The Aviators Epitaph

Flight is freedom in its purest form,

To dance with the clouds that follow a storm.

To roll and glide, to wheel and spin,

To feel the joy that swells within.

To leave the earth with its troubles and fly,

and know the warmth of a clear spring sky.

Then back to earth at the end of the day,

Released from the tensions which melted away.

Should my end come while I am in flight,

On the brightest day or the darkest night,

Spare me your pity and shrug off the pain,

Secure in the knowledge that I’d do it again

For each of us is created to die –

And within me I know I was born to fly.

Tony Littell

Tony Littell suffered a fatal Powered Paraglider Crash this week. He was my student.

We worked together three years ago and he flew regularly. Tony knew the principles of aviation long before we ever met. He had a longtime interest in RC model aircraft. One day when we were working on his gear he showed me his planes and I was impressed with the fit and finish. He also was an experienced falconer. He had a good mechanical mind and “enjoyed figuring it out”. I never doubted his ability to become a good pilot.

He terminated instruction before I could sign him off for PPG1. However, we did cover the entire USPPA Syllabus and we spent several days and many, many hours kiting the wing and ground handling his new Falcon 4 Stroke quad.

I’ll never forget the time I borrowed a trike buddy pusher unit from Leon Wacker. Tony and I shared the cost of freighting the unit in. The idea was for Tony to be able to practice taxiing without the worrying about the prop chewing up his wing. It was a great concept, the trike buddy acted as a pusher that Tony could control the same way he would his Paramotor. He could inflate the wing and run down the field, learning how to dampen oscillation and stabilize the wing overhead before committing to launch. Unfortunately the carburetor on the Harbor Freight motor had an air leak that prevented it from getting up to power. We wasted a beautiful day rebuilding the carb and when we finally got it running, the rains had flooded our fields. Well… that wasn’t going to stop us! We loaded up the equipment and drove out to Shell Creek Airpark. Then….. we spent the morning spinning wheels and throwing rooster tails of mud at my practice wing. I was frustrated to the max but Tony took it with grace. Eventually things dried up and we were able to get some good time at the field. He struggled with slowing down and stabilizing the wing but after several trading days he, “got it” and could inflate the wing and ground handle with confidence.

By October, Tony was well along with his ground handling, he was comfortable with the equipment and ready to fly. We waited On the weather for good day for his solo. When it didn’t happen I apologized and left for a couple of weeks to attend the big fly-in at Monument Valley. Tony was supposed to wait for me to come back to solo but while I was gone, he cracked off his first 7 flights and like that…. Tony was a pilot.

During his first year we flew together several times and I felt good about his skills and progress. We had a few excellent flights together at Placida and I specifically remember one sunset flight when John Sieb was visiting from Colorado. Everybody was grinning ear to ear when we got back from that one.

He, like me….was a soloist, Flying mostly alone. And…when I dropped out of the scene for 9 months after Huricane Irma he racked up an impressive number of flights. By the time I did get back into the air, he had 70 plus, under his belt.

When he had his accident We hadn’t flown together for several months. A couple of times we were going to hook up but it didn’t work out. So…. when I saw the posting from Bob that Tony had been killed after catastrophic equipment failure I was caught by surprise. I’m not going to speculate as to the cause of the accident before having inspected the equipment but from the eye witness report it seems likely that the left side weight support let go. Webbing ? – Carabiner ? – Risers ?

The Memorial Service is tomorrow.

Another good one …. done gone on.