Fly High

By: Mohamad Azri Irfan Bin Mohd Nadzri

It was a fine windy day in Boston. Tom Banks was sitting on a bench while staring at his tiny little fingers up high in the blue sky. Waiting for his father after school, suddenly a buzzing sound was approaching in the sky out of nowhere. A plane emerged out of a thick cloud. Tom watched the plane flying with great interest and wonders about what it is like to fly an airplane. The boy walked his way nearer to an airfield to get a closer look at where the plane lands. It was exhausting for him to catch the plane, as it was flying at high speed compared to Tom’s short steps.

He walked his way up a road that led to an unknown and mysterious place. Surprisingly, he stumbled upon a sergeant of the National Guard while he was about to approach the place. “Hey there little kid what you are doing around here?” said the sergeant to Tom. He replied “I just want to know what this place is, and I’m a bit curious “. The sergeant explained to Tom that he is at Jeffery Field, a national air guard airfield, and it is restricted to civilians. The soldier then asked Tom to leave the airfield immediately. Moments later Tom’s father, James Banks came and took him home after his son wandered near the airfield and apologised to the sergeant due to his child’s presence at a restricted area. Tom talked about his interest and passion about watching those planes flying in the sky to his father. He expressed his excitement to his father very fondly and vowed to fly an airplane one day.

Two weeks later, Tom’s father took him to an air show at Jeffery Field where the National Air Guard is showcasing its airplanes to civilians. Once Tom step foot on the entrance of the airfield, he quickly ran towards an airplane on display with many visitors surrounding the plane. Tom, who is very fond of airplane was allowed to ride on the plane on display and shown the interior of the plane by an officer of the Army Air Force. He was enthralled to be able to ride on an airplane, even though he never fly on a plane before, it was a nice memory for him. After his visit to the airfield, Tom began to develop more interest for planes and started to collect miniature planes and read aviation magazines to enhance his knowledge of airplanes.

Ten years later, in 1941, teenage hood was about to end for Tom as he was going to sit for his final examination. This transition period from teenage years to adulthood brought up an idea for him to become a pilot after graduating from school. He wished to enter college and gain a flying licence to become a pilot.

The world he lived in now, was somewhat different than 10 years back. The outbreak of the Second World War puts America in great peril as the war in Europe and Asia would soon be on the American doorstep. The US president, Mr. Franklin Roosevelt was quite vocal regarding the war and insisted that America maintains its stance of neutrality status and its policy of isolationism. Despite, the conflicts that occurs all around the world, Tom believed all his heart that the troubles will surely end sooner or later.

On December 7th, 1941 Japan suddenly and deliberately bombed Pearl Harbour, Hawaii by air. Despite, the imposition of oil embargo by the US government, the Japanese surprisingly had the will to fight the Western powers throughout Asia with scarce resources. The news had spread like wildfire throughout America by the radio waves and the president immediately declared war on Japan in response to their undeclared war of aggression. Tom who just finished exam was astounded by the news.

While walking down the street to his home from school, he saw a recruitment poster by the US Army Air Force that is seeking for men willing to sacrifice for their country. Tom saw this poster not only as a way to contribute to his country but also as an opportunity to fly an airplane early on by neglecting college and pursue his passion.

The next year, on his 18th birthday he signed up at the nearest US Army Air Force recruitment centre with his close friend Jack to become pilots. Both of them shared a similar interest in becoming pilots and have the same passion for flying an airplane. Tom’s action was disapproved by his parents, because he took his action without even consulting them and without having their consent for his undertaking. Tom replied to his parents reprimand by simply stating that “I wish to pursue my passion to fly an airplane that I have been longing for all this time”. After Tom reasoned with his parents, they have come up with an accord where his parents agreed with Tom’s will.

He went to the US Army Air Force Academy to undergo flight training, flight simulation and other related trainings. He and Jack are placed in the same unit. Tom spent hundreds of flight hours to learn to fly an airplane. Due to Tom’s dedication and hard work he attains the rank of captain after passing his training and examination with flying colours. He was in charge of commanding a crew of eight airmen and a co-pilot of a B-24 Liberator Bomber. Jack, his close friend happened to be his co-pilot. After completing his training, he was assigned to a Bomber Squadron in UK to participate in an ambitious allied invasion of France codename Operation Overlord in June 1944.

