■ By Rob Lindquist / Contributed
Author’s Note: The PT-22 and the Stearman PT-17 comprised most of the training aircraft allocated to Hemet’s “Ryan Field” where the airport is today. A huge area of tarmac was allotted for dozens and dozens of these trainers. There were five major hangars, rows of student pilot housing, officers quarters, ground-training facilities and a fuel depot. The whole base was aligned with Stetson Avenue and largely served by the valley’s railroad spur. Some students were housed in town, Hemet had its own “officer’s club” in what is now the United Way building. When they weren’t flying and studying, the student pilots seemed to be everywhere in Hemet and San Jacinto.
The noise came quietly
Out of a perfect fall morning,
Rising ever so slightly in pitch.
It soon resolved into the characteristic
Sound of a radial engine.
That motor this morning
Was a little different
From those of several older planes
That frequently fly over our valley.
But all radial engines,
They pull at the heartstrings
Of sky-gazing oldsters,
Of veteran aviators and dreamers
Like big band music.
Not a deep throated rumbler, this one;
The motor clattered its way
Through the clear air
Sounding something like
The noise of an old-fashioned
Washing machine motor;
Something like a bevy of shotguns
Going off at random.
Five cylinders can do that;
They rattle as much as they roar.
That’s what they were
To the thousands of cadets
Who flew the Ryan PT-22,
A low-wing, two-seat training craft
That could be hard to handle.
From off our local airfield
Ryan pilots rose by the hundreds
To greet mornings like these.
Young boys, wide-eyed,
Wide-eyed behind their goggles,
Peering from one side of the windscreen
To the other.
Letting the wind snap at the strap-ends
Of their leather flying helmets;
Smelling the stubbled grain-fields below
In the bright autumn air.
So it clattered as it passed overhead
And I was behind a pair of binoculars,
My heart as near to my throat
As the heart of the fledgling pilot
Who, seventy years ago
Sat in the front cockpit,
Hands on stick and throttle,
Sat there buckled over his parachute
While behind him under watchful eye,
The flying instructor shouted
A long list of basic maneuvers
Through the gosport.
I looked up as the Ryan approached.
A simple, absolutely elemental “aeroplane”!
Above the roar, I could hear the wind
Moving over its guy wires and surfaces.
It circled the east end of the valley
To come back over my house.
Such a bright bird-like thing;
Its yellow wings, its silver body
With flag striped tail;
Its funny, noisy, unshrouded motor…
And just as beautiful,
That the pilot sensed the “boy” in me.
Saw the tall guy down there, glasses in hand,
Looking and waving from his front yard.
He lowered a wingtip as the plane clattered overhead
And it was like seeing my father go by.
He’s gone now, my Dad.
But, you don’t see Ryan’s much anymore
And I was there this morning;
I watched the little low-winged plane,
Its fixed landing gear hanging down;
Watched it as it went west
Until it was as small as a mosquito
And then it vanished.
Memories are like that: like little planes
And damned good instructors.
Like Dads… and angels.