The ghost of Five Dollar Frank will soar
above the New River Gorge today...
... the choppy sound of his old plane
passengers on a $5 adventure
By Bob Weaver
Today is one of West Virginia's biggest tourist events - Bridge Day.
Bridge Day has lost a little luster without the late "Five Dollar Frank," the Fayette
county flying ace who loved the skies like life itself.
Bridge Day was a busy time for Five Dollar, selling plane rides at his "Fayette
International Airport" for the same price he starting charging 50 years ago.
It was a joy to take friends and family down to Fayetteville for a flyin' high trip with
the crusty, opinionated old pilot in his rickety plane, who died in his 80s.
Frank Thomas reciting Edgar Allen Poe to his waiting customers
At least 200,000 will take to the bridge for the annual
You'd get more than a a little flyin' trip over the Gorge. You'd get a mouthful of
political opinions, flying tales and poetry. Frank would take a break from his pilot
duties and position himself with arm wavin' room along the runway and recite
lengthy poems to his waiting customers - Longfellow, Keats and Poe.
We were forewarned Frank liked to scare his customers by feigning illness or
cutting the engine, then asking the passenger if they could take over the controls.
Once I was in the back seat with a first time passenger, when Frank gasped for
breath, clutched his chest and asked my friend Tyler "Can you fly this damn thing?"
as the plane went into a nosedive. Tyler told Frank he was willing to learn.
His nearby hangar museum was a treat. Lots of old items and fanciful creations
like an electric chair for visitor photographs and a coffin that did some strange
things when you opened the lid.
Frank, so it is told, was in trouble a few times for flying under the Gorge Bridge,
much to the dismay of the FAA. I once asked him how much he would charge to do
it for me. "Same price, just not on Bridge Day, too many people around," he
About 200,000 people will crowd on the bridge today to watch four hundred thrill
seekers plunge off North America's second tallest steel arch bridge.
Missing will be the buzzing around of Five Dollar's old plane, one the greatest
sideshows you could ever experience.