Last month, during a rare lull in sugaring, my friend Helen Labun Jordan invited me to join her on a tour through southern VT she was taking for her work at the E-Vermont Community Broadband Project. While she attended workshops and meetings, I could visit my old flying haunts in Bennington. This included visiting one of the most impressive pilots I’ve known, Willard Van Wormer (“Van”) and his wife Virginia.
Van and Virginia live in a beautiful old house just off the end of runway 31. Their warm and inviting house is filled with over 60 years of flying history. There were the usual pictures of planes flown, but also propellers setting in corners, aircraft engines on stands, shelves of aircraft instruments, and flight manuals, and many pictures and articles of family. Van’s garage walls were lined with spare parts for his four airplanes, his restored tractor, his hit-miss engine and saw rig, his motorcycle, and his cub cadet lawnmowers. And, aside from the workbench top, no clutter!
I first met “Van” when I was an up and coming flight Instructor in 1990. His 1940’s Stearman biplane and Taylorcraft, sitting in his often-open hanger door, were like a big billboard saying “come see me”.
He was very inspirational to me as a pilot and instructor. He never seemed to tire of my many questions, and I surely never got bored listening to his stories, and there were many over his 30,000 flight hours! He wrote everything down. His hanger wall is covered with names, notes, and phone numbers.
One day as I walked on the airport ramp I heard cussing coming from Van’s Stearman. His legs were sticking up out of the cockpit! I went running over thinking he was stuck and calling for my help to get out. No, he was saying there was to much damn paint on the airframe and he was having a devil of a time getting a ground on the radio!
Van gave downtown Bennington weekly air shows of aerial acrobatics (he flew one last week – still doing stunts at age 87)! He had quite a career starting in Roosevelt Aviation School on Long Island NY in the late 1930’s, the same airfield Charles Lindbergh took off from on his epic flight just a decade earlier. He was a Flight Instructor in the Army Air Corp during WWII, and retired as chief pilot for General Electric.
I called him the Flying Dutchman because that’s what he had painted in big letters across the side of his Stearman. With over 30,000 hours of logged airtime as a pilot, that was certainly true.
The Flying Dutchman passed away last friday may 8th at home. I am honored to have friends like Van and Ginny. All the romanticized images of flying I had as a kid were brought to life in Van. I am so thankful for the visit I had with them last month.