Flights of fancy

Published 10:34 am Wednesday, August 30, 2006

By By LYDIA GRIMES – Features writer
Alan Robinson feels most at home in the air.
And these days, he also helps tend to the Brewton Airport, where he has overseen operations for the past eight years.
Robinson learned to fly while he was living in Africa and joined a flying club in Lusaka, Zambia. He came to America to learn how to fly helicopters and became the chief flight instructor of the helicopter school in Oklahoma. He worked as a crop duster, a very dangerous job, and crashed his helicopter. He spent three months in the hospital and then another six months getting better.
He decided to return to England but didn't stay. He flew the Concord back to America and was working in Mississippi when he heard about the job in Brewton.
His duties at the airport are varied and he has to be there most of the time. He greets all of the people who fly in and out of Brewton and services their planes. He also does aircraft repair.
He was born and raised in the light industrial section of England at a place called Wolverhampton. He attended school there beginning at the age of 5. At the age of 15, he was apprenticed out to work with an electrical engineer. He was there until the age of 21 and graduated from City and Guilds of London. City and Guilds is sort of like, the best I can understand, the trade schools in the United States.
He also took a course in thermo dynamics in refrigeration. He took a job in Birmingham, England, with Frigidaire Prestcole doing commercial and industrial refrigeration. He stayed in England until he was 27 years old, staying near his aunt who had raised him and his brother.
At age 27, Robinson took off again in his 1942 Jeep and started south. After journeying through France and Spain, he put his Jeep on a ship and traveled to the African coast where he set out again. He traveled through Morocco and into the Sahara Desert, where he was sort of lost for a time.
If Robinson had set off from England to find adventure, that is just what he found. Even with all the mishaps along the way, he enjoyed the trip so much that he repeated it a few years later.
The first time he traveled to Africa, he went with his friend and the second with his girl friend. With the things that happened, one would think that there would not have been a second trip.
One has to imagine the load the Jeep had to carry. He had to carry his own fuel, water and food and camped out at night.
He had his friend along and some days that was the only person he saw. There was very little traffic through the desert. At some point he was lost in the Moroccan Desert and came upon a group of Foreign Legionnaires. They were not too friendly either and carried him back to their camp.
There are many countries in Africa and some of them rather small. They are always having conflicts with each other and those who may be friendly one day, won't be the next.
Once in the Sudan he was not so lucky. He was captured by some militants and taken to their camp.
He knew that if he could get to Zambia, which is a landlocked country in south-central Africa, he would be able to find employment. Zambia is about one-tenth larger than Texas and is surrounded by Angola, Zaire, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia.
But he was hit with the wandering bug again and planned to go to Capetown in South Africa to catch a ship and go to South America.
Once again he had to be particularly careful as a number of countries were in a state of unrest. Where he went depended on the political climate of the region.
He also found himself in the doctoring business. He saw a baby that was ill and gave the mother an aspirin.
What he didn't plan on was what happened the next day.
Brewton must seem like a dull place after all the adventures Robinson has been through, and who knows just how long he will be able to resist the urge to go out in the world and make another.
While he has to spend most of his time at the airport, he has found a couple of hobbies that have helped him fill lots of time.
He collects and restores antique radios, is a ham radio operator, has a 1955 Seeburg jukebox that really works and a 1960 pinball machine. He also has not lost his love for Jeeps. He has one and is working on repairing another. If he must stay at the airport most of the time, he certainly keeps himself busy.