Opinion

At 63 Hassenfritz trades tractor for an airplane

Submitted photo

At 63, Tom Hassenfritz of Mt. Pleasant traded a tractor for an airplane.
Submitted photo At 63, Tom Hassenfritz of Mt. Pleasant traded a tractor for an airplane.

The flight instructor asked Tom what he would do if he was going in for a landing and there was a horse in the middle of the runway. Tom thought for a moment and replied, “Well, I guess I’d do a go-round. The instructor said, “You’d better do it, because there is a horse on the runway.”

That was 40 years ago. Tom Hassenfritz of Mt. Pleasant was taking his in-flight test for a pilot’s license at Hannibal, MO. Tom received his pilot’s license and bought a Cessna 182. But as his family grew, he became immersed in his farm implement business. When he found out what his life insurance was going to cost with a pilot’s license, he decided it might be time to sell the airplane. Which he did.

Fast forward to this year. Tom is a wheeler-dealer in the farm implement business and has been known to trade motorcycles and snowmobiles for tractors. A customer of Tom’s owned a 1976 Cessna 172M. Because of health issues, the customer couldn’t fly anymore. Tom thought, “Hmm, maybe I could fly again.” (Pilot’s licenses never expire.) Presto change-o, Tom traded a tractor for an airplane. It even came with a spare engine.

The airplane was in Burlington and Tom lives in Mt. Pleasant. Tom was under the impression that all he would have to do would be to put some gas in the airplane and fly it to Mt. Pleasant. Wrong. The airplane hadn’t been flown in two years and needed to have an annual inspection. It was finally impressed upon Tom that this was an airplane, not a tractor.

The inspections were done and Tom passed his pilot’s physical. He looked up his old flight instructor, and brushed up on his flying skills. There was no horse on the runway this time.

On his first solo flight, Tom sat at the end of the runway and asked himself, “Do I really want to do this?” A saying kept going through his head, “Takeoffs are optional, landings are mandatory.” He held his breath and went for it. The only problem was there was fresh snow on the ground, and everything looked different — he lost his perspective. His inclination was to panic, like when you have a scuba mask on and can’t breathe. But he kept his composure and made it back to the airport safely. “Wing to the wind, rudder to the runway” he told himself. From that point on, his skill set returned. “Heck, flying is like riding a bike,” Tom thought. “You never forget.”

Tom would like to do one of three things: if the right person comes along, he will sell the airplane. Or, if the right person comes along he will form a club to share expenses. If no one comes along, he will keep the airplane.

It’s the exhilaration of flying, up there above everything, looking down, the feeling of freedom, working with that edge, maybe, that he and most pilots love. Tom never rides in a big commercial aircraft without being in awe that it can even fly.

He invested in a GoPro, installed it on the dash of the Cessna, and studies his takeoffs and landings. According to his logbook, he’s been up 20 times. Tom has plans to visit his brother in Minneapolis, his daughter in Bolingbrook, Illinois, and maybe even his sisters in Florida. Gulp.

During slow times at work, Tom calls the recorded airport message just to hear the voice. “Mt. Pleasant Municipal Airport Automated Weather Observation: One-niner-two-two, Zulu, weather: wind calm, visibility one, drizzle, ceiling 600, overcast, temperature: one Celsius, dew point zero, altimeter two-niner-niner-two.”

“Shoot,” Tom says to no one, “It’s too crappy to fly.”

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at curtswarm@yahoo.com