On D-Day, 6th of June 1944, marked the beginning of the operation by joint invasion by American, British and Canadian amphibious landings on the beaches of Normandy in Northern France. Tom’s Bomber Squadron was assigned to bomb the enemy’s fortifications and military installations on Normandy beach. This bombing raid was envisaged to sabotage the enemy’s defences and weaken their morale to fight the incoming allied forces.

At 0600 hours his bomber squadron took off from their airbase in southern England, bound for Omaha Beach, Normandy. Once they had crossed the English Channel, Tom starts to pray for the safety of himself, Jack and all his crews. The darkness of dawn gave them the advantage of surprise by being unseen by soldiers defending the fortifications on Normandy. Once they reached the shores of Normandy under the cover of darkness, they released all the bombs on the enemy’s positions. Hundreds of tonnes of bombs were dropped and caused massive destructions on the enemy. Tom and the rest of the crew shouted in happiness after dropping their payload on the enemy without facing any resistance whatsoever either by air or land. Unfortunately, their luck was not everlasting as the German defenders retaliated back by firing their anti-air (AA) gun on the bomber squadron. AA gun blazes the sky above them. The gun fires were heavy and inflicted heavy losses for the bomber squadron. Sadly and tragically, the gun fire slightly hit Tom’s bomber cockpit and caused Jack being wounded in the head and neck by shrapnel’s and concussions. The plane’s cockpit is damaged by the AA gun fire. Tom is petrified that his co-pilot and best friend is wounded badly.” Are you alright Jack, hold on “said Tom. Jack is unconscious due being hit by the shrapnel but he was still barely alive.

They reached their airbase half an hour later and landed safely on the runway without any problems. Jack was taken to the hospital to receive immediate treatment. Tom appeared to be sad and stunted by the condition of his friend that was badly wounded. Jack passed away not long after being admitted to the hospital. Tom then came next to his deceased colleague and vowed to make sure he fulfils his passion to be a great pilot.

Tom had participated in many bombing raids all over Europe, dropping bombs on the German defences and cities. The destructions of civilians’ lives and properties were astronomically high. Tom was then promoted to the rank of Major for his services and was awarded with a medal.

One year later, the Second World War had already end. The Allied forces was victorious over their adversaries, the Axis powers. Tom and his crew celebrated the victory at a bar near the airbase of their Bomber Squadron. The airmen of the Bomber Squadron sang in joy and drank for everlasting peace of the world. However, the laughter and joy atmosphere of the bar did not make him to be happy because he was still feeling sad over the death of his colleague and close friend, Jack.

Three years later, Tom was posted to West Berlin as a temporary air attaché of the US Army Air Force at Tempelhof Airport, where he will be overseeing the Army Air Force tasks in Berlin. The city of Berlin had been divided into 4 zones. The western zones were held by British, American and French administrations. While the entire Eastern part of Berlin was under Soviet jurisdictions.

Life in Berlin was very terrible due to the bombardment of the city by allied forces. The city itself was relying on food and water supplies distributed by the allies to sustain the life of its inhabitants. Tom, who was new to the city took a tour around Berlin with a group of newly arrived officers of the armed forces. He found out that life for Berliners was very difficult with substantial destructions of public property and amenities. Tom and the rest of the officers were shocked of the condition of Berlin as it was very terribly damaged. What makes matters worse was that when the Soviet started blockading access routes to West Berlin by road and rail. This was symbolic to their disagreement with the Western allies plan to unveil a new currency for the new proposed creation of West Germany.

The Soviet felt that such endeavour by their ally is going to strengthen the new German nation and they propose to continue blockading West Berlin until the Western allies heed to the Soviet demands.

The blockade had led the Western allies to send much needed supplies like food, water, clothes, fuels, and other supplies to Berlin by air to relieve the Berlin Crisis. Major Tom participated in delivering the supplies from West Germany to Berlin. The Berlin Airlift organized by the Americans proved to be successful in delivering the supplies, with many allied nations joining the cause of humanity for the people of Berlin. He is now flying again and are very passionate of it after a long time not being able to pilot a plane, if before he dropped bombs now he drops supplies vital for the survival of millions of people living in Berlin.

