How do you catch the Aviation-Bug?

C-130 Hercules
C-130 Hercules

Even as a small kid I was fascinated by airplanes. We used to live in a small suburb of Hannover, Isernhagen it was called, and our home was about half a mile off the final approach track of Hannover Airport. At that time the airport had only one runway, today it is RWY 27L. At that time there was quite a bit of traffic to and from Berlin through the Central Corridor. Pan Ams (called Clipper), BEA (British European Airlines, called B-Line) served Hannover with DC-6 and Vikers Viscount, and pretty soon I knew their typical engine noises. Besides them there were Convair Metropolitans and Super Constellations (Super Stars) of Lufthansa Airlines and others. I especially remember the Super-Conny, it’s 3-fin tail looked like a fork, I thought!

Much later, I had my own bicycle and was allowed to roam a bit further away from home, I pedaled on my own to the airport and stood next to the fence close to the threshold of runway 27L, right at the spot where the airplanes taxied onto the runway. At that time the airplanes still used to perform a run up, which sounded very spectacular, especially with the DC-6. Then the pilots let go of the brakes and the airplanes thundered down the runway, I thought that was great. And the Viscount with its typical turbine-whine, I thought it was cool too (but at that time no one called it cool)!

I always dreamed of flying along, but at that time one could hardly afford it. As a small child my parents had given my sister and me a flightseeing trip over Hannover, but I hardly could remember it. My parents took their first vacation trip by plane in 1962, to Tunesia, right at the day when the big storm surge hit at the North Sea coast. I adored the pictures my father brought back from their trip, I felt bad though because there were very few pictures from airplanes and their flight.

In school I was not too good a student! Especially German and English, also Math, somehow I didn’t like too much! My interest in airplanes was manifested in construction of a few model airplanes and by reading about adventure books dealing about aviation, but, off course, all those activities were not honored at school! So it went on for years, still I went to the airport now and then and enjoyed watching the first jets, Pan Am 727s and BEA BAC 1-11s, thundering down the runway. Also the first Caravelles showed up at Hannover every once in a while.

1969 my father decided to fill in an application for me to participate in an exchange program lasting an entire year. I was not too enthusiastic about that idea at first, but (at that time parents still had some authority) my father’s remark was “you will do that now” and that was it!

It took until May 1970 before I learned where I would be sent to. It could have been the USA, England, France, Australia, Brazil, Japan or even Iceland. You had to state a number of countries as your choice for the exchange year, but you had no guarantee where you would end up. The listed countries were my choice, I was well aware if it would be Japan or Iceland, I would have quite a language-problem!

Around Pentecost I got a letter from a family, who wrote that I was to be their new (guest) son for a year. They lived in Waverly, Nebraska, in the USA! Where in the world was that?? – It turned out, Waverly was a small town close to the capital of the state Nebraska, Lincoln. I would fly to the States in July together with a whole bunch of other exchanges, after a preparation conference in Bonn.

My time in the USA and the experiences, adventures and happenings are a different story! The flight over the ocean, via Iceland to Philadelphia in a DC8-63 was very exciting. After another conference close to Philadelphia there was another flight from Chicago to Omaha in a 727 from United. My guest-family picked me up at Omaha.

During my year in Nebraska I had to go to school, naturally. I went to Waverly High School, 12th grade. In Germany I had already completed 12th grade, at that time it took 13 years to complete high school in Germany and graduate, so I faced having to pass through 13th grade in Germany after my return. Here in Waverly I had to decide which classes in the American school system I would take for the year. To stay halfway current, I took math and physics, but also some practical classes like typing and drivers education. The latter saved me a lot of money after my return to Germany, since I had obtained my American drivers license before the year was over!

My physics teacher, Mike, was only 7 years older than I! His class was interesting and fun. Some time down the year the subject was vector calculations. Normally I would have said: “Yawn, we had that some time ago, how boring!” But with Mike vector calculations got a very different taste!

Apparently Mike had optained his pilots license already some time ago, and he now explained that vector calculations were used amongst other things to calculate tracks of airplanes to a destination considering wind, speed, heading and other factors. He divides us in groups of three and gave us a calculation: Prepare a flight from Lincoln to Beatrice, Columbus and back, the latter two being smaller airports not too far from Lincoln. He had gotten the actual wind on the ground / aloft and the actual weather before physics class had started. After all groups (there were four of them) had finished, Mike announced all over sudden: “… who feels like it and will chip in a few bucks as contribution to the costs, he can fly along with me this afternoon to prove if the calculations were correct!” I was speechless! Naturally I participated! Such a practical reference to the class, I never could have imagined anything like that in my own school at home!

