In the basement of our home in Hicksville, New York, my dad built a walk-in cedar closet. My memory tells me that the room was always a fun place to hide and discover, and was always packed to the rafters with clothes. Within the folds of fabric, I found the green dress uniform of an Army Air Corp Lieutenant, complete with wings and metals, hat, blouse and slacks. My only impression at the time was this was yet another costume for me to play with.
My fatherís love for flying first became evident to me over 40 years ago when he took me, on my eighth birthday, to Zahnís Airport in Amityville. We brought two throw pillows from my bedroom, placing them on the front seat of a 1940 canary yellow (complete with black thunder stripe) Piper J-3 Cub. I needed to see over the cowling. My dadís friend and airport manager, Ed Lyons, pulled the prop through a couple of times, dad yelled "clear", Ed gave a final tug and the 65 horse power Lycoming came to life. For the next 40 years, from Cub, to Tri-Pace, C-172 Sky Hawk, Pipers Cherokee and Comanche, and finally to his Bonanza, his passion for flight never diminished.
In 2001, I started to receive letters from my dad with stories of his war time life. He was a P-47 pilot stationed in Pisa Italy flying support and ground assault missions in Germany. I learned from newspaper articles that he was not just a pilot, but a true war hero, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross with more Oak Leaf Clusters than "Carter had little liver pills."
His own love for flying began as a child growing up near Mitchell Field in Hempstead, New York. He built model planes and flew them over the fields of Garden City and the waters of Oyster Bay. He worked for Grumman Aviation, building wings for seaplanes and war planes. Charles Lindberghís fateful flight to Paris started only a few miles away at Roosevelt Field. (There is a landmark sign in the mall that now covers the old runways.) I think our house in Hicksville was purchased because it was on the base-to-final turn for the Grumman Bethpage facility. He is the son of immigrant parents with no flying experience, yet flying became and still is his life force. Flying has always been a part of him.
I too became a pilot, soloing at 16 and getting my pilotís license before I was allowed to drive in New York. Every Sunday I would ride my bicycle to Republic Airport, the birth place of my dadís loved Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, to take my flight lessons. Dad would meet me after my lesson in his Comanche. We would take my bicycle apart, put it in the luggage compartment and go flying into adventures unknown. Which brings me to two of my favorite flying stories about my dad.
Zahnís was the "premier" airport on Long Island for many years, and for as long as I could remember, there were always people coming to the airport after Sunday church just to watch the planes takeoff and land. The runwayís threshold on the north end was only one hundred feet (at most) from the hangers, so "hitting the numbers" was as much art as it was luck. On this particular Sunday, Dad and I were returning from playing in the Cub. It was a perfect day and the winds blew straight down the runway. Dad slipped the Cub in for a perfect two-point landing on the numbers, turned off the runway at the first intersection, turned off the engine and coasted to the gas pumps. The crowd stared as the lifeless plane rolled towards them. At the last moment, dad kicked the rudder and the Cub turned so the clam-shell door faced the audience. As the door opened, they saw an 8 year old boy in the front seat. My father unfolded himself from the back seat of the yellow and black, wood and cloth flying machine, looked at the crowd and said "Whewww. Just ran out of gas!" The crowd gasped in horror. Ed Lyons and my dad laughed at the joke. Years later, I did too and pulled the same stunt with my own friends on board.
Many years later, dad and two friends owned a PA-24-250 Comanche. Over the years the plane took on many transformations, but to my dad it was always an over grown Cub. In the service he learned how to slip his T-6 to a perfect landing and I suspect did the same with his Thunderbolt. On this day he was landing at Republic and there was a plane on final approach before him. The tower advised my dad to "go around," to try the landing again. In his great wisdom, dad decided no, he would just slip the Comanche in, put it down on the threshold and turn off the runway well before the intersection. The other plane, after all, was already halfway down the runway and there was no danger of a collision on the 7,000 foot runway. Needless to say, someone in the tower was upset and wrote my father up on the "violation." Weeks later, "incident" papers came, were completed and returned. One of the forms asked what aircraft the pilot in command had flown. Dad listed them all. On multiple pages
Months later, a young man from the FAA came to my dadís bicycle store (yes, just like the Wright Brothers) and interviewed my dad. The way I heard the story, he only asked one question: Did you really solo this many airplanes? After receiving an affirmative, he looked at my dad, asked him to please, please do what the controller asks next time and walked out in disbelief.
Since 1950, the bicycle store was dadís haven of flying and war stories. Since his retirement, that personality has been moved to his personal museum in his basement. He volunteers at the Air Power Museum at Republic, where his is now part of a living history. Heíll tell flying stories at the slightest provocation. He is still as impressed with the simplest toy glider as he is with the Concord. I felt his pain at the loss to aviation on September 11, 2001 and again a month later when American Airlines lost another plane in Rockaway New York.
This site, the brain child of my sister who spent many sleepless hours designing it, is our meager attempt to bring my dadís stories and photographs, his museum to the public. We honor our father for the hero he was and is still. I have had the honor of meeting many of the greats of aviation history, from the Grumman family to a number of US and Russian astronauts. But as they ride in the comfort of their worldwide acclaim, my dad will always be the pilot of their aeroplane.
Dedicated to our Dad.. Lt. Benjamin Rosman
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