She was navy and silver. Her color was fading with age. Nothing whistled quite like her as she maneuvered about the sky. She bore N8677E — a tail number she received after entering service for Intercontinental Airways in February of 1959. Before then, she served the 402 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force beginning in 1951.
The North American Mustang is special. It is well-known as one of the best long-range fighters of the Second World War. To me, this was Don’s plane. I didn’t know him, but I knew his name because of the plane he flew and I easily recognized it anytime he flew above my house and around our town. I dreamed of flying in that plane someday.
As long as I can remember, I’ve loved airplanes. My home growing up was next to the municipal airport. I would spend hours watching the small planes and crop dusters in the summer take off and land. I took my first flight when I was in kindergarten. Mom took me to purchase new clothes for the trip and I was counting days and hours until I could go up in the sky.
There are very few times I remember feeling this same kind of excitement and anticipation. We got up early in the morning and drove to the Idaho Falls airport. I remember the great feeling of walking down the jet bridge to board the silver American Airlines plane bound for Salt Lake and then on to Pittsburgh. When the flight attendant presented me with a set of gold wings and escorted me in to see the cockpit and meet the pilots, it was the fulfillment of every dream that 6-year-old had.
When I was 16, I started taking flying lessons in Pocatello. One of the scariest and most rewarding life achievements was the day I first flew solo. To my instructor’s credit, he hadn’t warned me beforehand. We had just finished a lesson and we were taxiing in from Runway 21 to park the Cessna 172 and do our post-flight rundown like we had always done. When we stopped, he said, “You’re ready to fly. Keep it sunny side up!” He bailed quickly with a smile.
Nerves and excitement raced through me. I had dreamt about this day and it was here. Now, I had the responsibility of actually performing. Taking off and flying seemed like the easy part, while getting back safely to the ground was the one thing I needed to prove to myself I could do. After being airborne for 15 or 20 minutes, I entered the traffic pattern to return to land. A crosswind had picked up and, upon descent, I made a decision to request to land on a different runway. This was not planned, but my focus and training had prepared me to make this change and safely land the aircraft. This day of flight prepared me for other days of flying in life.
Each day of the legislative session in Boise, the House of Representatives begins its business on the floor with an opening prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. The House Chaplain, who is endearingly referred to as Pastor Tom, gives a provoking thought followed by a sincere prayer after which a House page leads the body in the Pledge. Without question, these few minutes were my favorite moments of any legislative day.
This was my time to reflect, reset and remember where I came from and who I was representing and why I decided to run for elected office. My personal routine was to make sure to look at the golden eagle atop the staff of the American flag pole and at the sky showing through the dome atop the House Chambers. Eagles soar high in the sky and eloquently wait for the best opportunities below. It was a reminder to me to keep my feet on the ground and to continually strive to fly with the eagles above the minutia of the daily political battles.
The older I become, the more fully I appreciate why there’s great peace and freedom that comes with flying, and why I’ve always loved being in the sky. Any struggle, or solution to a difficult problem, requires perspective and focus on the underlying objective. I have learned that struggles, perspective and focus on finding solutions are inherent with flying.
In 1998, Don’s plane was sold and moved to Utah, rebranded as “Mormon Mustang.” In 2001, she was repainted and now flies as “My Sweet Mary Lou” in Dillon, Montana. No matter what colors she sports, or pilot she carries, I will remember the spark she provoked in me to learn to fly with the eagles and her life of service and inspiring flight.
Dustin Manwaring is a business and estate planning attorney in Pocatello and served in the Idaho Legislature from 2016-2018.