The flight with Mike was great fun, we flew in a Piper Cherokee. Also our calculations were (almost) correct. I was so impressed, that I searched the opportunity to fly along with Mike a few more times during the rest of my stay. Sometimes I even was allowed to touch the control-yoke! And when Mike offered a basic aeronautics course in the second semester of the school-year, I naturally participated in that as well. At the end of my year I had caught the Aviation-Bug quite good!

Back home, I first had to finish my high-school career by passing through the 13. grade in a new class. My old class had finished school in the meantime after they had passed the graduation exams, which are mandatory in Germany. I struggled through the dry (and boring) subject matters, but after a year I also passed the exams and graduated. I was glad that was over with! All the time the idea rested in my head to get a job somehow connected with aviation. But which one, and how? I had asked Lufthansa airlines to send me information material about their careers as airline pilots, but I found out that at that time was too tall to meet their requirements. Also their very stiff ability tests scared me a bit.

So I enrolled at Hannover Technical University in mechanical engineering thinking I could specialize later to air- and space-engineering. Unfortunately it was the time of the first oil-shock. At that time the outlook for aviation and space was pretty grim, at least in Germany. The project VFW 614 was discontinued, it wasn’t sure whether the first airbus A300 would be a success, the vertical-takeoff plane of Dornier was scrapped, in short it didn’t look good.

Therefore I struggled with dry theoretical issues again! Especially thermodynamics was hard to digest. Maybe it was the professor’s fault, because a lot of fellow beginners had the same problems. One of the major exams of thermodynamics, about 90% of the students flunked!

After the end of the second semester I decided, besides taking a summer job, to fly back to Nebraska and visit my former guest-family and some old friends from my exchange year. Over the past years a nice and lasting contact had established with a “hard core” of friends, to which my former teacher, Mike, belonged as well. Mike had organized some extracurricular activities for his students while I was there, one of them was a cave trip and another one a canoe trip, both in the state of Missouri. Those trips infested my with two other “bugs”, since I both went spelunking and canoeing as hobbies later on in my life. At a meeting of the hard core the idea came up to repeat such a tour while I was there.

Mike had left Waverly High School in the meantime and had joined the Nebraska Department of Aeronautics for a full time job in aviation as a professional pilot (sometimes even for the governor of Nebraska), as an instructor and a tutor for aeronautics presentations. It was his idea, to make a cavetrip in Missouri over a weekend and fly down there. Driving to Missouri by car would have taken far too long, about 12 hours one way, too much for one weekend. Mike had the opportunity to rent one, even two airplanes from the University of Nebraska Flying club for a very reasonable price and therefore make this trip possible. Again I was speechless about this perspective.

The cave trip to Missouri was a great adventure, but that is a different story (see 3714 Tango). Shortly before I had to fly back home, Mike took me up in a Cherokee and gave me a couple flying lessons, also he took the hard core for a visit to the Strategic Air & Space Museum, at that time located at Offut Air Base close to Omaha, Nebraska. It was very interesting, and after that visit we went to Omaha Approach (Tracon) and watched the air traffic controllers. I was so fascinated, I could talk to some controllers, sit at the radar console and watch them handle the traffic.

Back home I started my summer job, together with some fellow students we were employed by Gilde Brewery of Hannover as assistant beer delivers! That was quite a job! The task was to be front-seat-passenger in a big truck delivering loads of beer to distant places and cities. It was fun! Besides I did some research on the possibility to join ATC in Germany. I visited Hannover Tower, the approach unit and even Hannover ACC (enroute center), which was still located at Hannover at that time. I was somehow a bit disappointed by realizing they were still using ancient technology there (steam radar, as it was called)! In Omaha I had seen digital and computerized radar processing already. But I filed an application anyway, also since I was assured that air traffic control in Germany was under full development and soon everything would “be better”!

Pretty soon I got an invitation to a qualifying examination, at that time it took place in Frankfurt. It lasted 2 days, and you didn’t get the results until some time later. My fellow students were back at school, but I continued the job at the brewery for a while, I wanted to wait if anything would turn out of my application. And then sometime in November I got a letter telling me that I had passed and they wanted to invite me for a theoretical course at the Air Traffic Control School in Munich at the beginning of December.

So the Aviation-Bug finally led to something constructive! I worked as an air traffic controller for 33 years until I retired a few years ago. I stayed in Bremen for 2 years after the theoretical training in Munich, then a short intermezzo in Frankfurt and then the rest of the time in Karlsruhe at Rhein Control, being an Upper Area Control Center. Some years later I even optained my private pilots license, of course with Mike in Nebraska. Unfortunately it was of not much use to me here in Germany. Anyway, I have stayed interested in aviation over all these years, besides being a controller, have followed several adventures of aviation with “hot ears” (e.g.. first solo balloon flight across the Atlantic, see A Balloon, a Weather Report and a Broken Foot), and I still get excited watching a “heavy” take off at Frankfurt Airport or anywhere else. You see what the Aviation-Bug can do to a person!