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Dream of flight

First Person: Lifelong wish for wings fulfilled in a wrecked vintage plane

Grounded no more, banker Stephen Christy and his 1948 Cessna 195, an Art Deco “tail dragger” whose history and eccentricity impressed him Grounded no more, banker Stephen Christy and his 1948 Cessna 195, an Art Deco “tail dragger” whose history and eccentricity impressed him

Airplanes fascinated Stephen Christy since childhood. He read everything he could about aviation. Pioneer Charles Lindbergh was one of young Christy’s heroes.

“I was always interested, but I never had any money to buy a plane,” says Christy, who is president and CEO of Mascoma Savings Bank, Lebanon, N.H.

Christy’s father was a Presbyterian minister, and the family moved every five years or so when his father moved to a new church. It was not a profession that built up family wealth. Christy had an uncle who flew B-47s in the Air Force, and who owned several planes over the years. One was a Piper Comanche, and another was a twin-engine plane that the uncle and his wife, also a pilot, flew to Europe in the ’70s.

“That was before GPS,” says Christy, 64, with admiration. “We take many things for granted in aviation today.”

Christy’s uncle and aunt knew of his interest and offered to teach him to fly. But the planes they owned proved too advanced for a beginner, and money again stymied him. He couldn’t afford fuel for lessons.

The closest Christy came to reaching the clouds was a seasonal job over eight summers with the Mount Washington Cog Railway, in New Hampshire. The tourist rail line has climbed New England’s highest peak for over 100 years. Christy learned to run locomotives up the extreme grade. However, he much preferred working in the railway’s shop, overhauling engines and other work. He actually helped build one locomotive from scratch.

Born in Atlanta, Ga., Christy fell in love with New Hampshire and its cooler weather, and joined the bank in 1973 as a teller, still grounded.

But in 1990, he decided it was time to do something about his dream of flight, or put it away. He began taking flying lessons, and in time, went in on a plane with several other pilots. In time, he sold out of that, and bought his own planes.

The opportunity for his current plane came in an unusual way: a wreck.

The single-engine, aluminum-bodied plane, a 1948 Cessna 195, is a “tail-dragger.” Such planes have two fixed wheels under the fuselage and a much smaller wheel that keeps the tail off the ground for takeoff and landing. Tail draggers can be tricky, Christy explains, because too much variance in steering on the ground can cause a “ground loop.” That’s a 180-degree turn. (The 195 is especially long for its size, making it still more challenging. Online discussion groups debate methods of handling 195s on the ground.)

To get the effect, try pushing a two-wheeled Rollaboard-style suitcase, he explains. The luggage “wants” to reverse direction, as does a tail-dragger out of alignment. Pilots need a tail-dragger endorsement on their licenses to operate one.

In 2001, the previous owners of the Cessna 195 had not only had a ground loop, but flipped—in part due to a cross wind. No one died, however the plane sustained significant damage. It took shops in three different states to fix the parts that were bent or broken.

The plane’s history, and its eccentricity, might have put off some people. But Christy had long admired the Cessna 195, built between 1947 and 1954. He likes its Art Deco design and its impressive radial engine.

“Jets don’t do anything for me,” says Christy. “And the average pilot can’t afford to own and operate one.”

Steve Cocheo

Steve Cocheo’s career in business journalism has taken him to all 50 states and nearly every corner of banking in institutions of all sizes. He is executive editor of ABA Banking Journal, digital content manager of ababj.com, and editor of ABA Bank Directors Briefing. He coordinates the popular Pass the Aspirin and First Person features and wrote the booklet series Focus On The Bank Director. He is the only journalist to have sat in on three federal banking exams, was a finalist for the Jesse H. Neal national business journalism awards, and a winner of multiple awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors.

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