As with most of us who are currently involved in flying, Don’s interest in aviation began at a fairly early age. When he was 10 years old (during WW II) he was a “Junior Aircraft Observer” with the Junior Aircraft Warning Service of America. However, he can’t remember ever having warned anyone of an observed aircraft! He built and flew (destroyed) many rubber band powered models and progressed on to gasoline powered controlled line models. He continued building and flying models until his mid teens when he became more interested in girls than airplanes. One girl in particular who is now and has been for the past 51 years, his ever so tolerant and loving wife, Betty.
In early 1962 Don read an article in the newspaper about some local guys that were into skydiving and decided to see what it was about. He contacted them, and on April 7, 1962, after about 10 minutes of training, made his first static line parachute jump at Bedford, Indiana. Unfortunately, the main static line deployed parachute—-didn’t deploy! He looked up after a few seconds and saw the airplane getting smaller and thought “I don’t think I’m supposed to—-but I’m going to pull the reserve”. He did and everything worked out okay.
A few weeks later when making his 13th jump, Don rolled on to his back as he pulled the ripcord and the parachute deployed between his legs. Anticipating the intense pain that would be encountered when the parachute inflated, Don instinctively clamped his legs together causing the parachute to wrap around his legs. This time there was no hesitation in deploying his reserve parachute.
On October 13, 1968 Don and two of his jump partners jumped at Bowman Field as part of an Air Show commemorating The 50th Anniversary of Civil Aviation at Bowman Field. On April 29, 1969 he and two others jumped into the Ohio River as part of the first Kentucky Derby Festival Air Show, which later evolved into “Thunder over Louisville”. He continued to jump until an unfortunate accident took the life of one of his jump buddies on September 4, 1977. Both Don’s and his buddy’s wives witnessed the accident. Since both jumpers had the same colored parachutes and jump suits, they couldn’t be sure which one had survived until Don landed and walked toward them. Don and Betty (mostly Betty) decided that he should probably pursue other interest.
In the early ‘80’s Don and Gary Graham bought a much used Rotec Rally 2B Ultralite “Aircraft” powered (just barely) by a 18 HP, 2 cycle solo engine. They taught themselves how to fly it, and both he and Gary agree that they are fortunate to be alive today!! They flew it for about three years, until it met its demise in a tree.
After Don’s retirement from Naval Ordnance in 1989, He purchased a Kolb Firestar Untralite Kit. It took him 6 years to complete building it. Actually he says it took about a year to build it and 5 years to decide that he would eventually have to paint it. First flight was on June 1, 1996 and was totally unplanned and unexpected. While practicing ground handling, a little too much added power caused the Kolb to leap into the air at a very steep angle! He says an old expression pertaining to a flaxseed and a sledgehammer came very much into play at that moment! Fortunately, after two times around an abbreviated pattern in the wrong direction he was able to get it on the ground safely.
In 1996 Don decided to go for a private pilot license. He logged 42 hours and was close to his check ride when he popped a disc in his back and had to have surgery. After he recovered from that he had a round of (one of MANY) kidney stone attacks and never got back to the flight training.