Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Master pilot marks 66 years of safe flying

From Argus Leader.com: Master pilot marks 66 years of safe flying
HARTFORD - Earle Geide is a quiet man drawn to quiet spaces. So no one's quite certain what this farmer/pilot is thinking when he's soaring through the sunlit silence in his 1946 Luscombe aircraft - with heaven above him and earth below.


Perhaps, Connie Geide says, her husband simply is admiring the patchwork of corn and soybean fields beneath his wings. Or maybe, she suggests with a smile, he just thinks he's a bird.


The 86-year-old aviator has been soaring through the firmament over South Dakota since the first weeks of peace at the end of World War II. Because he's done it so successfully, with barely a moment of panic, the Federal Aviation Administration has awarded him its Wright Brothers "Master Pilot" Award.

Only 21 South Dakotans have received the honor. Geide was the latest, in a ceremony Aug. 27 in Spearfish. It is given to pilots with 50 consecutive years of "building and maintaining the safest aviation system in the world ... through practicing and promoting safe aircraft flight operations."


In other words, in 66 years of flying, covering more than 4,000 hours, Geide never has flown recklessly enough to have his license revoked or to have caused any serious concern in the cockpit.
Or not much, anyway.


There was that one episode - the Geides say it was 30 years ago, though friends think it might have been 50 - when the couple was flying back from Mason City, Iowa. The front right landing gear had frozen and, as he neared home, Geide couldn't get it to go down.


They decided to put down at the Sioux Falls airport. Connie Geide recalled how her husband tried to "make abrupt drops up and down to try to jar it loose." It didn't work. With firetrucks standing by if needed, the plane found the runway and limped along on the left and rear wheels until it fell onto its right wing.
"I was scared that time," Connie Geide said. "And those abrupt drops ... I didn't like that part much, either."


Still, in 58 years of marriage and chasing the wind across the sky, it might be the only time Connie Geide worried in the passenger seat. As for her husband, he simply shakes his head when asked whether he's ever been afraid at the control of a plane.
(Page 2 of 3)
This is a guy who has taken off and landed innumerable times on a 2,400-foot strip no more than a quarter mile from the family farm southwest of Hartford. "I picked out the levelest piece of ground I could find on the farm," explained Geide, whose maintenance of that airstrip involves occasional mowing and filling in a gopher or badger hole every now and then.

Flying always has had a practical purpose for Geide. It was a good way to check his crops and his cattle near Lake Vermillion. In 15 minutes, he could be up in the air, survey his domain and be back on the ground.

"It became a part of his farming operation," said his friend, Bud Sittig, a retired Air National Guard general officer and Delta Air Lines pilot who now lives in Centennial, Colo. "It became a piece of equipment for him to operate, like a combine."
But it has been more than that to Geide, too, Sittig said. Even if his friend doesn't say it, there is "a spirit of freedom that any aviator feels when they strap on an airplane, and I know Earle feels that, too."

He certainly must have dreamed about that freedom when, as a farm boy growing up during the Depression west of Sioux Falls, he stood in his yard and watched planes passing overhead from horizon to horizon.
"I think you wanted to be up there," his wife said, "like a bird."

He bought his first airplane, a Navy surplus 1940 BL65 Taylorcraft, in Yankton at the end of World War II. It cost him $450, plus another $200 to recover the hail-damaged wings.

After he was married, Geide would fly his wife and two children - Orrin and Joy - to visit relatives in Indiana. Sittig's father, Harold, talked Geide into joining a group called the Flying Farmers & Ranchers, and the couple became heavily involved in that, flying to conventions or just to other members' homes for monthly gatherings. At one point, the Geides even flew to Alaska and back.
"You know, I can't honestly give you a good answer to what it is he likes about flying," said his daughter, Joy Hohn, who reportedly was the first female commercial pilot in South Dakota and, like her brother, got her passion for flight from their father.

(Page 3 of 3)

"He just loves the aspect of being up in the air," Hohn said of her dad. "If you can't talk flying or farming with my father, it's hard to talk with him."
When he does open up, Geide will tell you that he wishes there was more interest in groups such as the Flying Farmers today. Its membership is shrinking, he said, "because the young people aren't interested. They buy motorcycles so they don't have to get the physicals you need to fly."

