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The long book

When I used to barnstorm for a living in order to support the Student Prince, busy days of hopping rides would allow me little time to visit with the folks who paid their money to fly. Frequently, once the first intrepid passenger had taken a flight with me, and everyone else saw how ecstatic and thrilled they were when they landed, several others would decide to go. So while my ground crew performed the functions I once did for my dad while he hopped rides; starting a list of passengers, collecting money, lugging gas cans, and loading and unloading passengers, I would keep the engine running on the Prince, shutting down only to fuel up. In the rear cockpit, with no communication with my passengers in the front, I had only brief moments to interact with them. They would flash me a smile and greeting as they climbed on the lower wing to climb in the cockpit ahead of me, sometimes asking for a fly over their house or town, or to tell me not to do any loop de loops. Usually, even if they were excited, there was an air of trepidation present in their demeanor. Then, after take off when I would level and start doing a few gentle turns and wing overs, inevitably they would turn and grin broadly me and flash a thumbs up. I would grin back and nod my head in agreement. Upon landing they would be transformed. Alighting from the cockpit and floating off the wing walk to the ground with wild hair, they would be glowing and telling everyone within earshot how incredible they found the experience. They would give me a heartfelt thank you and shake my hand while looking deep into my eyes. And off they’d go, regaling the rest of the onlookers with tales from the air. And another passenger would be loaded. I came to feel left out in sense, when I would taxi away from my newly alive passengers. I longed to talk to them, hear what it was like for them in the air with me and the Prince. I wanted to know what they felt, saw and smelled. I wanted to know what it was they made them so happy. Ironically, it was exactly because people were so happy when they returned from the air, that I didn’t get the chance to visit with them. Responses like theirs were good for business and other people would want what they had and I would fly until dark. By then, most of my passengers had finally gone home and I would miss my opportunity to hear their stories.

So I started a passenger book. A red book with blank pages in which my ground crew would ask passengers to write whatever they desired after their flight. And what a treasure that book turned out to be! On those tattered, grease stained pages people left a piece of their hearts. It was wonderful to read later. People would draw pictures, and write the most beautiful things. They would say that had no idea it was so beautiful in the air, that it reminded them of being young again, or that they wanted to learn to fly, that the air was so fresh, and that it was so exciting and that they weren’t afraid at all. They would also pump me up a bit when they would exclaim that I was the smoothest pilot, the best pilot, made a perfect landing and that my father would be so proud. In the evenings, when the Prince was tied down, covered, and wiped clean of grease, I would pore over the comments written in the book. They buoyed my spirit, and I fully recognized that I wasn’t just selling airplane rides to thrill seekers. I was offering people an experience that they would never forget. And although I was young, I understood that somehow I was in a position incredibly rare, unique and special. And I also understood that it wasn’t me, that it was the Student Prince. I was the messenger only, but it was a privilege and an honor to offer the sky to others. I have always tried to wear the honor gracefully and humbly. Reading the heartfelt comments left on those pages inspired me to fly as many rides as there were passengers. I would be exhausted when the sun set, but it was such an insignificant price to pay for inspiring people’s souls.

I am now on my third (and much larger!) passenger log, and I made certain that it went with me to Ohio and back. I collected several wonderful comments from joyous souls I shared the sky with during the trip, including one young man I met when we landed in the middle of Iowa in a grass strip surrounded by corn fields. We landed, said hello, and when I learned that he had never been in an airplane, I asked him to fly with me and within five minutes, Chrissy had him loaded, called for a hot mag and swung the prop. We took off, two strangers into the evening. The sky was pink, the moon full and the air was soft velvet. The young man was all smiles upon landing and he wrote that it was an awesome experience and that he loved every second of his time in the air. My book also contains the signature from Herbie, the WWII Thunderbolt pilot. He gave me the best compliment, he told me I flew like a fighter pilot. Sometimes people write funny things too, like how it’s the best fun they’ve ever had while dressed. Sophie wrote that she thought I was crazy and that she liked that about me. And later on, when she posted a picture of herself in the Student Prince with a wide smile, she wrote, “This one’s for the long book.” And she’s right, upon my return from my amazing trip to the birthplace of Oroville and Wilbur Wright, I have decided to write “the long book”. The book that I’ve always known was in my heart but that I never felt like I had enough experience to share. Well, thanks to the marvelous, immediate and wonderful responses from the folks who followed the blog, I’ve decided that now is the time to tell my stories. Thank you all for inspiring me. I hope I write a book worthy of your attention and that it inspires you.


