by Glenn Norman – January 20, 2010
Right off the top, let’s clear up the question of my nickname.
Nicknames are strange things. For some reason most pilots have them, though we don’t have any control over the name we’re given. Friends may try out several before they find one that sticks, but once it does—look out … you’re “monikered” for life.
It was that way with my partner, Michelle Goodeve. For most of her childhood years, her family called her “Shelly” or “Shella.” The only time I heard her called “Michelle” was when she was in trouble. (Come to think of it, she was called Michelle a lot.) But it was during her years as a Professional Dancer that she gained the nickname that’s defined her ever since.
Michelle was dancing in a show for Air Canada that played in major cities across the continent. As the rest of the dancers were a minimum 5’8”, Michelle’s diminutive stature (5’1/2” on a good day) definitely stood out from the crowd. And that’s exactly why the producers hired her. Much to her chagrin, Michelle was to be the “comic relief” in the show, and that’s pretty much the way she was treated … until the day Air Canada’s Charter Pilots discovered “little Michelle” was learning to fly.
They ceremoniously led her to the cockpit, sat her in the left seat of the four-engined Vickers Vanguard Airliner, then—to the horror of the rest of her cast—turned off the auto-pilot and let her fly … for about twenty minutes!
It is said that she spilled all their drinks.
It is also said, though she’s never admitted the fact, that she did it deliberately.
Whatever the truth, Michelle won the admiration of the company’s Hollywood Star, Robert Ridgely, best known for his many comedic appearances in Mel Brooks’ films, and his dramatic roles in Boogie Nights & Philadelphia. And from that point on, every time the duo shared the stage, Ridgely would try and break up the Tiny Dancer by whispering “Wicked Midget, Wicked Midget” under his breath.
The nickname stuck, though political correctness evolved it into “The Widget,” then “The Widge,” and more often than not, “Widgie.”
That’s what most of her friends call her, whether she likes it or not.
‘Tis the nature of nicknames.
We have no say in what we’re called.
Our friend, Bruce Paylor, got stuck with a nickname that inevitably raises eyebrows the first time it’s heard. It came about when he was a 12-year-old kid who used to ride his bicycle to the top of a hill overlooking our rural runway so he could watch the airplanes land and takeoff.
One hot summer day, a friend misjudged his Cub’s climb ability and was rewarded, not with flight, but with a resounding BANG as his gear struck a fence. As the Cub dropped into the next field, the legs bent back at a most unpleasant angle. That was all the excuse young Bruce needed to come pedalling down the hill to examine the “wreckage.”
And as we stood there trying to estimate how much it would cost to buy a new Cub gear, Bruce snorted derisively and said, “You don’t need to buy a new gear. Just straighten that one out with a torch. Nothin’ to it.”
Given the circumstances, we weren’t in a particularly friendly mood, so the clever response we came up with was, “Get lost, you Rotten Little Kid.”
Bruce shrugged, got on his bike and pedalled away…
But he was back less than an hour later in his Cousin’s souped-up car; fish-tailing all the way up our drive, tossing gravel into the air in every direction.
Before we had a chance to say a word, that Rotten Little Kid’s cousin was removing an acetylene torch from the trunk and dragging it over to the bent Cub’s gear.
An hour later—much to our amazement—the Cub was back on its wheels.
It was flying a few days later, and one of the first passengers was … The Rotten Little Kid.
From that day on, The Rotten Little Kid (“RLK” for short) became a fixture at The Farm. He was there every day … building model airplanes … crashing model airplanes … helping to fix real ones, and—teaching us about mechanics! See, his Father & Uncle ran the famous “Paylor Brothers Wrecking Yard” in Guelph, Ontario, so that Rotten Little Kid knew more about machinery than most adults.
His full story deserves a longer telling, but for now let’s just say RLK grew up to be a Pilot – a superb one at that – and has now become a “master aircraft builder & restorer.”
As he just turned 48, we can hardly call him “Rotten Little Kid” anymore … so over the years that nickname has evolved into “Rotten”, or “Rot” for short.
And when anyone asks, “Why do you call him Rotten? He’s such a nice young man.” My standard response is, “Give it an hour. You’ll understand.”
And Rotten never fails to come through.
So that leaves me, and the nickname that graces the heading on this column.
While you might think “Fearless” is an obvious choice after reading a few of my more harrowing tales, you’d be wrong because a) I’m a big chicken, and b) my original nickname was “Fearless Leader.”
I was given that name at the start of our “1927 Trans-Continental Air Dash (of 1972).” We had arranged for the Air Dash to begin at an Antique Airplane show, held at Mountain View AFB, just south of Belleville, Ontario.
At the end of our first day, one of the Air Dashers came racing up to me and said, “The Military Police are going to lock our airplanes in the hangars overnight!”
I went outside and was met by the horrific sight of a troupe of Air Cadets pushing our Thruxton Jackaroo into a cavernous hangar—and they were pushing in all the wrong places!
STOP!” I screamed, as I stormed over to the old biplane—trying to remember these fresh-faced kids were just “following orders.”
Within minutes, I was nose to nose with the Base Commander who insisted the planes be locked away for security reasons. “Besides,” he said, “it’s raining!”
“That’s not the point,” I countered. “The whole idea of this Air Dash is to fly the way Barnstormers flew, and one of the most basic tenets of Barnstorming is – you sleep under the wing.”
The Base Commander was immovable. So—after a brief look at the low, but flyable sky – I said, “Okay. In that case, we’ll all leave and start the Air Dash from Belleville Airport” (a 5-minute flight away).
Now as the weather truly did suck, the Air Dash planes were about the only aircraft that had managed to get to the show … and the Base Commander knew that if we left, he’d have to cancel the following days’ events. So, a compromise was quickly reached.
The planes still had to go into the hangars, however … the pilots could go in with them and bunk down under the wings.
I liked it, so I shook the Commander’s hand and said we had a deal.
That really turned him around, and by the time we had supper and returned to the Hangar, the Air Dash Pilots let out a cheer … because the Military had placed mattresses under every wing, and even left us sandwiches and a full coffee machine!
I can’t recall a better nights’ sleep, especially as Widge & I moved our mattress beneath the wing of a 1918 AVRO 504K … just so we could honestly say we’d slept under one.
The next day, one of the pilots ran into some minor problem and approached the late, great Keith “Doc” Johnson for an answer. Doc (who really was a Doctor) shrugged his shoulders, said “I don’t know,” looked over at me and said, “Ask our Fearless Leader.”
The nickname evolved over the years, but it stuck.
And that’s the true reason my friends call me Fearless.
About the Author
Glenn Norman is a Co-Founder and the Editor of Why Fly. Learn more.