The truth is, it's probably safer up there with the eagles than it is careening down an interstate or gravel road in a car or on a motorcycle, Sittig said. And that's why honoring people such as Earle Geide is important to the aviation industry in South Dakota, said Steve Hamilton, executive director of the S.D. Pilots Association.

He is a role model to the more than 2,000 South Dakotans who fly for pleasure or spray crops or operate helicopters and aircraft for hospitals, Hamilton said, adding, "he's one of the reasons we have a good reputation here in South Dakota for our aviation system."
How much longer he will add to that reputation is difficult to say. Geide doesn't say much about retiring, though he concedes that it's a little tougher these days to climb in and out of the cockpit, or to pay the price of airplane fuel.

"I think," he softly said, "that it's maybe getting about time to quit."
Seriously? No more sunlit silence? No more strapping on his plane to check the cattle?

Geide stared straight ahead. That was all he was going to say.

Reach reporter Steve Young at 331-2306.

This is a guy who has taken off and landed innumerable times on a 2,400-foot strip no more than a quarter mile from the family farm southwest of Hartford. "I picked out the levelest piece of ground I could find on the farm," explained Geide, whose maintenance of that airstrip involves occasional mowing and filling in a gopher or badger hole every now and then.


Flying always has had a practical purpose for Geide. It was a good way to check his crops and his cattle near Lake Vermillion. In 15 minutes, he could be up in the air, survey his domain and be back on the ground.


"It became a part of his farming operation," said his friend, Bud Sittig, a retired Air National Guard general officer and Delta Air Lines pilot who now lives in Centennial, Colo. "It became a piece of equipment for him to operate, like a combine."

But it has been more than that to Geide, too, Sittig said. Even if his friend doesn't say it, there is "a spirit of freedom that any aviator feels when they strap on an airplane, and I know Earle feels that, too."


He certainly must have dreamed about that freedom when, as a farm boy growing up during the Depression west of Sioux Falls, he stood in his yard and watched planes passing overhead from horizon to horizon.
"I think you wanted to be up there," his wife said, "like a bird."


He bought his first airplane, a Navy surplus 1940 BL65 Taylorcraft, in Yankton at the end of World War II. It cost him $450, plus another $200 to recover the hail-damaged wings.


After he was married, Geide would fly his wife and two children - Orrin and Joy - to visit relatives in Indiana. Sittig's father, Harold, talked Geide into joining a group called the Flying Farmers & Ranchers, and the couple became heavily involved in that, flying to conventions or just to other members' homes for monthly gatherings. At one point, the Geides even flew to Alaska and back.
"You know, I can't honestly give you a good answer to what it is he likes about flying," said his daughter, Joy Hohn, who reportedly was the first female commercial pilot in South Dakota and, like her brother, got her passion for flight from their father.

"He just loves the aspect of being up in the air," Hohn said of her dad. "If you can't talk flying or farming with my father, it's hard to talk with him."

When he does open up, Geide will tell you that he wishes there was more interest in groups such as the Flying Farmers today. Its membership is shrinking, he said, "because the young people aren't interested. They buy motorcycles so they don't have to get the physicals you need to fly."


The truth is, it's probably safer up there with the eagles than it is careening down an interstate or gravel road in a car or on a motorcycle, Sittig said. And that's why honoring people such as Earle Geide is important to the aviation industry in South Dakota, said Steve Hamilton, executive director of the S.D. Pilots Association.


He is a role model to the more than 2,000 South Dakotans who fly for pleasure or spray crops or operate helicopters and aircraft for hospitals, Hamilton said, adding, "he's one of the reasons we have a good reputation here in South Dakota for our aviation system."
How much longer he will add to that reputation is difficult to say. Geide doesn't say much about retiring, though he concedes that it's a little tougher these days to climb in and out of the cockpit, or to pay the price of airplane fuel.


"I think," he softly said, "that it's maybe getting about time to quit."
Seriously? No more sunlit silence? No more strapping on his plane to check the cattle?


Geide stared straight ahead. That was all he was going to say.

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