I was 17 in 1958 when I joined the Navy Air Reserve at the old Oakland Naval Air Station - North Field Oakland Airport. I had never even been in a plane till I hopped a ride on a twin engine Navy SNB Beechcraft for a flight around the Bay Area. Seeing all the various Navy aircraft and an assortment of fighter planes at the Naval Air Station struck my interest in learning to fly.
In 1959 I visited Commodore Aviation in the big white building over in Marin next to the Richardson Bay Bridge. At that time Commodore was a full bore flight training school for people who wanted to fly seaplanes. They had a flight school there to train pilot candidates for private and commercial licenses. They used Luscombe aircraft of different horsepower as the training planes. After seeing the flight school and talking to the nice people there I signed up for a private pilot program. Soon I was headed out to the pier to board one of the Luscombe seaplanes for my first training flight. The plane was sitting in a field of mud as it was low tide. "No worry we can taxi in the mud", said Al Crook my instructor. So we slipped and slid out off the mud out into the water - we soon were ready for take off into the wind. Soon as we took off we made a sharp left turn over the highway and over the shore line above the house boats. We could see people sunbathing on the decks of the houseboats.
For the next few weeks I learned how to take off and land. Make turns, do stalls, read the compass and practiced VFR flight rules. We would use the Golden Gate Bridge as a target for practicing 90 degree and 180 degree turns. I also attended ground school at Commodore and learned about weather, navigation, map reading, and theory of flight. After 17 hours of duel instruction I was ready for my first solo. I was starting to wonder about this as I heard the average pilot learns to solo in about 7 or 8 hours so I was really a late bloomer. "Pull up to the dock and let me out", said the flight instructor. He asked me for my student license which he signed on the back. He then said, " taxi out, take off, fly around the pattern and land."
I was only a little nervous at the prospect of making my solo flight. I taxied out to the take off location took a deep breath and hit full power, the plane lifted up on the step nice and steady and soon I was off the water and headed towards the highway were I would make my sharp left turn. It felt great, my heart soon was in my throat, or so it seemed. I flew to pattern altitude made a wide turn and began my descent for landing. It was a tricky landing as you had to fly along Belvedere and Tiburon below Strawberry Manor and hop over some trees then down into the slot near Commodore. I landed pretty hard and actually bounced up and down again. Finally I was down and taxing back to the pier. Mr. Crook was waiting with a smile on his face, "Congrats Ron, nice going except you came down awful fast. You don't want to come to down like that again or run the risk of cartwheeling and bursting into flames"... I had to think about that one. I had the same sensation as when I first learned to ride a bike and swam in deep water for the first time - a sense of liberation.
So for the next year or so I would go over to Sausalito to take a lesson or fly solo. I had to progress to cross country flying first with an instructor to places like Lake Berryesa, Clear Lake and Woodward Reservoir in the Central Valley out past Modesto in Stanislaus County. I had to make some solo cross country flight too. One was to Woodward Reservoir on a very hot summer day. The aircraft we used were not equiped with radios - I found out later this was probably not very safe due to the huge amount of air traffic there is in the Bay Area. I had to plot the course to Woodward out on my map and do some fancy seat of my pants flying looking for landmarks along the way. Spotting it (I remembered it from having been there with the instructor) I made a nice clean landing and taxied up to the beach to refuel. I gunned it to get it up on the beach then jumped out and pushed it up so it wouldn't float away. I had a two five gallon cans of gas strapped to the seat next to me. I unhooked one and climbed up on the wing and pored it in the fuel tank using a funnel. While doing this I lost a black ring my mother had given me and it remains at the bottom of Woodward. Flying back to Sausalito was easy, as soon as I took off I saw Mt. Diablo looming in the distance. I reached 8,000 feet and just aimed for Diablo. Once over that great Bay Area landmark I made my descent across the Bay only to see huge fog banks sweeping dramatically down over the Marin hills. It was so beautiful to see all this and to realize I was flying alone across this expanse of San Francisco Bay. Soon I was approaching Richardson Bay, up and over the trees and splashed down gently into the wind... What a great feeling this was.
This was how I learned to fly over 50 years ago.
Causes Ron Cabral Supports
National Wildlife Federation, California State and National Parks, Arf, Paralyzed Veterans, National Film Preservation Foundation, California Historical...