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Benefits of having an old friend with an airplane

By JIM BUSEK • Feb 27, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Remember that week in the middle of February when it snowed every day?

That’s when Char and I went to the Bahamas.

The trip was probably not what you think.

For instance, you probably think we went for the whole week. We didn’t. We were there fewer than three days.

Wednesday morning I was clearing snow off my sidewalk. Wednesday evening we were having dinner on Treasure Cay, Great Abaco Island, the Bahamas.

By Saturday afternoon, we were back home.

It was a whirlwind trip, for sure. But totally worth it.

My old friend — old as in met 65 years ago and attended school together all the way through college — Tom Wheeler, and his wife Betsy have a winter home on Abaco, the skinny 120-mile-long island you see way off the coast of Florida.

A couple of decades ago, Tom got an idea that he could start a business to compete with some huge international companies in repairing aircraft components, specifically jet engines for the major airlines.

He’s always been a bold guy. So he borrowed some money, recruited a bunch of knowledgeable people and launched into the sophisticated business of renewing aerospace equipment.

The business, Component Repair Technologies, took off — pardon the expression.

Located in Mentor — not far from where the Wheelers live when it is not snowing — Component Repair Technologies employs more than 450 people. It is a classic American business success story. And not one that was easy to see on the horizon when we were goofing around in study hall all those years ago.

But I digress. Despite long intervals when we do not see each other, the adult Buseks and Wheelers get together now and then.

This winter, as he has done a couple of times in the past, Tom said “if you get to Florida, I will get you to Abaco.”

So I snagged one of those ridiculous $59-per-person airfares from Cleveland to Ft. Lauderdale for Char and me and set up a meeting time.

Tom has been a licensed pilot since high school and his love affair with aviation continues. When he picked us up at the Ft. Lauderdale airport he said: “You are looking at America’s newest certified helicopter pilot.” He had been studying and taking lessons for a few months, and 45 minutes before he picked us up he qualified for his helicopter pilot’s license.

He had already purchased a helicopter, but he took us to The Bahamas via a conventional fixed wing Cessna. No problem — I prefer my helicopter pilots to have their license for at least a day or two before I go up with them. (Not that I doubt Tom’s ability to get me safely anywhere in anything that flies: he was one of the university pilots when we were in college; a corporate pilot for TRW; and pilot of his own little fleet of aircraft — including a float plane and a personal jet — for much of his adult life. He knows how to fly).

And it was very fun to fly in the co-pilot’s seat (a name that describes the thing I was sitting in, not any actual flying responsibility) across the blue waters of the Caribbean.

Unlike my adventure travels, this trip was all leisure. Reminiscing and telling stories into the night on Wednesday. Jogging on the nearly deserted beach Thursday morning. Boating to another island for lunch. More stories into the night on Thursday. Birdwatching Friday morning with one of Tom’s friends. Dozing in a beach chair beside the azure Caribbean Friday afternoon. Dinner on an outdoor patio at one of the few restaurants on the not-at-all-commercial island. Followed by, yes, more talk of family, friends and old times.

Saturday was going to be a unique treat for us. The Wheelers had been invited to a surprise birthday party for their daughter back in Ohio that afternoon. So Tom was going to fly us all back to Cleveland in his Citation jet aircraft. Cool, huh?

But overnight the Ohio weather had taken a very bad turn: low ceilings at the airport we were going to use, fog and freezing rain.

Tom called on his 55 years of flying experience and said (I am paraphrasing): “The difference between a good pilot and a great pilot is that the great pilot knows when conditions are sufficiently dangerous that he should skip something even as important as his daughter’s milestone birthday party.”

I told you he knows what he is doing.

So Saturday morning we took one last look at the beach, then hopped on the Cessna with Tom for the hour long flight back to Ft. Lauderdale and went home on United.

It wasn’t exactly what we thought our holiday would be. But it was still three of the best days we’ll have all year.


Jim Busek is a freelance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via email at jimbusek@hotmail.com.


Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at jimbusek@ hotmail.com.

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