28 responses »

  1. Summer, I hope you write the book and I shall look forward to reading it. Following your adventures has been very interesting – and moving. Please keep treasuring the immense freedom you enjoy in God’s own country.
    All the best,
    (Champ pilot from Denmark)

  2. Dear Bent,

    Thank you for your nice response! I am actually currently putting the words down for my book. Come to find out, I’ve got a lot to say. (I just wrote a story for the book featuring a Champ. Love them!).

    I am so happy to hear that people from as far away as Denmark are enjoying my stories. And you are right, we do have immense freedom here in God’s country. Well said. I plan on writing on that very topic in my book.

    Best to you and bluest of skies,

    Summer Martell

  3. We’ll be with you every step of the way!

  4. Summer…

    You have so much to tell and share…the book is the “forever” story…to inspire those who inspired you and whom you have inspired. You will do well and we will all be better for your words of wisdom. Little red biplanes are magical!!

    Love ya Sky Sister!!

    • Oh Susan, you have been (and are) such a significant person behind all of this happening. You inspire ME! Thank you doesn’t even begin to say how I feel about it, but sometimes words aren’t enough. I think that the heart picture is a more complete conveyance of the spirit around how I feel about you.

      Love you dearly dear Sky Sister.

  5. Summer, Great to hear you are starting the book.
    You are a wonderful inspiration to anyone who has ever looked at an airplane.
    I am positive many more exciting experiences are still to come.
    Why do I get the feeling this book will just be Vol. I .?

  6. Looking forward to the book. I am sure it will be an inspiration.

    • Thanks Steve, maybe one day we will all be looking forward to your book? The one about how you decided that one day you were going to fly your family Stearman cross country! 😉

  7. Dan Tarasievich


    I looked forward each morning to your blogs of THE TRIP. I know you’ll pencil out a wonderful story that I will look forward to reading. Your storied brought a lump in my throat a tear in my eye and a laugh from my heart.

    You go girl!

    Dan Tarasievich

  8. Summer, Great to hear the book is getting started. I believe it will be an inspiration to any one who has ever looked skyward at he sound and site of an airplane.
    Many more exciting adventures to come.
    Why do I feel this book may just be Vol. I ?

    • Thanks Dale, You and your family and community at “Biplane Heaven” played a large part in inspiring me. I think of you all often and fondly and look forward to seeing you all again in the not too distant future! Thank you and blue skies!

  9. Summer. If you’d like, send me email (lincolnbuff2 at sign yahoo dot com). I am a writer by trade. So happy for you. Can offer some help as a “pay it forward.” Ann

  10. Summer, I definitely agree that the Prince has a certain mystical air that brings people out…however, it is also the the relationship between you two that makes it magical. When I am flying open cockpit with you I feel like you and the Prince are one, a very perfectly coupled duo, and that is an inspiring feeling. And thanks to you I have been able to experience that feeling over and over, and with others. I feel it with Susan and the RNF and of course with Andy and the Cabin, although it is a little modified with the man and his big boy toy! Same difference though. And it’s those kind of feelings in life that remind us why living is so grand, like the feeling we get when we ride our faithful mounts, I just can’t get enough. So, take some credit because while the Prince “Shirley” stands out, with you behind the stick it transforms. It was an honor to be part of such an amazing expedition, thank you for sharing it with me.

    • Wow Chrissy what beautiful words, thank you! I am really happy that you were with me on the trip, it was wonderful to share it with you and Jerry. What you wrote above is beautifully written, straight from the heart. Like your mother, you have a way with words. Perhaps you will entertain writing your own book? I’d love to read it! Blue skies Sky Sister!

  11. I cant wait to

  12. I’m a fellow LLT’er that has been lurking here from the beginning of your story, Your blog has made me laugh, brought me to tears, and urged me run to the airport and jump in my taildragger and soar. You transform your experiences into inspirations, summoning more of us to claim the skies and adventure forth next year to meet the wonderful people who come so alive in your words.

    Thank you for inspiring us all, and I very much look forward to more.

    • Faith, thank you so much for taking the time to write and express how my stories make you feel. It is precisely because of responses like yours that have caused me to want to write the book.. I realize that the written word is powerful, and being able inspire others while being inspired myself is an honor and a privilege.

      Fly high sky sister!

  13. Oh Summer, I’m so happy that you are going to do the book. I just got soggy eyes reading that. I KNOW your Dad is PROUD !!

  14. Yahoooo! Pretty sure you’re well on your way! Let those pearls continue to flow freely 😉

  15. Cindy Florsheim

    I am so happy that I stumbled onto your site. Your writing is fabulous because it comes from all the wonderful experiences you have had in your beautiful taildragger. I can’t wait to read the book.
    I look forward to reading more of your blog and enjoying the virtual ride with you.
    Thanks again for your encouragement. My presentation is coming along slowly but I’m sure enjoying the ride.
    Blue skies to you,


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