Zach Greene carried an obsession for flying from as far back as he could remember. His mom says that from the time he was five, he was forever spreading his arms and flying through the house, jumping on and off the furniture, careening from room to room, and making airplane noises until she wanted to strangle him. It all started when his dad took him to an air show where there were all kinds of aircraft on display. There were the newest and the oldest Air Force and Navy fighter aircraft, business jets, old and new GA (general aviation) models, choppers, just about everything except commercial airliners.
But the machine that captured his imagination and set off his passion for flying was an old Stearman biplane trainer, built in 1942 and flown by a white-haired old guy in a leather helmet and goggles. He looked older than Zach's grandpa. He did loops, rolls, he even flew down the runway about forty feet off the ground upside down! After his show, he offered rides for fifty bucks a pop, but Zach's dad wasn't willing to spring for that. Zach cried.
From the moment he saw that big yellow monster, he was hooked, and from that moment on, he never wanted to be anything but a pilot when he grew up. Never a firefighter, never a police officer, never a doctor nor a cowboy. He was going to be a pilot! No other profession need apply.
By the time he reached his teens, his room was crammed with model airplanes, and he had scrapbooks with pictures of about every kind of flying machine you could imagine. There must have been fifty books on the history of flying and aircraft on his bookshelves.
Any time he could manage it, he'd ride his bike out to the county airport, about three miles from town. It wasn't very big, only six privately owned hangars, a crop dusting operation, and the main hangar with the maintenance shop and a cramped, shabbily furnished pilot's lounge where the local recreational flyers met to compare war stories and talk about how much moisture their crops got during the last storm.
There were no scheduled flights in or out. It was mostly used by farmers flying their Cessnas and Pipers, but from time to time, gas exploration companies would take up temporary residence and park their King Airs and Citations on the apron.
The guy that owned the crop dusting service had an old radial engine Thrush that was louder than six locomotives when it took off with a full load. Zach must have asked him a dozen times if he could go for a ride, but the guy said he couldn't because it only had one seat, and besides, his insurance wouldn't allow it. That's when he made himself a promise that he'd fly a big crop-duster of his own, someday.
Even when there weren't any planes landing or taking off, he'd hang out with George Klein, the airport manager. George was hands down, the best aircraft mechanic in the region, so customers would bring their planes to him from several surrounding counties. He'd let Zach help around the hangar, sweeping up, cleaning tools, that kind of stuff.
When George was doing an annual inspection on somebody's plane, Zach would follow him around and have whatever tool he needed already in hand before he even asked for it. Heck, the boy could probably have done a lot of the inspection himself, because he knew how to access and inspect all the cables, check engine compression, all that stuff.
Between the library and the Internet, Zach learned about, and could name, just about any type of plane you could point to. He knew all the local ones, of course, but even if one was just flying over the area, if it wasn't too high, he could tell you what it was, how much fuel it burned, what it's range was, it's cruise speed, all kinds of things.
One day in June, when Zach had just turned sixteen and school was out for the summer, George offered him a real job. Of course, he jumped at it, but the condition was that he had his parent's permission. The problem was that his family was supposed to be taking off to the mountains for their annual three-week trip to the cabin.
He hated those trips because they bored him to tears. His dad was one of those 'great outdoors' types who thought if you weren't reeling in a fish or shooting some kind of furry critter, you just weren't getting into the spirit of things. Zach knew he'd have an uphill climb to get his folks to let him stay home and work at the airport.
He argued and argued and argued, but he wasn't making any headway until he talked George into coming by the house to plead on his behalf. George promised Zach's folks that he could stay with him and his wife while they were away, and that he'd see the boy didn't get into any trouble. He told Mr. and Mrs. Greene their son was already well on his way to becoming a top-notch aircraft mechanic, and a summer spent working in the hangar would be a big boost for him if he got into aviation like he wanted to.
