You go through flight training in pairs, and stick buddies form a unique bond. One of you flies while the other does fuel checks, helps navigate, and the like. We both eventually left the Army at about the same time.

My stick buddy went on to a career as a Special Agent in the FBI on the director’s security detail. Years later, while I was trudging through medical school, he was keeping the FBI director safe in some of the world’s most exotic locales. We remain close today.

They threatened us with violent gory deaths if we smuggled a camera aboard for our first unsupervised solo trip. The motivations for this were eminently sound. However, the first thing we did when we got up into the pattern was fish out my trusty waterproof 35mm Minolta and start hamming it up like a pair of sugar-fueled teenagers. It’s been thirty years. The statute of limitations on whatever they were going to do to us has likely expired.

One guy in my class found himself ready to solo without a handy stick buddy. I have no idea why, but I got tagged to keep him company. He was a redneck National Guard pilot and a nice enough bloke. As I myself hailed from the Deep South we got along swimmingly. He made his radio calls, lifted the aircraft, and had us headed out into the training area in short order. Then he passed the controls to me.