Living a dream, above the clouds
BOOK SIGNING: Peterborough native will detail life in the cockpit Saturday
In 1952, Dean Westover was a 16-year-old Peterborough boy home for the summer from the Tilton School and working as a janitor for the American Guernsey Cattle Club, when he got the urge to fly. One Saturday, he finished work a little after noon, hopped on his 1946 Whizzer motorbike, and made his first visit to Silver Ranch in Jaffrey.
“Silver Ranch back then was a very small airport with a grass strip about 3,000 feet long,” Westover writes in his recently published memoir, “Final Approach.” “I pulled up under a large tree and leaned the Whizzer against it. Parked about 50 feet away was a Piper Cub, so I walked over to get a better look. I must have been pretty fascinated, because I never heard the man approaching me from behind. When he spoke, I nearly jumped out of my skin.”
The man was David Sawyer, a flight instructor whose parents owned the airport. He offered young Dean an orientation flight on the spot and in minutes, the boy had handed over his day’s wages of $8 — “and 50 cents more” — for his first flight.
“I felt total freedom, like I’d been released from a tether,” Westover writes. Defying his parents wishes, he took flying lessons with Sawyer that summer, a solo flight in August, and started on a path that took him on a 20-year journey as a pilot.
“Final Approach” is a collection of stories from those years in the air. Westover tells of his unsuccessful efforts to get flight training while in the military, his experiences while getting his commercial license at Embry Riddle flight school in Florida, his adventures in North Carolina, where his daily run to Okracoke Island often involved carrying a load of moonshine. He writes about flying tourists and rich visitors around Lake Winnipesaukee and the White Mountains, occasionally buzzing low enough to look the Old Man of the Mountain straight in the eye. And he writes of the sadness of losing a friend who died with his new bride in a plane crash on Nantucket while on their honeymoon.
“All the stories in the book are true,” said Westover who is retired and now lives in Hopkinton with his wife, Patricia, by phone on Tuesday. “I went through all my log books and picked out 50 flights. I found I could remember every one of them.“
Westover said he was inspired to write while living in Tuscon, Ariz, where he had moved after selling the two businesses he started in New Hampshire when his flying days ended due to medical issues.
“I was volunteering as a docent at the Pima Air and Space Museum, one of the largest in the country,” he said. “Many of the docents were former pilots and I was there for seven years. Every time I went to the cafeteria, one of these pilots would be telling a story. And a lot of them were fictitious.”
Westover decided he could do better, and he spent about a year and a half writing the book. He said he hopes the story of his struggles to succeed as a pilot will strike a chord with readers.
“So many people have a dream,” Westover writes. “My hope is that my life story inspires people to see that their dream can indeed come true. It does not have to be a dream about flying – although those are special dreams indeed! It can be about anything, so long as it is worth believing in.”
Westover will be signing copies of his book at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m.
Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.