Learn to Fly

Last weekend I took my dad on an overnight road trip to the Washington, D.C. area to visit the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum hanger attached to Dulles International Airport.

I had visited the hanger last October when Jessica was getting ready for her college friend’s wedding in Winchester, Virginia. I hijacked my mother-in-law and took her with me. They have just about every major airplane you could imagine.

History-making aircraft, such as the SR-71 spy plane (the fastest aircraft even to this day), the Space Shuttle Discovery (first shuttle to launch after the Challenger blew up after takeoff), the Enola Gay (which dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan), and a Concorde (only supersonic passenger jet).

I had planned to take Dad in December as a birthday/Christmas gift, but the schedules didn’t allow for that. Once the legislative session ended, I was determined to make the trip a reality.

Dad and I haven’t had a road trip since he drove us to Idaho to visit family when I was in high school. And surprisingly, we realized that dad had never ridden in a car with me behind the wheel. In fact, I don’t remember who taught me how to drive. I only remember my cousin Dennis teaching me how to drive standard when I had a Geo Metro for a short amount of time.

I hated that car.

One of the benefits to ending my self-imposed driving ban over the last decade is getting to drive to St. Marys and see dad, other family members, and friends. Nearly two weeks ago I was home for a community quiz bowl tournament to raise funds for scholarships. It was great fun to play against old bosses, former teachers, and community leaders.

But back to the road trip. My dad is a Marine Corps veteran who spent years building land-based temporary landing strips and capturing planes with wresting gear. If you’ve seen planes land on an aircraft carrier, you see their tail hooks catch a cable and bring them to a quick stop. Dad helped operated the land version of that same system. He dealt with A-6 Intruders and F-4 Phantoms primarily. The hanger had both of those, including one that was being restored.

It was a good road trip that I was happy to treat dad to. We stayed the night in Shepherdstown, had a nice meal, and I didn’t let him pay for a thing. It was a small deposit, as I certainly can’t re-pay dad for all the sacrifices he made to make sure I didn’t become a delinquent. It was an also a good chance to just talk. I almost always learn something about him, or even myself, that I didn’t previously know.

The nice thing about the location we were in was our proximity to historical locations. When I was a kid I was really into Civil War history. I had always wanted to visit a battlefield (I’ve been to battlefields in West Virginia, but I honestly don’t count those). As we drove into Shepherdstown we passed Antietam National Battlefield. It didn’t occur to me our journey would take us right by there. Dad had brought his camera for the museum, and he asked if we could stop by the battlefield on our way out of town. You didn’t have to ask me twice.

The battlefield is awe-inspiring. It’s expansive. It’s hard to even imagine the carnage. More than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died. It was a Union victory, but only barely. It resulted in the commanding Union general being replaced by Gen. Ulysses Grant. It also encouraged President Abraham Lincoln to move forward with the Emancipation Proclamation.

It was definitely a road trip I’ll remember.