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  • Book Review: Fly the Airplane, by Meredith and Dana Holladay

    Posted by David Foster on June 3rd, 2013 (All posts by )

    Airplanes, dogs, romance, adventure…sounds like a good set of ingredients for a successful book, does it not?

    Meredith and Dana Holladay are both pilots and flight instructors. They met in 2010, fell in love, got married, bought a 1938 Piper Cub and flew it around the country–to all 48 states in the contiguous United States–and they recently became parents of a baby girl named Alexandra. A busy 3 years.

    This is quite likely the only romantic story ever written that begins with a citation from the Code of Federal Regulations, specifically:

    Federal Aviation Regulations 91.3 Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command

    (a) The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.

    Meredith suggests that the above rule not only provides guidance for the conduct of aviation, but also provides a good principle for the management of one’s own life.

     The title of the book is taken from a phrase frequently spoken by flight instructors to students, often in a sharp tone: Fly the airplane. The point being that no matter what other important things need to be done–adjust the mixture, communicate with Air Traffic Control, change the settings on the GPS–the pilot must first and foremost maintain control of the aircraft. Again, Meredith suggests that the applicability of this principle goes far beyond aviation.

    After the breakup of her first marriage, Meredith decided to give on-line dating a try and put up a profile on She included a photo of herself taken the previous summer after landing at a grass strip in Pennsylvania with a student and his girlfriend. Dana–himself an experienced flight instructor–could tell from the photo that Meredith was an instructor as well as a pilot, since she was sitting in the airplane’s right seat.

     After a lightning courtship and marriage, they decided to move forward with their idea of a trip covering all the 48 contiguous states. The aircraft they chose for this project was a Piper J-3 Cub, a type for which Dana had long had a strong affection:

     I like that they are mechanically simple with minimal instrumentation. I also like the door and window design, which allows you to fly with both opened wide to provide a mostly unobstructed view of the world. It also allows people on the ground to get a good look at you as you fly overhead, and they’ll often wave and can see you waving back. I’ve never had that happen in any other airplane.

    (Taking a trip in a Cub does require, though, that you keep your baggage to a seriously absolute minimum. The Cub also lacks a self-starter: one person turns the prop over by hand while the other manages the throttle and magneto and holds the brakes.)

    Highlights of the trip included flying over the New Jersey Turnpike (with Simon & Garfunkel’s America playing in Meredith’s head), up the Hudson River corridor at about 1000 feet, right past the Statue of Liberty and over the George Washington Bridge, and through a mountain pass near Yellowstone. On-the-ground adventures included a scary climb up a cliff in Acadia National Park, a visit with a friendly/hungry seal in Oregon, and many more.

    This is a fun and meaningful book, whose appeal will not be limited to pilots

    I’ve flown with Meredith several times for flight reviews, etc…if you’re looking for flight instruction in the Washington DC metro area, you might want to consider getting in touch with Meredith and Dana. Their website is here, and they also have a Facebook page.

    The book is available through Amazon in both paper and Kindle formats.

     Related: Retro-reading…some interesting content in the March 1939 issue of Aviation magazine,  including an ad for the then-new Piper Cub Coupe model for $1995.


    2 Responses to “Book Review: Fly the Airplane, by Meredith and Dana Holladay”

    1. Bill Brandt Says:

      David – sounds like a good read. From a pilot’s point of view sometimes being PIC can mean the FAA will be all to eager to blame you when something happens ;-) (do what we tell you to do)

      The Cub just passed a milestone – 75th anniversary last year. With the cost of aircraft ownership these days it makes as much sense now as it did in 1937.

    2. David Foster Says:

      Bill…it’s been estimated that 75% of American aviators in WWII learned to fly in the Cub.

      I’ve flow Cubs, though it’s been long enough ago that I’d definitely need some brush-up if I were to do it again. The tailwheel has less inherent stability on the ground than does the tricycle gear, and can be tricky, as Meredith describes in the book. Probably wasn’t quite as much of an issue when people were flying from fields and there wasn’t any runway to run off of….