Cheatham looks to the skies

by marlys good

Glenn Cheatham, son of Jason and Shalene Cheatham of Greybull and a senior at GHS, has a couple of things not many 18-year-olds have. He has a pilot’s license, which he obtained on Oct. 19, 2015, and a 1953 Piper Cub, which he purchased in 2014. Now when he decides he wants to “fly the friendly skies,” he’s well equipped.

It all began in 2009, after his grandfather Francis Cheatham’s death. “I didn‘t know much about my grandpa, but after he passed away I became interested in learning more.” He visited with his grandmother (Julia Schutte Cheatham Graham) and other relatives and discovered, “Grandpa had been a mechanic in the Korean War, he was badly burned trying to save his first wife in a house fire — and I learned that he was a pilot. Now why hadn’t I known that before?”

Whatever the reason, that was the moment Glenn, “turned my eyes skyward.”

Before a year passed Glenn had taken his first plane ride (incidentally in the C172 that once belonged to his grandfather); soon after he took his second plane ride, and the pilot let the 18-year-old land the C172 by himself. “After being at the controls, I was hooked,” said Glenn.

Several years passed and Glenn would go on occasional flights with local pilots, but never had a chance to learn to fly. “The little bit I learned was through Flight Simulator X.”

Then fortune smiled on Glenn. “My cousin Eric (Cheatham) came back to Greybull and I hung out with him a little. I learned he had a pilot’s license and was a Certified Flight Instructor. He was currently teaching an older fellow in his ’52 Tri-Pace. So every now and then I’d go to the airport, watch Eric and Scott crowd into the Piper, and wondered if I hung around long enough if they would take me for a ride.”

The next trip to the airport, Scott and Eric landed after a short flight. Glenn said, “I’ll always remember when Eric asked me, ‘Well, are you ready?’”

Up went Eric and Glenn, and “around the patch,” and Glenn said it was not only his most memorable flight, it also marked his introduction to the Shot Wing Piper.

It was April 2, 2013, when Glenn recorded his first log entry. His cousin ran him through the start-up procedures, Glenn slowly taxied down, checked out all the mandated “take off” regulations and they proceeded to take-off but remained in the pattern for “touch and goes.” I did three landings all on my lonesome. The plane was still intact, and Eric told me to “follow the yellow brick road back to the hangar.”

Glenn wanted to learn to fly “without jumping through everybody’s hoops.” To do so he knew he had to find his own plane, and started looking on Ebay, Barnstormrs, Aerotrade, and Trade-a-Plane in hopes of finding a plane for sale for under $15,000.

Glenn said he “didn’t exactly have any money, would have to trust he could get a bank loan.”

In July of 2014, Glenn found a 1953 Piper Cub near Grand Junction, Colo., for under $10,000. Glenn and the owner talked about what would have to be done to the plane, and Glenn admitted that he was not 18.

“I knew if I wanted to get the plane, I would have to approach my Mom first. Now, Shalene is not a lover of heights, even a tall ladder is suspect. Surprisingly within a week, Glenn had convinced her that it was a good deal, wasn’t to far away, and
“after about a week she agreed we should look into it.”

Jason was okay with it and agreed to sign the loan papers. “Why not,” he laughed. “He gets good grades, he is a good kid.” And unlike many of his classmates and friends, he’s content to drive around a beat-up $500 pickup.

Mother, father, son and cousin took off for the nine-hour drive to take a look at the airplane. On Sept. 13, 2014, son and father became co-owners of the Piper Cub. Eric flew it back to Greybull, made it home safely in a “whopping 3.8 hours.”

After six hours of consistent dual time with Eric, Glenn was told, “After today I don’t see why you can’t fly alone next time. I know you don’t think about these things much, but let your family know that you’ll be flying solo. They would love to watch.”

May 30, 2015 was solo day for Glenn. He tried to act like everything was normal. The weather was great, there were blue skies, a light wind. Eric drove himself to the airport, pre-flighted the airplane, and waited for his flying instructor. Here came his grandpa and grandma, his Uncle Joe, his dad, mother and sisters, and finally here came Eric, his CFI.

“Eric explained we would do three takeoffs and landings together and if I handled them without a problem he would turn me loose. The nerves were starting to come back at this point.”

Eric said, “‘I’m outa here.”

Glenn taxied slowly down the runway, did the takeoff checks, said a few prayers and taxied “on to the active, held the brakes, full power, everything looked good. I released the brakes and began the takeoff roll. You know, it’s amazing how much quicker a plane will fly when you get your 240-pound instructor out of there.”

Glenn said as soon as he got off the ground, he went into a special state of mind. “The same state of mind that got me hooked on flying, and the state of mind where everything becomes a dream; the one where you ask yourself if you’re really doing this. I think it’s a state of mind only another pilot can share. All of my nervousness left; it was just me and my airplane – flying. When it came to the landings, I heard my instructor’s voice giving me advice.”

On National Aviation Day 2015, Glenn had finished all the hour requirements of training to achieve his private pilot’s license.

Glenn found there is just one designated pilot examiner in Wyoming; the nearest examiner had to come out of Montana.

It took 61 days, and you can be sure Glenn was counting them, before an examiner came to Greybull.

Glenn spent an hour and 20 minutes doing the oral portion of his check ride. “To my surprise the examiner didn’t ask me anything I didn’t know. He even said he was impressed with how well I knew my aviation.”

After passing the oral exam, Glenn and the inspector headed to the airplane. It wasn’t ideal flying weather; rain showers surrounded the airport, but neither student nor examiner wanted to reschedule.

Everyone was briefed, everything checked out, and “before I knew it was on the climb with someone other than my CFI next to me. Everything was going smooth. Soon the examiner had me doing things I had never done before. He got me thinking outside of the box. A few unusual altitudes and an engine failure later we were heading back to the airport. Clouds were getting closer, lower to the field, the air was getting bumpy and it was starting to rain. Despite the rough air, rain inside and outside the aircraft and winds picking up, I passed my check ride. The examiner said, ‘Great job, sir,’ shook my hand, got out of the airplane to fill out the paperwork and I taxied and put the aircraft back in its home.’

“A few signatures here and here and I was no longer a wannabe pilot. I was now a private pilot. I thanked the examiner for making my dream come true.”

Glenn’s first passenger was his Dad. “There’s nothing more rewarding that seeing your Dad grinning next to you while you show him the world from above. I took his request and followed the river from Greybull to the Yellowtail area. It was an awesome hour and a half spent with my Dad.”

Little did Glenn, or his father and mother, know that Glenn’s search to learn more about his grandfather, would have him flying his own Piper Cub before he graduated from high school.

The whole family is smiling.