It’s better than walking

Since pilot John Blossom-Boyd first flew a Cessna 152 in 1978, the sky has always been his second home

By Anna Nagle, McCallum High School

In this week’s #TuesdayTop10, we take a virtual flight to Brenham’s Southern Flying Diner with pilot John Blossom-Boyd on a quest to find the famous Hundred-Dollar Burger. Along the way, we’ll learned how Blossom-Boyd discovered flying and why he’s more comfortable in the air than anywhere on the earth. “The sky, for me, is like my second home,” he said. “It is where I am truly at peace. And if time and money were no object, I would spend every day in its embrace.” Photo by Anna Nagle.

Pilot John Blossom-Boyd fuels for the first half of his journey. Altogether, the fuel comes out to around $100, but Blossom-Boyd doesn’t mind. “Flying is important to me because it embodies freedom in its purest form,” he said. “Not even gravity can hold you.” Photo by Anna Nagle.

“When I was about 4 years old,” he said, “my brother Dusty was really into airplanes. He was 9. He would talk endlessly about every type of airplane. Made me very interested in them.” Blossom-Boyd has been flying since he achieved his pilot license at the age of 19. Now, at the age of 51, he is still going strong. Photo by Anna Nagle.

Even though his preference is airplanes, Blossom-Boyd is fond of helicopters as well. “When I was 7, my dad’s company had a family picnic day and gave free helicopter rides to the workers and their children,” he said. “My older brothers took the left and right seats in the back of the helicopter, sticking me in the middle. So I couldn’t see out the windows very much, but I could see the pilot very well. I was mesmerized as he effortlessly moved the controls to make the helicopter do what he wanted.” Photo by Anna Nagle.

“My current airplane is a Cherokee 140,” Blossom-Boyd said. “It is a fairly popular training aircraft, though nowhere near as popular as the Cessna 172 or 152. My first airplane was a Cessna 152, 1978 model. It had two seats and a small engine, and it was a great first airplane.” Photo by Anna Nagle.

Blossom-Boyd was generous enough to offer me a ride to Brenham, whereupon he would make a stop at Southern Flying Diner, a small ’50s-esque joint built especially to entertain travelling pilots. I asked Blossom-Boyd: why Brenham? Why this place in particular? He told me about the Hundred-Dollar Hamburger. “It’s an age-old pilots’ tradition,” he said. “Pilots don’t really need an excuse to fly, but it provides a good one. It’s called the Hundred-Dollar Hamburger because while the hamburger itself is only eight or nine dollars, probably, the fuel expended to get there can easily reach triple digits.” Photo by Anna Nagle.

Finally, the flight to Brenham is complete. We park Blossom-Boyd’s 1967 Cherokee 140 and head inside, where we feast on decadent pancakes, burgers and hot dogs. We splash out on some milkshakes and watch the life of the diner float by: the pilots laughing and talking in neon-lit booths, the waitresses running around in poodle skirts. Photo by Anna Nagle.

Blossom-Boyd has always loved the feng shui of the Southern Flyer Diner, where the famed Hundred-Dollar Hamburger makes its appearance. “It has a lovely ’50s theme, excellent food at reasonable prices, and a beautiful view of the neighboring pond,” he said. “Plus, it’s a great event for pilots, because they like to look at all the different airplanes that arrive.” Photo by Anna Nagle.

After bidding farewell to Brenham, Blossom-Boyd usually continues onward to a small private airport in Taylor, which is filled with wisecracking old pilots and mysterious abandoned airplanes. “Some airplanes, like the Piper Cherokee at Taylor, are owned by people who only fly occasionally,” Blossom-Boyd said. “And as with any machine that is left unmaintained and out in the weather, it falls into a state of disrepair and is eventually unflyable.” He shakes his head in scorn. “Some people are never quite comfortable with flying, even though they are trained pilots, and I find that they tend to like the idea of being a pilot more than actually being a pilot.” Photo by Anna Nagle.

“I feel like aviators who abandon planes are the ones who are the most dangerous to themselves and others,” Blossom-Boyd said, “because eventually they will get their nerve up and go fly, but they will be well out of practice.” He went on to tell me that the Piper Cherokee, sitting in its lonely spot overlooking the runway, has been abandoned for 10 years. Photo by Anna Nagle.

Blossom-Boyd stops to refuel one more time before heading back into Austin. He finishes putting the gas pump away, wipes his brow and squints out at his plane. “It beats walking,” he said. “Flying is a spiritual activity for me. The sky, for me, is like my second home; it is where I am truly at peace. And if time and money were no object, I would spend every day in its embrace.” Photo by Anna Nagle.

This story was originally published on The Shield Online on March 10, 2020.