Ted Hall, of Upperco, has been flying planes for more than half a century.
It's a lifelong passion that recently garnered him the Federal Aviation Administration's Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, given to those pilots who have maintained safe operations in their planes for 50 or more years.
Hall answered the Times' questions about how he first became interested in flying and about some of the favorite places he flew (spoiler alert: He previously carted doctors to villages in Mexico).
Q: How long have you been flying planes, and what first piqued your interest in aviation?
A: I have now been flying for 57 consecutive years; this means keeping my FAA physical current and bi-annual flight checks to date.
My dad took me to the airport when I was about 8 years old. From then on, I was totally and completely captivated with flying. I even built an old wooden plane when I was pre-teen and pulled it up in a tree to fly out. Needless to say, I suffered a few injuries when it fell out of the tree with me attached.
Q: What and where was the first plane you ever flew?
A: Growing up in the Blue Ridge mountains of Galax, Va., I often spent all my free time at the local airport. Pilots would take me flying, so I actually got to ride in several small planes. Then early one Saturday morning in April 1956, I went to the airport, opened the hangar doors and removed a J-3 Cub to the outside.
I had not soloed any airplane but would wash the planes and take rides with other pilots. However, on this morning, I decided just to taxi the Cub down to the end of the runway and back while no one was around. No one would ever know. I was a 16-year-old, 120-pound skinny kid at this juncture of my life. Reaching the end of the runway, I turned the Cub around and was going to taxi up the runway a little bit faster. Long and horrifying story short: I open the throttle, and before I knew what had happened I was in the air.
Needless to say, I was stricken with fear and terrified. Holding the control stick like it was a deadly snake, I gingerly turned the Cub until it was flying back and off to the side of the runway I just left. Remembering how the pilots that had given me rides had flown the planes, I tried to mimic them. I knew, however, that I was probably as good as dead, and they would be collecting my remains shortly. Trying to control my fear, I gradually lined up with the runway and gently retarded the throttle. Crossing over the fence at the end of the runway, I pulled the throttle to idle and to my total and profound amazement made the best landing I can remember. As I taxied back to the hangar, a high school friend of mine, Billy Payne, came riding up on his bike - he had seen it all. This flight was reenacted Aug. 8, 2009.
Q: Why and how was it reenacted?
A: At that time, I owned an identical J-3 Cub. It had been 50 years I had soloed by "accident" when I flew the J-3 off that grass strip. So to celebrate that event, I made arrangements with the owner of the "airport" (which was now a hay field) to fly down, land and take off again as I had done 50 years earlier. Numerous people gathered to witness this. It was a fun day.
Q: What kind of planes do you typically fly and to what places?
A: I currently own and fly a Cessna Skyhawk on a regular basis. However, I am rated to fly multi-engine airplanes and did charter flights among others in my younger years. I can be "type" rated to fly just about any airplane. Normally I will fly locally and sometimes to Ocean City or down in Virginia and up in Pennsylvania.
Q: What are some of your favorite flying memories?
A: Some of my favorite memories were flying as a "missionary bush pilot" in old Mexico for several years - mainly flying in the remote mountains of Chihuahua and other places. I flew in medical doctors to local villages many times a year; flew Wycliffe Bible Translators into remote mountains to translate Indian languages so they could have the Bible in their own language; flew local Mexican pastors on numerous trips to villages to teach, preach and build churches; flew medical supplies into Mennonite clinics. These were my best and worst experiences and the most challenging as far as flying and navigating were concerned. I have many flying stories about flying into Mexico.
Q: What is the Federal Aviation Administration's Wright Brothers Master Pilot award?
A: In short, it is "In recognition for your contributions to building and maintaining the safest aviation system in the world through practicing and promoting safe aircraft flight operations for more than 50 consecutive years." To receive this award, you must have 50 consecutive years of flying with no accident, incident or violation.
Q: What does it mean to you to be a recipient of the Wright Brothers Master Pilot award?
A: To me, this is a "Life Time Achievement Award." People often ask, "How do you choose the right vocation for your life?" Choose something you enjoy doing, that will be a help and blessing to others, that will glorify the Lord, and simply do it. God wants us to be happy in our vocation, and if you are not, then change to one in which you are. You may not have all the answers, but as my 8-year-old granddaughter, Isabel, responded when asked, "How does the tooth fairy know when you have lost a tooth?," "Grandpa," she said, "I know some things. I don't know everything."