In the early 1970s when I was about 12 years old, a group of us went to Durango Mexico to help a missionary, Gilbert Ross, rebuild a small building at a church and re-roof a house for a local pastor. I had my 35 mm camera with several lenses with me, I was really into photography back then. I carried my camera gear in an old surplus .50 cal. ammo can. Crossing the border was interesting when they were inspecting our stuff and they saw that ammo can. Gilbert had an old Piper tandem two seat plane that looked like a surplus aircraft. He used the Piper to reach the small communities that was difficult to reach by ground. One time he was landing on a hill side airstrip and before he came to a stop the plane went sideways and rested on its right wing. You could see a slight bend in the wing so it became known as the Bent Wing Special. He kept the plane patched up the best he could and relied on the Grace of God to get him where he needed to go.
One day Gilbert asked if I would mind going with him to take some pictures of a couple of the churches he supports. I was excited to go since we would be taking the Bent Wing Special. We drove to a remote area nearby and I saw the plane parked under a large oak tree. We got out and Gilbert started to remove some tools from the car. I asked him what he was doing. He said we need to replace a brake line and bleed the brakes. I watched as he removed one of the old brake lines, flare the tube on the new one and install it. I sat in the plane and pressed the brakes while he bled the air out of it. Then we pumped fuel from a barrel to the wing tanks. We took the side windows out and leaned them against the tree. A quick walk around to make sure there were no tears in the fabric that covered the plane and we were ready to go.
I climbed in the rear seat as Gilbert cranked up the engine. He went through a mental checklist and throttled up. As he pulled away from the parking spot Gilbert tested the brakes a couple of times and was satisfied with the results. It was then that I started to look around for an airstrip, there was none. We started to taxi uphill towards a mountain. Cows were moving out of way as we went through their field. We reached the foot of the small mountain and turned around to face downhill. I could see the strip, it was the area where all the rocks had been removed. We stopped and Gilbert bowed his head. After a few moments I asked was everything ok. He did not answer right away but finally said that he has clearance with God for a safe flight and we are ready to go. I will never forget that moment as long as I live.
He throttled up and the small Piper started downhill. The tail rose and a few seconds later the main wheels left the ground. We flew directly over the oak tree that served as the “hanger” for the plane. I have always loved flying so I was having the time of my life while looking at the sites below us. It did not take us long before we were over Durango. Gilbert looked over his shoulder and had to yell over the wind noise. He said that he will orbit counter clockwise over a church that he wanted pictures of so to be ready to shoot from the left open window. After taking a few pictures we leveled out and flew to another building and did the same. After flying around for about an hour Gilbert steered the plane back towards the mountain. When we arrived at the landing field, we had to fly low over the cows a few times to get them off the ‘runway’. Gilbert then lined the plane up for landing. We touched down not far from the oak tree and coasted uphill to a stop. We turned around and taxied over to the parking spot under the tree. As he shut the engine down, Gilbert said, “It is sure nice to have brakes again. It makes taxiing a lot easier.”
Many years later I saw Gilbert and his wife. She said that he has Alzheimer’s. I asked him if he remembered the flight we took those many years ago. He smiled and shook his head no. I said, that is ok, one day we will talk about it in Heaven. He smiled.