Mr. Greene finally relented for a couple of reasons. One, Zach was only an average student in school, and he wasn't looking like a great college prospect. If he could master a trade like aircraft mechanics, he'd probably be able to make a decent living for himself. And two, he knew he'd have to put up with three weeks of grumbling and pouting if he didn't let the kid off the hook on the family vacation thing. Zach could be a major pain in the ass when he set his mind to it.
The kid worked his butt off, earning every penny he was paid, and then some. He kept the hangar, the office and the pilot's lounge spotless. There was always fresh coffee in the pot and cold sodas in the cooler for whoever might drop in. He even brought in an old computer from the garage and set it up to display all the latest aircraft weather data. Of course, George had to pay for the Wi-Fi connection, but local and visiting pilots appreciated the convenience.
When he wasn't cleaning, he was helping George work on the planes. Before long, he was allowed to pack wheel bearings, change engine oil and clean spark plugs in the sand blaster, all without supervision. For annual inspections, he'd pull the seats and open all the inspection ports, making George's job go a lot faster. By the time the Greene family got back to town from their vacation, George was wondering how he ever got along without their son.
The first week in July, two planes were flown in from the neighboring county for annuals. One was a Cessna 210, a real beauty and practically brand-new. The other one was a little Cessna 150. It was about twenty-five years old, but it had been well maintained, and it only had a little over four thousand hours on the engine. It was to be inspected, polished up, then posted for sale on the bulletin board.
Well, Zach wanted that little green and white 150 so bad, he ached. The owner was only asking twenty thousand for it, but he may as well have been asking a million. He knew better than to approach his dad for the money. For starters, he couldn't even fly it until he took lessons and passed all the tests, and he couldn't hold a private license until he was seventeen, another ten months away.
Every day, George saw him practically drooling over the little two-seater. He'd walk around it, moving the ailerons, elevators and rudder. He'd sit in it and study the instruments. He knew the kid would be heartbroken when somebody came in and snatched it up, as they surely would at that price.
After giving it a lot of thought, George called him into the office one day and made him a proposition. He said he'd be willing to buy the 150 and rent it out as a trainer if Zach could find some way to pay for lessons. George didn't have an instructor's rating, but he knew a woman in town who did, and she was always looking for new student pilots.
Well of course, Zach was ecstatic! "Really? Would you George? That'd be awesome! How much are lessons?"
"Now, you'll have to discuss that with Beth. I expect she charges about twenty-five an hour, but she might be willing to give you a break since you're workin' for me. As far as the rental fee, well, I'd normally ask another twenty-five an hour, but I'd be willing to make you a deal on that."
"Um, how many hours of training will I need before I can take the test for my license?"
"Well, first of all, you know you can't take the test 'til you're seventeen. As far as how many hours you'd need, I guess that depends on how good a student you are. There's a lot of bookwork that goes along with the flying, but you seem to have a pretty good head on your shoulders, so maybe thirty-five hours, maybe more, maybe less. And you need to understand that Beth ain't gonna do this on credit. You gotta have the cash on hand for every lesson."
"Um, is it the same on the rental fee? Do I need to give you cash every time I use the plane?"
"Like I said, we might be able to work out a deal on that. You could work off that fee here in the shop at, say, ten bucks an hour. If you had a lesson scheduled, I'd just deduct the rental fee from your paycheck. Now, if you do good work and take real good care of the plane, that rental fee could be applied to the purchase price. Once you get your license, I'll let you have the 150 for what I paid, twenty thousand. How does that sound?"
"You mean it could really be mine some day!? Damn, George, I'm ready! Can you call Beth, 'cause I've got some money saved up at the bank? I'm ready to start right now!"
The lanky old mechanic chuckled and shook his head, "No, you're not, Zach. You're still a minor, so you need written permission from your folks to sit in that left seat. Now, you know I'll stand behind you, but if your dad and mom say no, it ain't gonna happen."
.... There is more of this story ...