It was 1964 in the basement of our home in New York. My dad built a walk-in cedar closet. My memory tells me that the room was always a fun place to hide and discover, packed to the rafters with clothes. Within the folds of fabric, I found the green dress uniform of an Army Air Corp lieutenant, complete with wings and medals, hat, blouse and slacks. My only impression at the time was this was yet another costume for me to play with.
I discovered my father’s love for flying 50 years ago when he took me flying on my eighth birthday. Picking up after school, we were off to Zahns Airport in Amityville with two throw pillows from my bed so I could see over the cowling of the 1940 canary yellow Piper J-3 Cub. Complete with the black thunder stripe, of course.
My dad’s friend and the airport manager, Ed Lyons, pulled the propeller through a couple of times. Dad yelled "clear," Ed gave a final tug and the 65-horsepower Lycoming came to life. For the next five decades, his passion for flight never diminished.
Dad’s love for flying began as a child building model planes, flying them over the fields of Garden City and the waters of Oyster Bay. He worked for Grumman Aviation, building wings for seaplanes and warplanes.
Lt. Ben Rosman was a P-47 pilot stationed in Pisa, Italy flying support and ground assault missions in Germany. I learned from newspaper reports that he was not just a pilot, but also a true war hero, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross with two or three Oak Leaf Clusters.
Our home on Long Island was most likely purchased because it was on the base-to-final turn for Grumman’s Bethpage airport. He is the son of immigrant parents with no flying experience, yet flying became, and still is, his life force.
This brings me to my favorite flying story about my dad.
Zahns Airport was the "premier" airport on Long Island for many years. This is where people came after Sunday church to watch the planes take off and land. The runway’s north threshold was only two hundred feet from the hangers, so "hitting the numbers" was the ultimate target of Zahns pilots — one my father (and later myself) was able to hit on a regular basis.
It was a perfect Sunday for playing in the Cub, with the winds blowing straight down the runway. Dad slipped the Cub in for a perfect two-point landing at the end of the runway, turned off at the first intersection, shut down the engine and coasted toward the gas pumps.
The crowd stared as the lifeless little plane rolled toward them. At the last moment, dad kicked the rudder and the Cub turned so its clamshell door faced the audience. As the door opened, they saw a 9-year-old boy in the front seat. My father unfolded himself from the back seat of the yellow-and-black, wood-and-cloth flying machine. (Cubs only have only two seats, one behind the other.) My father looked at the audience, smiled and said "Whewww. Just ran out of gas!"
The crowd gasped in horror. Ed Lyons and my dad laughed at the joke. Years later, I pulled the same stunt in the same Piper Cub. Got the same gasp.
Since my dad’s retirement, a personal aviation museum has grown in his basement. He is “living history” as a volunteer at the Air Power Museum. He tells flying stories at the slightest provocation. He is equally impressed with the simplest toy glider as he is with a 747. I felt his pain at the loss to aviation on Sept. 11, 2001 and again a month later when American Airlines lost another plane in Rockaway, N. Y.
I have had the honor of meeting many of the greats of aviation history, from the Grumman family to a number of U.S. and Russian astronauts. However, as they ride in the comfort of their worldwide acclaim, “Benny” Rosman will always be one of “those magnificent men and their flying machines.”
Happy Father’s Day.
David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.