How I met Tom Watson

Published 2:17 pm Monday, July 7, 2008

No, not the golfer, but Thomas J. Watson, Jr., CEO of IBM. As the storytellers of old used to begin their tales, It happened on this wise… This one is about two pilots flying into the local airport to have lunch with their aunts on December 21, 1968.
We were en route to Texas to attend the wedding of Frans brother in which our five-year old Thomas was the ring barrel and almost-four Sharon was the flower girl, who insisted on picking up the rose petals she had scattered for the bride on her way out, as she had done at rehearsal. But I digress.
The flight over to Fairview (Landrum) from Newport News, VA had taken just over three hours, compared to all day in a car. Aunt Mildred was waiting for us with a friend, who turned out to be Watsons aunt, a Mrs. Kittridge. We exchanged pleasantries while I tried to envision a big IBM executive airplane landing at the little Fairview airstrip.
When we had decided not to wait any longer, I heard a little Z-Z-Z overhead, and there was a Beech King Air starting a smart 360 overhead approach like a fighter plane. The pilot made a perfect landing, reversed the props, swung around on the runway after half the distance I had used, and parked near us. A man alighted and offered his hand to two teenaged girls to help them deplane.
After introductions all around, Mr. Watson explained that they had waited before going out to the airport to be sure that the launch of Apollo 8 had gone well and that Frank Borman and crew were well on their way to the moon. He asked me where we had come from and how our flight went, then told us a bit about about theirs.
Mrs. Kittridge had remarked to Aunt Mildred how nice she thought it was that their nephews were stopping by for lunch with them. Despite great differences in airplanes and flight hours, all pilots are pilots when they get together. The $600,000 Beech King Air is an executive airplane with all the comforts, powered by two turbo-prop engines; the state of VA had just bought one for their Governor. Our old Piper PA-20 Pacer, at about $6,000 new, was one of the least expensive 4-seat airplanes on the market. But both airplanes require a pretty good skill-set to fly well, and most pilots recognize this.
All pilots watch other pilots take-off and land, especially the landings. I had admired Watsons skill in planting his bird so skillfully very near the approach end of the runway, which at Fairview is menaced by the steeple of Grace Baptist Church. I later learned that Watson flew P-51 Mustang fighters during WWII, and was a Lt. Col. when he left the Air Corps. That should establish his pilot skills.
Our family went on to Marietta, GA that afternoon in about an hour and a half. We were weathered in there for two nights with friends before a big HIGH arose over Texas and cleared the way for us. It also created a fierce headwind so that we soon had to make a fuel stop. The only available runways I found on our course required that I land North into a strong Northwest wind.
Fran would not look, and put her head down when I turned on final approach to the runway. The severe crosswind required me to hold the left wingtip so low that it almost touched the ground as I rolled the left main wheel onto the runway, then gently let the tail and right wing down to start the other wheels rolling as we slowed down. Fran did not look up until I shut off the engine at the gas pump; she said she was not aware that we had landed!

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