Following Footsteps

Out of the blue.

With my son Riley in my (he would say “our”) RV-10 returning from our first trip to Oshkosh together. Looking at the picture now, it appears that I may have consumed too many cheese curds prior to departure.

I was an airplane nut for as long as I can remember even though I had no family exposure to aviation. My father was the type who would never miss a local airshow, but he passed away when I was young. My mother didn’t know that I had started taking flight lessons until she noticed the back flap missing from one of my shirts and demanded an explanation.

My son Riley didn’t show much of an interest in aviation until he was a teenager, but once he did, he really took off. (Pun intended.) When he was about 16, I bought him a ground school kit and started him off at a local FBO. I told him that he would have to dig into the books and get his written test done to keep going, and he did his part in earnest. Once it appeared that he was going to take it seriously, I looked into buying an airplane both for the pleasure of ownership and hopefully offsetting some training investment.

I wanted something in a 2+2 that would be both a suitable VFR/IFR trainer and basic family airplane. Obviously, a Skyhawk or Cherokee were prime targets, but (fortunately), I stumbled upon a nice Socata TB-9 Tampico with the same venerable Lycoming O-320 engine as the others. I bought it with a fresh factory overhaul and full King IFR panel. Some cautioned me that the airplane might be difficult to maintain or source parts for but that didn’t turn out to be the case at all. My plan was to keep the Socata for two to three years for my son to get his ratings and build flight time, but we ended up owning it for nine years before selling it to build the RV-10. The airplane kept its value and, when it was all said and done, dramatically reduced the cost of my son’s ratings and early logbook hours.

About the same week that I got my son’s instructor checked out in the Socata, he informed us that he had been hired by Mesa Airlines and would be leaving in a week. With slight trepidation, I decided that I would continue as my son’s instructor to finish his private and instrument ratings. That turned out OK, I guess.

Because of the heat of the Arizona summertime, we would often go out and fly in the middle of the night, especially during IFR training. There were times (most of them) when we would come back as best buddies and others (a few) when we wouldn’t be speaking for a couple of days, particularly during the NDB and DME arc sessions.

During this era, I would often bid my airline schedule to include Tucson, Arizona (KTUS) overnights. At the time there were some Tucson overnights baked into the schedule that were longer than usual. The general aviation ramp at KTUS wasn’t very far from the airline ramp. My son would fly Tammy (the TB-9) down the 40 minutes or so from Mesa and wait for me to arrive. Upon arrival, rather than go to the hotel with the crew, I would hitch a ride on a ramp tug over to the GA ramp and we would launch for our home base at Falcon Field (KFFZ). En route, we would shoot practice approaches at Williams Gateway (KIWA), Casa Grande (KCGZ) and home. I would get a bonus night home in the middle of a trip and then the next day we would reverse the process as he flew me back to Tucson to start my duty day.

An innocuous airline gate in KTUS that also happened to be an epicenter for many pleasant memories over the years.

Gate A6

Most airline jetways have a small outside platform connecting the jetway cab to a rickety stairway down to the ramp. I will never forget one late afternoon standing out on that platform on what is now Gate A6 at the end of the east concourse. My son had just flown me down in our airplane and I was waiting for our Boeing 737 to arrive to start my shift. Standing there, facing the taxiway, I watched as my son taxied the TB-9 from left to right in front of me on his way to depart Runway 11L back toward home. I could hear his engine run-up and then watch with pride and tenderness as he departed into the afternoon sky and made his turn to the north. My whole life I have enjoyed watching aircraft depart, but this time it was different.

Gate A6 II

Fast-forward several years. I was a more senior Boeing captain and my son was then a young CRJ200 captain at SkyWest Airlines. The Barbie Jet was no doubt a far cry from the Metroliners that I flew during my (enjoyable) time at SkyWest. One day on a routine arrival into KTUS, I heard a familiar voice on the radio and interjected a quick “m’ijo?” over the air, which brought back a familiar “pops” in return. Upon arrival at the gate, I noticed the CRJ parked across the ramp from us at the west concourse. We connected by phone and he informed me that they were on a quick turnaround to depart. Once again, at Gate A6, I stood out on the jetway platform and watched as the CRJ pushed back from its gate. As luck would have it, KTUS was departing to the west so I was able to watch it taxi right to left in front of me and, before long, have a beautiful view of its departure. There is always something about watching a departing airplane raise its gear. My whole life I have enjoyed watching aircraft depart, but this time it was different. I had a flashback to the previous moment watching the TB-9 from the exact same spot. There must have been desert pollen in the air because my eyes kept misting up.

Gate A6 III

My first trip flying with Riley as my first officer in the Boeing.

Fast-forward several years. I was an even more senior Southwest captain in the midst of my last three-day trip sequence before accepting a COVID-catalyzed early retirement. As good fortune would have it, the trip included a pass through KTUS and my favorite gate, A6. Once again I ventured out to the jetway platform and watched with a whole litany of emotions generated by the moment. I thought about the greatly cherished moments experienced at that very spot. I then looked down and observed as my first officer came around the back side of the aircraft and toward the left wing as he dutifully conducted his preflight inspection. My able first officer was my son, now employed by Southwest, and no doubt excited to gain another step up on the seniority list after we finished this trip together. Good luck, pops, but now get out of my seat. The moment was surreal. Dang that desert pollen again.

My last trip before retirement, also flying with Riley. After trailing for most of the three-day trip, I managed to pull off winning the aggregate landing contest score with pure grease on the final touchdown.

As I write this, it has now been three years to the month since that last airline sequence with my son before hanging up the Boeing spurs. Riley has recently upgraded to 737 captain. How time flies. Now our opportunities to fly together are in the RV-10 to Oshkosh or college football games and the like. On a recent trip, I got unceremoniously relegated to the back seat as my son and son-in-law (a private pilot) flew my airplane. Perhaps soon, our OSH and other flying adventures will include the next generation, both grandsons and/or granddaughters­—as we now have a dozen to choose from.

In case you’re wondering, Riley is not our only offspring. We have three daughters as well. Two of them, twins, followed their mom into healthcare specialties while my eldest is a successful novelist under the name T.M. Holladay. Before you think that piloting is just a guy thing in our family: She recently informed me that she would like to learn to fly as soon as her fourth book is finished. Clear prop!

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Myron Nelson
Myron Nelson soloed at 16 and has been a professional pilot for over 30 years, having flown for Lake Powell Air, SkyWest Airlines, and Southwest Airlines. He also flies for the Flying Samaritans, a volunteer, not-for-profit organization that provides medical and dental care in Baja California, Mexico. A first-time builder, Myron currently flies N24EV, his beautiful RV-10. He has also owned a C-150 and a Socata TB-9.


  1. Myron you always were my favorite captain to fly with. And I must say, this article is the best of the best. Thanks for the excellent writing (now I need to go find where that desert pollen is coming from).

  2. Wonderful story. Must be some pollen in Georgia as well. Fortunate to have similar pictures of me and my son on our first B-737 flight together and my last (also a COVID-induced early retirement). Our trainer of choice was a Diamond DA20-A1. Together, we built an RV-7A (which he bought from me) and RV-10. Keep up the great writing!


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