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#58 Early Morning Meeting

Patty in flight

Patty in her Extra

In “The People in our Lives”, I mentioned a meeting between Jim Lovell and Hooper Lansburgh.  The event has always stuck in my mind, so I thought I’d relate it in its entirety.


Patty Wagstaff

I think it was 1998.  I’d pretty much retired from Airshow Comedy flying and was living in Florida and working at Black Shadow Aviation in Fernandina Beach.  I’d been asked to produce a private airshow for the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Amelia Island.  We used Black Shadow’s ramp, which faced the runway.  The big hangar was decorated for the following banquet.  It was a tiny air show lineup and Patty Wagstaff was the primary performer.  At the post-show banquet, Patty introduced me to the guest of honor, Captain Jim Lovell, who had commanded the ill-fated Apollo 13 and who was later played by Tom Hanks in the movie of the same name.  The audience was delighted to learn that, in addition to Capt. Lovell, there was a surprise guest.  Gene Krantz, the legendary Flight Director from Mission Control, was also present.

As the three of us chatted, Patty told Captain Lovell that it was too bad that my son, Hooper, wasn’t there for him to meet.  She told him that Hooper, who was only six years old at the time, was already a talented flyer.  He was also launching model rockets and planning to become an astronaut.

“I’d love to meet Hooper,” Lovell said.  “I’ll be leaving really early tomorrow, but if Hooper is in the lobby of the Ritz, I’d be delighted to meet him”.

I told Captain Lovell that he could probably expect to see Hooper waiting for him in the lobby the next morning.

Appolo 13 liftoff

Liftoff of Apollo 13

Hooper, who was not a morning person, leapt out of bed the next morning at four.  He put on his best pair of jeans and a corduroy sport coat and we blasted over to Fernandina Beach.  Hooper was clutching a book on rockets that he’d checked out from the school library.  At five o’clock in the morning, Jim Lovell came into the lobby of the Ritz Carlton to meet Hooper Lansburgh.  I introduced them and then made myself scarce while the two sat in a corner and chatted.  They pored through Hooper’s book and I remember Lovell pointing to a picture of one of the Russian rockets and commenting, “Those blew up all the time…”  Hooper was having a ball yakking with his hero.  Then the astronaut shook Hooper’s hand and told the kid that it had been fun chatting. He wished him luck in his future.  He took Hooper’s book and autographed it.  The inscription said, “To Hooper.  Join us in space.  Jim Lovell”.

Hooper and I headed for home where I would fix him breakfast and we’d recount the morning’s wonderful meeting.  Suddenly, Hooper gasped.  I turned to him quickly.

“What’s wrong,” I asked.

Hooper held up the book.  “This is a library book!”

I smiled at my boy.  “Not any more, Hoop.” I assured him.

Roll 6-1

Hooper gives a rocket launching demo on the beach at Amelia Island.

Hooper continued his interest in space and rockets.  He even gave an impromptu rocket launching clinic to his school chums on the beach of Amelia Island.

A couple of years after his meeting with Lovell, Hooper went to a book signing in Jacksonville, Florida.  Gene Kranz had written “Failure is Not an Option” and Hooper was there to meet the colorful Kranz and to get a copy of his book autographed.  Kranz chatted briefly with perhaps the youngest reader present and learned of Hooper’s interest in rocketry.  They shook hands and Hooper turned to leave.  Kranz called him back.Kranz book

“Here,” the Flight Director said, pulling a business card out of his pocket.  “Give me a call sometime when you’re launching one of your rockets and I’ll do the countdown for you.”

I wonder sometimes if people like Gene Kranz and Jim Lovell know how much a little bit of special attention means to the kids they meet (and their parents).  I hope they do.

And now you do, too.



Happy Swooping,


5 comments to #58 Early Morning Meeting

  • Jeff Taylor

    Great story, Brian. “Not any more, Hoop”. What a line.

  • George Feick

    A wonderful and touching story. Thanks for sharing


  • This just in from Phil Comingore:

    I super enjoyed the multiple T&G video. I think I was one of those who interrupted the video efforts on that day in Prineville. I was coming in to land, heard and watched the proceedings. In fact, you were departing to the East, doing a 180 and making a quick return landing to the West. I watched you touch down and as you approached the far West end of the runway where your crew was stationed, I made a mid-field base, slipped to lose altitude landed to the East and got out of your way. But then the chopper boys showed up so I wasn’t really the one who held up your video production.

    Multiple T&G’s are/were one of Don Mobley’s teaching techniques…another professional instructor with a sense of humor and taildragger skills I hope to someday emulate. It’s a goal.

    Brian, you are so right…we often don’t know whose lives we have influenced. The Hooper story and how he was influenced was nicely told. It’s not just the “publicly famous” who have the opportunity to be a positive factor in another’s life. You too have left an imprint on many students!! So has Don.

    I liked the Hooper story because it is a reminder that we should say “thank you” to those who have in any manner, affected our lives. An influence can be as simple as a nice smile or a word expressed with a positive tone.

    This is for you and Don who I’ve told before: Thanks.


  • Ron Parish

    Nice story Brian. Thanks for sharing it with us all.


  • Tana

    Really enjoyed this story Brian. It is good to remember that what we say to young people, can be remembered forever.

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