By The Associated Press
MERIDIAN – Since losing his pilot’s license because of medical issues, Carless J. Evans Jr. has longed for the feeling of wheels leaving the ground, the buffet of air beneath smooth wings, and the drone of an engine as it twirls the propeller, gripping the air to lift his plane into the clouds.
“I’ve been fascinated with flight ever since I was a young boy,” the 84-year-old Evans said. “I remember the old airplanes I flew in when I was a boy. Those were wonderful times.”
Evans remembers as a wide-eyed 6-year-old, watching a Ford Tri-Motor plane that used to land at the old Bonita Airport. Many other planes of all shapes and sizes followed.
It was the joy of getting off the ground, feeling the plane swoop this way and then that way, that gave the young Evans the feel and love of flight. He parlayed this love into a lifelong career of instructing others whose addiction to flight matched his own.
Evans is a CFI, CFII and CFIG certified instructor. He teaches advanced and instrument ground instruction at the Ebenezer Christian Seminary School of Aviation in Bailey. He is a former Federal Aviation Administration designated pilot examiner, former college aviator instructor and a retired aviation instructor with the U.S. Navy.
“I have instructed so many people that it would be hard for me to say,” Evans said.
One of his students from long ago was Meridian surgeon, Dr. Bill Billups Jr., who may be most well-known for building an airplane – in his attic. He said the project had to be done in an environmentally controlled space and his attic just fit the bill.
Never mind the fact that when Billups finished major construction of the plane in 1987 he had to knock out one end of his attic to lower the plane down to the ground. The maiden flight came a year later.
When Billups wanted to hone his flying skills, he began in one of Evans’ classes in 1990. Billups, a U.S. Air Force pilot who had many of his certifications, studied under Evans for many years and the two men became fast friends.
“I finally had to kick him out of the classes,” Evans said. “I got tired of him being there, and there was nothing left for me to teach him. He is a very good pilot.”
As the years rolled on, Evans’ love for flight was something he thought he had lost with his advancing age and health issues. His reflexes were no longer the same and in the air he knew his awareness of what was happening during flight was not what it needed to be.
Gradually he began to accept the notion he might not ever feel the stick in his hand, watch the nose rise above the horizon as the plane headed into the sun.
It was on a visit to Billups’ office that led to Evans being given the gift of flight again.
“He had been on me about flying and told me he’d take me up,” Evans said. “I sort of resisted at first but he is very persistent.”
Or maybe stubborn is a more apt description.
Billups flies routinely and he knows as does any other pilot once you get that feel for flight in your blood, heart and soul, it never leaves. He began to wear down Evans with his constant urgings.
Evans finally relented.
The two men, one who used to be the instructor and the other who used to be the student, now share the same cockpit, equally. It is a turn for the better for both of them as they take to Billups’ Glasair III to turn and bank around east Mississippi.
“He keeps me out of trouble,” Evans said. “I can fly with Bill and enjoy it like I used to without worrying about hitting anything.”
Billups does it to return a favor for all the instruction and encouragement he received from Evans.
“He is a fabulous man who continues to teach others about flying,” Billups said. “I love flying with him.”
On any given day the two men can be seen meeting at Key Field in Meridian ready to chase the clouds and enjoy the love of flight.