Three generations of the Weber family will take the trip of a lifetime next week. Wallace, Steve and Brian Weber will be accompanied by a large group of family members who will fly out of Minnesota on Delta Air Lines to Portland, Ore., then linger maybe an hour or so and head back home.
Life is a journey, after all, not a destination.
For the Weber family, that journey usually begins at age 16. When other kids are eager to get their driver's license and a taste of freedom, the Weber boys were doing their first legal solo flight in grandpa Wallace's Piper J-3 Cub airplane, often taking off from the landing strip on the family farm near Hastings.
On Dec. 28, Steve will pilot his final flight before retirement with his son, Brian, sitting in the jump seat. Brian will begin working as a pilot for Delta in January, the same company where his grandfather finished his career.
Wallace will be on board, along with the rest of the family. Flight attendants, many of them old friends, were hand-picked by Steve for this last trip.
The Weber aviation legacy began in the 1940s, when Wallace, now 93, started as an airline mechanic. He eventually was moved up to flight engineer, accompanying planes around the globe for about 15 years, with three years away in the Navy during WWII.
The airlines eventually mandated that flight engineers had to be able to fly the plane, so Wallace passed the exam and spent the final 20 years of his career as a pilot.
"When I started, it was a pretty small group of people who were flying. It was very exciting," Wallace said. "I got to see a good portion of the world."
Steve still can fondly remember going up in his dad's plane and watching as the magical countryside rolled by beneath him. Wallace would put a cushion on the seat so that Steve could see out the window and try his hand at the throttle.
"I grew up in the Piper," said Steve. "I just loved the smell, loved the scenery. It's so calming. You just look down and it doesn't seem like there are any problems in the world."
Flying seemed to get into the family blood. "If you'd do a school art project, it was about airplanes," Steve said. "It's just the way it was."
Steve was grounded for six years after deregulation squeezed him out of his job, so he sold cars for awhile until the air-travel market rebounded. He continued to live in Minnesota but commuted to Salt Lake and Cincinnati over the years, spending about 16 days a month away from home. He is turning 65, so retirement is mandatory, although he sounds ready to retire anyway.
Steve has now passed the tradition along to Brian.
"On my 16th birthday, I got my driver's license in the morning and took my first solo flight in the afternoon," Brian said. "The driver's license didn't do that much for me."
But soaring in a plane, well, that was different. When he was a kid, "on a nice night, instead of going to the park to play ball, we would go flying," Brian said. "My dad never gave me a formal lesson. He'd just say, 'Let's go to lunch Brian. You're flying.' " So Brian became one of few kids to regularly fly to St. Cloud or Alexandria for a bite to eat.
The Webers acknowledge the job is not as glamorous as it's portrayed in movies with its tight schedules and crowded planes. Hotel rooms also begin to look alike.
"Even when the industry is down, it's the best job in the world," said Brian. "This is an honor to be able to carry on a Weber legacy, especially for the same company my dad and grandfather worked for. It's very special for us."
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