Excellent thread! Sit back with your favorite beverage (adult or not) and put your feet up, it's a long story boys and girls.
My parents started taking us on trips from CLE to ORL to visit my Grandparents three or four times a year, almost always by plane. The first flights I remember (though may have been more earlier in life) would have been when I was about five, EAL DC7's from CLE making what seemed like 2-3 stops/connections to get to ORL. Then I recall getting on a UAL SE-210 Caravelle as the first jet flight and then B707's. I am sure that is when I started to love flying and aviation in general. We had many trips to ORL and on some we'd go out to the old Naval Air Station in Sanford just north of Orlando to watch the planes come and go. Vivid memories on 1969 flying from CLE-JFK-OSL and a number of other Euro spots and watching from a OSL hotel when Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon.
From there my Dad decided to flying lessons and I'd go along a few times with him and the instructor in a BE23 in the back. After a few accidents of private planes got media coverage my Mom decided it was time for him to stop taking lessons and particularly taking me along, so that ended his flying days with I think around 15 hours. But I was hooked and determined to get my license, but needed to wait until I was old enough to start lessons, oh Mom won't like this!
After moving from CLE or Ft. Myers, Florida, we'd fly quite a bit on old National Airlines B727's out of FMY. National was the only jet airline at the time while Marco Island Airways flew Martin 4-0-4's and Florida Airlines flew DC-3's around the state. Every National flight either went to MIA or TPA and the others not quite sure where they flew. I vividly remember walking out of the terminal building that had one or two gates onto the ramp to board the National planes. Love hearing that APU running all the time thinking I've got to fly one of these babies.
I got accepted to attend LeTourneau College in Longview, Texas, for a degree in some sort of aviation with the sole reason to get my Private license. Between my senior year in high school and college I got a job at Ft. Myers Airways as a lineman, I was in heaven. Being around planes all the time, fueling them, towing them, washing them was great fun as well as a learning experience plus meeting some very nice corporate pilots who always would love to talk about flying with me. The job was short lived as I headed to Texas for college and quickly found out, college and I did not mix. The only thing I studied for was ground school and took my first lesson in January. I quickly soloed the first of February and yep, the tail of my shirt was then hanging in the FBO at GGG. School was out for the summer before I got my private so when I got home quickly finished up at FMY and got my private in early July. My Mom was actually very happy and pleased (as all Mom's would be) that I accomplished that, but not happy I was not going back to school. During the summer I got my job back at FMY which gave me even more flying time plus was around when EAL, DAL, TWA, UAL started flights to FMY and Ft. Myers Airways had the fueling contract. WEEEEEE what fun that was to actually be able to climb up the stairs and give the pilots the fuel receipt, even get a Coke from the flight attendants from time to time.
I had decided I wanted a job as an airline pilot, period. The FSS was just across the ramp from the old terminal since the airport had opened a new one across the airport. The FBO took over the old terminal so I'd walk over the FSS for a pre-flight briefing almost every day rather than call before I'd go fly. One day one of the FSS Sups asked me what I was going to do and I proudly announced "be an airline pilot" to which he politely told me I needed to wake up as I had a huge problem ahead of me. First major issue was Viet Nam had just ended and those airline and corporate jobs would be scooped up by the military pilots with thousands of hours. Next, I stood absolutely no chance of getting hired by anyone either airline or corporate with something like 150 hours of single engine time. I was devastated, but determined to get one of those jobs. A couple of days later the same fella took me aside and asked me if I'd thought of being an air traffic controller, hmmmm ah NO, that was not flying. He advised me to go check it out over at the tower which I did one day and talked with a few of them who I recognized by voice after having them control my flights. One told me to take the test to be an Army controller and see what I get. Army, you mean helicopters, not my idea of controlling jets since they could hover!!! He told me that the Army at the time was the only service that gave their controllers a Control Tower Operator (CTO) certificate and that would weigh heavy with the FAA after my four years of service. Not sure if that was correct or not, but I took the bait and away I went.
Basic training went by fast and before I knew it I was at Ft. Rucker in tower and RADAR training. Next assignment I was assigned to the U.S. Army Communications Command (USACC) at Ft. Bragg, NC., home of the 82nd Airborne. Simmons Army Airfield (FBG) was my home in the GCA for the next 28 or so months and it was a BLAST. We'd get the C130's doing approaches, of course plenty of Army helo's and all sort of private flying from the base flying club. I was so blessed as all I did was control planes the entire time. Basically I was a civilian wearing fatigues at work. But I wanted out when my four year tour was up so I had taken the FAA ATC exam and passed with a very high score and was honorably discharged to next wait for an FAA hire date to show up in the mail. HMMM Federal hiring freeze went into effect, though ATC could hire one controller per region when two left (retired, quit, fired, failed training etc.). I'd call the Southwest Regional office (had the most open facilities before the freeze) where I'd requested to be place almost daily, pity the lady who kept getting those calls.
Then August 1981 hit and on August 6th I got the call. If I could be in OKC to start school on August 10th, I was hired. OMG, yeah wasn't flying for hire just fun, but a Fed job if I could pass the Academy four month course. That time went by fast and Jan. 2nd I was sitting in my first FAA facility in the resort community of Beaumont, Texas. I worked tower and approach control there till 1983 when IAH told me I was selected. Hey, I'm gonna be in the show now. Lots of jets and fun ahead at a major airport with many airlines.
We worked both tower and TRACON, dual qualified until around 1990 when the FAA decided to split the up and down, so you only worked tower or RADAR, not both. However, our manager was a genius and basically told the FAA to pack sand as he was going to go what was best for his facility and decided to keep one or two from each crew dual rated UFN and I was blessed once again as I was one that got to be dual qualified. His thinking was we needed to have some RADAR folks training the new tower kids on what happens in the TRACON as most had never worked any RADAR before. Yes they'd be limited RADAR controllers in the tower, but he wanted that connection. When the new IAH Tower opened in 1997, I continued to be then the only dual rated controller until I decided in around 2003, that now with an office job and staying dual qualified it was time to drop the tower side and only be RADAR current. The office job got me involved in many projects with airlines, corporate flight departments, military and FAA programs. What great fun to be able to head over to the COA sim building for a meeting with their flight tech guys and end up in one of their sims for any number of reasons. While I don't have all of those hours signed by the guys who were instructors in my log book, the MD80, B733, B735, B738, B752, B772 hours were great fun, but the B788 sim was the best and those two landings are signed off.
Retired now for eight plus years and have been very very fortunate to have enjoyed such a great fun career in aviation as well as flying. Some 36 years of gov't time and 1,500+ hours in the log book. I no longer fly, but will often open up the log books remembering some of those flights for breakfast/lunch/dinner, flying to the Key's from FMY a few times, taking delivery of brand new C172's and C210's in ICT for the FBO in FMY, flying some GCA approaches provided by the controllers I was training or worked next to at FBG and the list goes on and on. I have to mention all of the wonderful people I have had the privilege of meeting, whether it be corporate or airline pilots, FAA people both I worked with or met through projects I was involved in, many of which are great friends to this day.
Oh well, guess I went overboard with my love of aviation......now you need that beer!