We begin back at Galesburg, the National Stearman Fly-In in 1998 or 1999. It was one of Galesburg’s fine mornings, blue sky, warm and very little wind. My wife and I were wiping the bugs off our Stearman when our friend Tony Farhat drove up in his golf cart.
Tony got out said his usual howdy’s, shook hands all around and proceeded to make a careful examination of our A75-L3 Stearman. Stearman was pronounced as up to standards according to Tony. This made me feel great because until this moment our Stearman hadn’t been looked at by a “real” Stearman qualified guy or by anyone with Tony’s expertise. I asked Tony to go fly for a bit. Wow! He accepted my offer.
Great! Here I put my foot in it. I get a check from one of the masters of these great airplanes. I think at that time I may have still had the armstrong inertia starter installed, so I proceeded to wind it up the requisite 22 turns, jump in my seat and engage the machinery. Our trusty Lycoming R680-B4D started nicely and off we went to warm up a bit. I asked Tony if he wanted to make the take off, which he declined to do. Once south of the airport, maybe over Wolford’s Farm, Tony took the stick and put Stearman through her paces. We didn’t do anything to excess, nothing to strain anything. After maybe 20 minutes or so of fun we headed back to the field. I asked Tony if he wanted to “demonstrate” a front seat landing for me. Naw, he said, “You show me how it’s done.” Well as I tried to turn into the pattern, I was unable to move the rudder pedals. What the *#@& is going on now. I know we didn’t break anything, so I asked Tony if he could move the rudder from the front. Wiggle, wiggle the tail moved accordingly. Ok Tony, you have your feet on the pedals? “Shucks,” says Tony, I usually put my feet on the rudder pedals so a new guy won’t kill me, I forgot I’m flying with a guy who is about to demonstrate how this is supposed to be done, sorry, she’s all yours now, my feet are on the deck. That did it for me. I was trying too hard to impress my friend and the landing was not my usual grasser or roll-on. We touched with a bit of a bump. Not bad or dangerous, but not what I wanted either. We giggled and laughed at our flight as we taxied to parking.
When I shut down, Tony said he had new knick names for us. He was gonna be known as “Rudder” and I was gonna be “Stick”. And so it was. When Tony climbed down from the wing, he walked me aside and said, (all the smiles and joking expressions were now gone form his face) I want you to do a favor for me. “Sure Tony, er Rudder, what can I do for you?” Ya know, that flight we just had was a lot of fun for both of us.
“Here’s what I want you to do and you have to promise me, ok?” “Sure, Rudder, what is it?” “I’m real serious about what I’m going to ask, this is no fooling or joke, right?” Tony, what’s the favor, I asked. All the funny expressions were gone from Tony’s face now, he was real stern and serious.
“Ok, you ready?” he asked. “Yeah, lay it on me, Tony”…….Ok, when I die, I want you to take me, my ashes, for a ride in your Stearman and spread me out here over the grass here at Galesburg so I will always be with you guys and these great airplanes. I almost fell over! I had never been faced with that kind of thing before and now, from Tony. Once more, Tony said, “promise me you’ll do this for me”. I said, “Tony, you’ll have your medical back soon and be flying one of your Stearman restorations out here before long. “No, I kind of doubt it, but I am serious about this, so is it a deal and a promise?”
“Tony, I’m honored, I promise I’ll do what you ask, but just don’t hurry with it, ok?’ We shook hands, hugged and went back to the events of the day.
On March 22nd of this year, Tony “Rudder” Farhat departed his earthly life. I was unable to attend the memorial service held at Chino Airport. My wife and I kept in touch with Tony’s life-long friend, Dave Simon and Tony’s wife Toni. Dave related to me how he and Tony had grown up together and remained life-long friends. I told Dave of the promise I had made to Tony years ago and asked if Toni would want this to take place. Dave and Tony’s family thought this would be a fine and fitting tribute to Tony and his love for the Stearman Aircraft and the Fly-In. It was also fitting that Dave fly with me to bid farewell.
So, at this year’s National Stearman Fly-in on Saturday, 6 September, Dave and I assisted Tony in boarding for his final flight. We had planned this flight for a month or so we were more or less prepared. One just cannot be entirely prepared for an event such as this, no matter how much you try. We got a formation together consisting of George Pascal (lead) John Lohmar (left wing) Wally Falardeau (#4) and Me (#3 or the missing man). We took Tony’s family along with us. Sue Triche flew with Wally and Dave Simon with me to assist with Tony’s last flight. Tony’s wife, Toni flew with George Pascal and another of Tony’s relatives flew with John Lohmar.
Around noon, we launched. Tom Lowe did a very impressive narrative of our formation as we passed over and Dave & I along with Tony, had the smoke on and departed to the west. Dave and I then returned from the north and as we crossed just west of the ILS shack and over the grass Stearman area bid Tony farewell. On recommendation from Wally Falardeau, I climbed in a circle to somewhere close to 4,000 feet above where we had left Tony. On our way back to landing, I asked Dave what his feelings were. He said Tony would have been proud, the whole flight was very professional and a fitting tribute to Tony.
So, a promise to a friend has been kept and it was my honor to do so.