefully, someday, someone will look back and wonder what ever happened to Mike Freed, that guy that first introduced me to aviation. If that becomes my legacy, I will consider myself a success by any standard.