After five years of service in Germany, Tom was discharge of his duty as an officer of the Army Air Force and returned back to his home in Boston. His parents welcomed him home with open arm and regarded him like a hero for their family. So many years abroad had made Tom to miss his parents. Getting home had made him to be greatly happy.

Tom who is now unemployed is looking for a job. One day while reading the newspaper for job vacancies he saw a section of newspaper where Donovan Flying School just outside Boston was looking for a person to be a flight instructor. He read this section of job vacancies very carefully and were entice to join. The next day, he went to the flying school and find that there is about a dozen people lining up at the office for interview. After all 12 people finished their interviews, it was now his turn for the interview. His mind was fraught with anxiety and hopes that this interview would be a success. Tom entered the interview hall and showed his resume and credentials as a pilot of the US Army Air Force. The interviewer was impressed of his qualifications but he said that all those people that just left the building were also former airmen like Tom. He asked Tom, what sort of character he is and why he should be chosen to be the flight instructor. Tom replied to the questions by saying that “All my heart, I wish to fly high in the sky and I will do the best in my ability as a pilot for this job “. The interviewer then asked him to leave and wait for his call if to be inform of his job application.

Tomorrow morning, Tom received a phone call from the flying school and told him that he was chosen to be the flight instructor. Tom shouted in happiness because he can still fly again.

He started his job by arriving early in the morning to be brief about his workplace and the people he will be working with. Firstly, he met with his employer, Mr. Donovan who is a veteran pilot during the Great War. They had a chat and shown his plane inside the hangar. Tom was excited with his plane and wishes to fly it. He then pilot the plane high in the sky and fly over Boston, it was an awesome experience for him. Four days a week, he will be teaching many people in how to fly a plane, and he loves his job like it was part of his life.

After a while, Tom then become interested with one of his student named Andrea Snow and they often hang out together. He and Andrea became good friends and soon got into a closer relationship. Then they got married and has 2 children and live in a town just outside Boston. Tom lived a happy life with his family and receives good salary from his work.

Things became terrible in 1957, when Donovan Flying School was closed. His employer stated that the business was not good, due to decline of students to learn how to fly. Tom is once again unemployed and looking desperately for work to sustain his family. Even though Tom is having a problem, he appears calm and believe that there is always a silver lining for his difficulties.

After dinner, his wife, Andrea suggested to Tom to join Pan Am Airlines as a pilot. Tom agreed with Andrea’s suggestion and head to Pan Am’s office the next day in New York. He arrived at the bustling and busy city and found himself at the interview hall. He then undergoes the interview process and then sent to Pan Am training centre where Tom learned flight simulation for jet airplane that is somewhat nascent to the aviation industry. He learned how to fly a Boeing 707 jet and become a pilot for Pan Am Airlines. The early 60’s marked the new era of jet age where jet engine planes transport passengers for a long distance with a shorter time travel. The jet engine planes make flying faster and convenient.

Tom’s first flight as a Pan Am pilot was from Logan International Airport in Boston to Miami International Airport in Florida. He was intrigued with the capability of the 707 to perform very well in the sky. Now he has the opportunity to fly far away high in the sky, with the introduction of transatlantic flights from US to Europe and then all around the world. He gained many experiences flying with Pan Am.

By 1967, after 10 years of service with Pan Am he resigned and wished to open a flying school in Boston. Tom plans to buy the old Donovan Flying School from Donovan, however he do not have enough money to purchase planes to fly. He negotiates with Donovan, his former employer about the land acquisition and planes. Donovan is surprised that Tom wished to buy his flying academy and he stated that he will give his land and planes to Tom if he is willing to pursue his passion for flying. Tom replied back and tell yes to Donovan.

Tom began his flying school by restructuring the airfield and his workforce under him. He recruited pilots from former Air Force airmen to be flight instructors at his flying school. His business flourished as many people are interested to learn how to fly. Tom often brought his children to fly with him and he helped them to discover their father’s passion for flying. Tom’s flying school became one of the best place to learn how to fly in the East Coast of United States.