Yvonne Aberle Cutting Off My Shirt-tails
Flying Lessons & Valium
"Why don't you just fly?" asked Dr. Fred Jackson when I mentioned that it was
75 miles from my home in Fallbrook to my business in Anaheim.
"Excuse me?" I replied. "How would I do that?"
"Easy," he said. "Learn to fly and buy a plane. Not only will you get to and
from work faster, you'll have fun doing it. I go flying every chance I can get. There's nothing
"Well, I've never thought about learning to fly -- and I doubt that I could afford to
buy an airplane."
"Think about it," he said, reassuringly. "If your time is worth money, you'll be
able to pay for the plane with the time you save commuting."
"So where would I go to take lessons?" (I was surprised to find myself warming
up to the idea.)
"Right here in town. They give lessons at the Fallbrook Airpark and they have a couple of
great instructors over there. That's also where I keep my twin-engine job."
"Sure. Just go over and ask one of the instructors to take you for a ride. Once you see
how much fun it is you'll never want to drive to work again."
So I did. And it was fun.
Harry Aberle took me up for about 40 minutes and flew me around Fallbrook and Bonsall
as well as out to Oceanside and back. Not only that, he made a very favorable impression as
being a highly qualified instructor who would make it easy and fun to learn how to fly. So I signed up.
A lady named Barbara (whose last name I can't recall) was my lab instructor, and I was
equally impressed with her teaching skills. She had a lot of patience and laid good solid ground
work that would help me when I finally got airborne.
Harry was a very conservative flyer whose main mission was to get his students into the air
and back on the ground in one piece. He had no interest in doing any fancy "show-off"
flying and stuck strictly to tried and true safety methods in everything he did. He was exactly
the kind of teacher I wanted.
Harry Aberle also had some pretty strong opinions about other pilots.
"Never go up with a doctor!" he said very emphatically.
"Those guys think they are God and that they can do no wrong -- yet they have one of the
highest mortality rates of any group of flyers."
How ironic, I thought. Here I was taking lessons from a fellow who now tells me I should
never go up with the man who got me to sign up for lessons.
Well, anyway, there was nothing remarkable about my flying lessons that's worth
mentioning here -- except possibly for one thing: part of the time I was flying on drugs.
Let me explain. At about age 40 I had begun to develop a twitch in my left eye that was
becoming increasingly more stressful, and which the doctors couldn't figure out how to cure.
Two different neurological surgeries had done nothing to stop the twitch, which had spread out
to make the whole left side of my face convulse on an irregular basis.
This is why I had been seeing Dr. Fred Jackson, who was also (I've been told) one of
President Nixon's neurosurgeons. In any case, all the physicians I saw ended up prescribing
tranquilizers, since nothing else seemed to help. Also, it had gotten to where I was needing
stronger doses and needing them more often, as the twitch continued to get worse.
How did this affect my flying? Well, although I did have one scary solo adventure,
I'm happy to report that the meds never kept me from being in control and that I was always
able to get back down with no problems.
Bit Off More Than I Could Chew
As for that one spooky event, I had gone up on a cloudy winter afternoon and was surprised
to have the clouds suddenly fill in around and below me, making it impossible to see where
I was going, much less see the ground below. I had never been in this predicament, and had
to make some quick decisions.
I was afraid to descend since the clouds appeared to be going all the way to the ground.
The Cessna 150 had no controls for flying blind, nor had I been trained in instrument-flying,
even if the plane had had the tools.
So I just kept climbing, in hopes of getting above the clouds so I could at least see around me.
Well, at about 8500 feet I finally saw blue sky—but now I had another problem. A window was partially
open and I couldn't get it closed. As I climbed higher, the air coming through the opening got
colder and colder, and I was not wearing a jacket.
Here I was, freezing cold, somewhat spaced out on Valium, and not knowing if or when
I was ever going to see land again. But the Lord must have been looking out for me, because
the clouds suddenly began to separate as quickly as they had come together. The air became
less frigid as I began to descend, looking for landmarks that would lead me back to Fallbrook.
When I finally climbed out of the plane I was shivering uncontrollably and couldn't wait to get home, have a hot shower and get into a warm bed. As I lay there under the down comforter I found myself wondering if I really wanted to keep taking lessons.
But the next day I was feeling fine and anxiously looking forward to my next solo flight. However, it never came.
Neurosurgery Kept Me Grounded
I had been seeing Dr. Randall Smith at UCSD who had recently returned from Pittsburgh,
where he said he had trained under a neurosurgeon who had developed a procedure for my type
of problem. I'd rather not go into technicalities, but suffice it to say that an artery in
my head had gone off course and was rubbing against a facial nerve, thus making my face twitch.
Dr. Smith said he would place a "sponge" between the artery and the nerve which would,
hopefully, relieve the problem.
Well, I am very happy to report that the procedure provided 100% relief and the I've
never had a twitch in the 30 or so years since the operation. Not surprisingly, however, I
was unable to return to my flying lessons right after the surgery. There's something about
cutting one's skull open with a hack saw and doing delicate things right next to the brain that
throws one's equilibrium off for a while.
Nonetheless, I had every intention of returning to the lessons once I had fully recuperated.
That's when I heard some news that gave me some second thoughts. Dr. Jackson's plane had crashed,
killing him and a friend who was riding with him. I also heard (but have no documentation)
that pilot error had caused the crash.
Naturally, Harry Aberle's prophetic words came rushing back to me as I read the report.
But my story gets even sadder. A few weeks later, Harry was killed when a home-built
he was flying stalled and fell out of the sky as it was taking off from Fallbrook Airpark.
A mutual friend had been the first one on the scene and he later told me that Harry lived just
long enough to get to the hospital, where they were unable to save him.
This happened just about the time I was beginning to retrieve my equilibrium and had begun
to think about going back for more lessons. But without Harry as my instructor, I just couldn't
revive my enthusiasm for taking lessons. So I never went back for more.
*Regarding the photo of Harry's wife Yvonne and the scissors —- it's customary
(or at least it was back then) for student pilots to have their shirt tails cut off after
completing their first solo flight.