Pilot relives first flight

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On a cool Saturday morning in April, more than 53 years ago, history was made for one young pilot and witnessed by only one other pair of eyes at the old Galax airport.


The teen dubbed the “Youngest Pilot in Galax” at the time took to the air by accident, and showed his skill and resolve by coming back down to earth in one piece.

On Aug. 8, Ted Hall — now 71 years old and living near Baltimore, Md. — realized a dream of recreating his first solo flight in a J-3 Cub.

The old Galax airport, off Virginia 89 south of the city in the Fairview community, is now a field used to grow hay.

As a teen in the 1950s, Hall was a member of the local Civil Air Patrol (CAP). He spent a good deal of time at the airport and on many occasions flew with Billy Lineberry, a local retired Navy Commander and Eastern Airlines captain. Along with Lineberry, Hall also flew with Bruce Galyean, Kemper Spurlin and Billy Honeycutt.

The late Ken Messer, a U.S. Army pilot and instructor during World War II, spurred Hall's interest in aviation by donating his time and teaching principles of aviation at the old East Side Boys Club.

During Hall's plane rides, he learned some basic principles of flying, landing and navigation.

Early on a cool April morning in 1956, Hall hitched a ride to the airport.

He pushed open the hangar doors, rolled out the Civil Air Patrol J-3 Cub, and, since no one was around, started the engine.

He decided he would simply taxi to the end of the runway and back. No one would ever know. No harm done, he thought.

After reaching the end of the old turf runway and turning the Cub around, Hall began to apply a little bit of throttle and build up speed. Before the skinny teen had any idea what was going on, he became airborne as he raced down the turf strip.

Unknown to Hall, he was being watched by a good friend, Billy Payne, who lived next to the airport.

Hall said he was in a state of "controlled panic" as he continued to climb out over the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Holding the control stick like a deadly snake and trying to choke the life out of it, he began chanting: "I am dead, I am dead, I am dead."

Even through his mantra, Hall was able to keep his focus, and ever so gently moved the tightly gripped stick to the left, easing the Cub into a gradual left turn.

He tried to remember what he had learned while riding with all the qualified pilots.

Finally, Hall turned the Cub until it was flying parallel to the runway and toward the old Airport Drive-In on the other side of 89. Over the drive-in theater, he turned left, and then another quick left, to line up with the runway.

While gradually reducing power, Hall — now frozen with fear — approached the end of the runway.

He'd seen it done, but could he land?

Crossing the fence, he continued reducing power and finally cut the throttle and made an almost perfect wheel landing.

Hall was down. He and the airplane were still in one piece, a feat that even he could not have imagined possible.

Payne was waiting on his bicycle.

He helped Hall put the plane back in the hangar and swore an oath of secrecy.

Hall went on to solo legally and was featured in The Gazette as "The Youngest Pilot in Galax."

Little did people know the truth behind that title.

Now, having flown in just about all areas of aviation — military, commercial and as a missionary bush pilot — Hall purchased a classic 1941 J-3 Cub, identical to the one in which he first soloed.

He notified some friends, secured permission from the owner of the old airport property, and on Aug. 8 at 10 a.m., came buzzing across the runway at a crowd-pleasing 110 mph.

Pulling the Cub up into a steep climbing turn, he flew the same pattern as he did in 1956.

After landing, the crowd gathered around for pictures and to talk about the "good old days" at the old Galax airport. Among those there to greet him were many family members, his good friend Billy Payne and his mentor, Billy Lineberry.

After the reunion, Hall climbed back into the Cub. Lineberry "propped" it for him to get it started and away Hall went, his heart full of joy at reliving the moment when he first took to the air alone.