By Meredith Sell | Echo
Mankind's dream of flight came true more than 100 years ago, in 1903, when the Wright brothers successfully flew their first manned aircraft. Since then, flight has been used primarily for warfare and transportation purposes, abbreviating trips that once took months to just a few hours. Yet, as a general pastime, flying remains fairly rare, something many people still only dream of.
On the south side of Marion, where the Marion Municipal Airport's 6,000 feet of runway stretch across the ground, dreams of flight are coming true.
Andy Darlington, 38, manager of the airport and Air Marion Inc., his family's aviation service, is at the airport almost daily, running the general operations and teaching dreamers how to fly.
Andy spent a lot of his childhood at the airport. He mowed the grass, fueled the airplanes and sometimes-when the weather was nice, and he felt like it-he flew. He had his first solo flight on his 16th birthday-the earliest legal time to fly alone-but looking back, says he didn't fly nearly as much as he could have.
"I didn't realize the opportunity that I had at the time," Andy said.
It wasn't until Andy went to college at Purdue, didn't fly for about three years and then returned to the airport in 1995, that he realized how much he enjoyed flying.
"Being here, something just clicked," Andy said. "I realized this is what I wanted to do."
About four years later, Andy got licensed to flight instruct, and since then he's been teaching whoever comes along.
Jay Pulley, 51, and Jeff Weir, 61, are two of Andy's current flight students. Both have wanted to fly since they were children.
"I always had an interest in aviation," said Jeff, who works as a chaplain at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Marion. "When I was a little kid, my friends and my brother would build model cars, but I'd build model airplanes."
Jeff learned everything he could about aviation. He read books; for one of his childhood birthdays, he went to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
"When I was about 14, I saved up my money and took my first flying lesson in Toledo, Ohio, where I was raised," Jeff said.
Jeff enjoyed the lesson, and he was able to pay for a second one, but after that, he didn't take any more lessons. He saved his money, worked his way through college, got married, had a family and left flying behind until he moved to Marion a few years ago. Now, he's been flying for three years, he's been licensed since last spring and he's working on his instrument rating so he'll be able to fly in clouds.
Jeff said flying gives him a new perspective.
"You get up there, and you can see so much," Jeff said. "You realize . . . how big the world is, and that you're part of that-not just part of your daily life that you live. It's a refreshing perspective."
Jay, a project manager at Kirby Risk Electrical Supply, just started flying this year. He soloed once on March 15, after about 23 cumulative hours flying with an instructor. Since then, the weather-especially the wind-has kept him on the ground or given him the company of Andy or Andy's father in the co-pilot's seat.
"They make you feel so comfortable, and they give you total control of the airplane," Jay said. "Maybe not on the first couple times, but after that, they're just instructing and riding with you as you're in total control. They make sure you get all of your maneuvers down pat."
This past Monday, Jay worked on landing in a crosswind-wind that pushes against the side of the plane.
"Once we got in the air, I knew we weren't going to be able to solo him," Andy said, "but it was a good day for him to be out practicing."
Andy teaches by allowing his students to make mistakes.
"Never to a point where it hurts the plane," Andy said, "but I want you to make a bad landing. You learn more from a bad landing, than you do from me saving it."
This doesn't mean that flight lessons are all stress with no relief. When Andy takes someone flying for the first time, he makes sure they enjoy it. He takes off and lands for them, he shows them that the plane doesn't drop or spin when their hands leave the controls or when the power is pulled back to an idle and he introduces them to the freedom of flying.
"There are still rules when you're up there flying, but (if) you're in a car, you've got the street and you've got to stay on the road," Andy said. "(If) you're up in a plane, you want to go left, you just go left. . . . It's very free."
"Flying," Jay said. "It really is awesome."