Skip to main content

Beacon Senior News

The sky's the limit

Apr 01, 2019 03:54PM ● By Diana Barnett

Willow Run, Michigan, near Detroit, was home to the factory that Henry Ford set up to build airplanes. The B-24 Bomber was built there and it was also where Alice Monroe first heard the drone of those planes over her house.

“My mother would see me watching those planes from the yard and would tell me there were soldiers in those planes,” said Monroe, whose curiosity about the planes launched a lifelong love of flying. “I was only about 4 or 5 when I would use a wooden sawhorse as a plane. The garden hose holder became my steering wheel, and I would sit there and fly.”

At first, she feared big planes, but her curiosity got the better of her.

“I learned that when you’re afraid of something, if you read and learn about it, then you’re not so afraid anymore,” she said.

Monroe said that tactic worked with her fear of spiders, so she studied planes—and nursing, which is what eventually brought her to Grand Junction.

Taking flight

“The first time I rode on a commercial flight, I didn’t like it at all,” Monroe said. “It was too closed in. I made people hold my hand.”

After she’d been in Grand Junction for a while, she’d go to the airport, drink coffee and just hang out and watch the planes.

“At that time, you could go out where the planes were parked and look them over,” she said, “so that’s exactly what I did. I wanted to understand why this big hunk of metal stayed up in the sky.”

One day, she asked a pilot to take her up with him in the cockpit. He did, and she studied his every move. Once they were on the ground, the pilot told her he’d see her the same time next week.

“This guy was six-four and was the cruelest instructor in the world,” Monroe recalled. “I took lessons, and after 10 hours he told me to solo. ‘Just let me know if you’re in trouble,’ he said. He went over and knelt on the edge of the runway, which was appropriate, because when I took off, I was praying, too.”

At 50 flight hours, Monroe received her license. On one of her first trips, she flew home to Michigan.

She wanted to connect with other pilots so she joined the Ninety-Nines, an organization of women pilots once led by Amelia Earhart.

In addition to flying as a hobby, Monroe’s pilot’s license came in handy for her nursing career. For several years, she flew a local orthopedic surgeon to rural destinations in Colorado.

She found a kindred spirit when she met Daryl Monroe, a paramedic with St. Mary’s Flight for Life Team who was just as passionate about flying as she was. After they were married, they moved to a property on Glade Park, which they named “On a Wing and a Prayer.” They built Pinyon Airport, a runway approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, and together they restored a 1939 Fairchild aircraft that served in World War II along the Eastern coastline.

Although Monroe recently sold her personal plane, the Fairchild resides in a hangar in Delta. She continues to maintain the Pinyon Airport private runway, which is used by a variety of people, including President Barack Obama when he visited Grand Junction in 2012. Monroe said the South Carolina National Guard camped there for eight days to set up security for the visit.

No flight of fantasy

John Kroft, another Glade Park resident, also grew up during World War II and remembers all kinds of planes flying over his Nebraska home.

“I admired those guys that could fly and thought it would be pretty neat to do that,” he said. “I never imagined that I would have that chance.”

It wasn’t until the late ’90s that he finally got that opportunity. One year, while wintering in Arizona, he and his wife, Avis, saw an unusual aircraft flying around. Kroft learned that it was a powered parachute, and wanted to take a ride.

“My gosh, I couldn’t believe all I could see!” he said. “We flew over the interstate and all those winter campers and I kept thinking of everything I could see in Colorado from one of these.”

He was hooked after that first ride so, naturally, he ordered one for his own. Before he left for Oregon to get help assembling it, he told the salesman not to tell anyone he had purchased it just in case he didn’t have enough guts to fly or didn’t know what he was doing.

For the first few weeks, Kroft practiced flying close to his acreage near Glade Park.

He also flew over his son’s house, hollering and waving.

“Fifteen minutes later, he called my wife and asked if I’d bought some kind of flying machine,” he said. “I hadn’t even told him what I’d done.”

Wild about flying

Kroft and his powered parachute have become a popular sight. Circling above the grounds behind the Glade Park Fire Department, he’s become a regular entertainer at the community’s Movies Under the Stars event during the summer.

Weighing 400 pounds, the ultralight has a two and a half hour fuel supply and only travels around 32 miles per hour. He takes off from the runway on his property and has flown into Utah, and has taken it with him to Arizona and Alaska.

“It’s amazing how peaceful it is while flying,” said Kroft. “In Alaska, I spotted caribou and grizzly bears. You can look at birds and watch how they fly—how they glide when they are on an uplift and don’t even move a feather.”

Even though the craft is a two-seater, he usually flies alone.

“Avis is not very wild about flying,” he said.

He used to fly two to three times a week, but the weather hasn’t been favorable the last few years.

“As it’s gotten warmer and drier, we’ve had more wind,” he said. “You can’t have wind and safely take this thing up.”

Monroe and Kroft agree that you can learn a lot about life by flying.

“Those long distances make you think about a lot of things,” Monroe said.