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Flying on airwaves

When Captain Bill Wilkerson was a youngster growing up in Knoxville, Tenn., he would barely notice planes flying overhead. The idea of flight was not yet a seed in his fertile young mind. It wasn’t long before he learned how to read. His mother happened to own a book called The Universal Library of Knowledge.

Captain Bill Wilkerson

The back of this book was a “self-teaching” section that gave the how-to procedures on a plethora of activities that Bill and his brother Tom would use to learn anything they could imagine. Bill happened upon the page titled “How to fly an airplane”. The brothers took the instructions and coupled with Bill’s 6 year-old ingenuity, they built an airplane. They took a floor model radio, which didn’t work but it did light up. This was their cockpit. They would put books down on the floor that would serve as their rudder pedal. A 78rpm record broken in half was their control wheel. Throw in a national geographic magazine and you have a host of locations to fly to off to. The seed was planted.

His first actual flight as a passenger really caught him off guard. He was used to building sturdy airplane models by hand. When he stepped into the real thing, it shook. While taxiing to the runway he was beginning to have second thoughts. If he turned back now, he could have sturdy ground under his feet and the five dollars he had paid to board in his pocket. But before he could voice all of these thoughts, the plane was cleared for takeoff. It was only when Bill’s plane was singularly suspended in mid-air that he looked down at his own neighborhood…

At his own house…

He was hooked.

Against many odds he continued to fly. Even the movie theaters in Knoxville were segregated. But not aviation. That same 6 year-old eventually got his pilot’s license and became manager of the US Airways Boeing 737 operations.

Ah, the wonders of radio.



One Response to “Flying on airwaves”

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  • Great story. I remember making cockpits out of old toys and castoff items when I was a kid. It was so wonderful to realize that the size of my world as a child was not dictated by miles or money but by the breadth of my imagination. How wonderful it is that Captain Wilkerson made the flights of his imagination come true! Now, where can I get a copy of that book his Mom gave him?

    Comment from Jeremy on April 3, 2009 at 11:15 am - Reply to this Comment

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