Thursday, December 31, 2009

How Far We've Come!!!

It's sort of amazing to think I'm doing what I'm doing now. I'm currently sitting in an airport lobby waiting for my very first knowledge test victim to finish his private pilot written. Life is awesome. THIS IS THE COOLEST THING EVER!!!!!!

I'm easily one of the luckiest people alive. I may not achieve everything I'd like to but I have the privilege of having been able to live out my dreams and I'm not stopping for anything or anyone. Life is beautiful. I have the most awesome friends, I get to fly the coolest little airplanes and I get to share that with others! Tell me, tell me, does it get any better than this??

I'm definitely way more excited about this knowledge test than Jordan. While he'll be relieved to have it done, I'm finding things to inspect in the lobby and pacing. This must be the definition of the mother hen reaction. I just can't believe I get to do this! Almost exactly a year and a half ago I was at this same airport taking MY private pilot written test. Now I endorsed someone else to take theirs and take the first step towards achieving THEIR dreams!

I keep thinking there can be no purer joy than helping and enabling someone else to chase down their dreams.

This rocks! :)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Best Day

At Blakesburg, Sunday night marks the annual "Gone Home" awards, as many of the attendees have headed back home to use Labor Day Monday to recuperate and spend time with non-aviation family/friends. Last year I flew back Monday and I enjoyed the Gone Home awards so much I decided to stay (additionally, since I arrived on Saturday I wanted one more day!). 21Y and I eyed up some parking spots closer to the showers but elected not to move since that required moving the tent--too much work for one night, as the additional exercise walking to and from the shower house wasn't going to kill me.

We elected to sleep in til about 9 am, then evaluate what we wanted to do. Sometime around 9:15 Todd rattled the tent and told me there was a little bit of fog so not to worry about dashing out of bed.

A "little" bit of fog . . .

After leisurely getting ready and packing the airplanes, we taxied them over to get gas so that we could take our time eating breakfast and then leave without worrying about being stuck in the gas line. Since we had already packed everything, there was no sense taxiing back to the back 40 where we had been parked before, so we invited ourselves into a Howard group. 21Y has just as much class as a Howard : )

One of these is not like the others . . .

After an hour or so, the first brave souls began departing. Most of the obscuration was now due to haze rather than fog, but we waited a little longer to give our route ample time to clear.

Excited it all fit back in the airplane!

After one last sideslipping pass down the Antique Airfield runway, we were homeward bound. It was a sad feeling, leaving Blakesburg when I had so much fun hanging around airplanes and meeting new people. But it was time to go--I had class on Tuesday and Steve probably wouldn't approve of me airplane-napping 21Y (although I would be lying if I said that it didn't cross my mind . . .).

Somewhere along the line we decided this would be a true classic Cub cross-country (with a Luscombe following). CUB HEIGHT!

I have never had so much fun flying cross-country as on the way back from Blakesburg. I fancied myself a modern-day barnstormer, swooping alongside small Midwestern towns and rocking the wings in response to a groundbound individual's wave. Fresh off of finishing up a compilation of Gordon Baxter's writings, I was full of romance and awe. No one could touch me, and I didn't want them to. With cruising tunes in my ears, I had a soundtrack for life with my favorite airplane, having the most fun I could ever possibly have.

Even 21Y was happier with this method of cruising. On the trip to Blakesburg, we had cruised around 1,000 feet AGL, and running the engine a little harder, as I had on the way to Lock Haven, 21Y pigged out and burned a little over 5 gallons an hour. WHAT?!?!?! Piggish airplane!! On the way back, reaching no higher than 300 feet AGL except over populated areas we couldn't dodge, running her nice and light, around 2150, little 21Y was PULLING AWAY from a Luscombe with a C-90! That's my girl : )

Coolest thing ever!

Farewell Iowa!

The Luscombe finally inched forward enough to make it into the picture ; P

Just a cool view : )

Unfortunately, the pictures don't do the experience justice. But I can tell you it was just perfect--except for the fact that it had to end. But, so it is. On to another adventure : )


Thursday, November 12, 2009

B'burg Happenings

21Y and I managed to stay on the ground long enough for me to eat and say hi to a few folks from my airport back home. I felt that familiar itch and knew I'd regret it if I didn't go, so I headed back to the airplane. Todd remarked it was a nice evening and so he came along. We didn't go anything special, just tooled around low and slow, exploring the area around Antique Airfield. I found out Iowa's not nearly as flat as everyone makes it out to be, and even though I had gone to Blakesburg last year, I didn't remember there being as much terrain (maybe that's why I don't fly high . . . can't see where I'm going!).

Sunday morning meant departures for many, but thankfully for me, a fair number were thwarted by fog. That meant A) no unexpected wake up calls, and B) I got to see more airplanes! The ritual walk from the camping area/shower house to the HyVee food stand also meant observing a number of airplanes, and a house I would probably sacrifice some minor appendages for--but only if the lawn ornament comes with! ; )

You see why I'm interested ; )

You son of a Beech! Probably one of the coolest flybys of the weekend!

A purty Lockheed 12 . . . is this the one that was in Amelia?

The "his" half of the his 'n' hers Luscombes

"Hers," and a beautiful one at that!

An adorable Cub with wheelpants, handmade by its owner. I also believe this one is a fairly close relative to 21Y, but I'd have to look up 21Y's original number/serial number.

This is one of the coolest pictures to come out of the fly-in . . . doesn't that just sum it all up?

Now here's a story . . . allow me to elaborate!

Back in Lock Haven, one of the first people to greet me was Les Gaskill, who started off with "I need to take a picture of this . . . a girl in a Cub!" Some time later at Sentimental Journey, I mentioned something about a J2 that was giving rides all weekend at Blakesburg and how I wanted one. Turns out that's Les' airplane! He had flown a friend's PA-11 up (one of the featured airplanes in 2009) but said if he saw me again we'd have to go J2 flying.

Les always brings his J2 and J-3 to Blakesburg, and 2009 was no exception. Feeling every bit a mooch, but recognizing my college student lack of conscience, I patrolled near the J2 regularly. I ran into Les a few times and he again said we'd have to go J2 flying. One evening I noticed him untying the J2 and, tossing my conscience by the wayside, went over to conveniently strike up a conversation. Les told me he was giving a young boy a ride but to hang around so we could go. COOL!

I stayed around a few moments longer to hold the plane while Les propped it, but the A-40 wasn't about to take the J2 off roaring into the sunset. In fact, one of the coolest things was the "engine under water" sound of the A-40 . . . bloop, bloop . . . bloop, bloop.

Of course I followed the J2 back towards the runway like a puppy dog following a hamburger, and set up camp to watch some of the flying. Les told me I could take it out for a bit, which made my eyes get big. I explained I had never flown one and didn't want to break anything. He shrugged and said I'd probably be ok but we'd go out together nonetheless.

The J2 is, hands-down, one of the coolest little old airplanes out there. For some reason I love the three-piece windshield, the oddly slanted panel, the open sides, even the sickly rate of climb. The J2 takes all the purity of a J-3 and further distills it, removing even more of the insulation against the world, taking out the intercom and everything. You cannot deny the cool factor of floating along slowly over rolling countryside, serenaded by the blat blat of the diminutive A-40 up front. Some times we went so slow I think I felt a crosswind through the cockpit. But it didn't matter--life was good!

I found the lighter J2 floats a lot more than 21Y, requiring a go-around, but the second try wasn't bad, though Les commented I got a little slow. Then he tossed out an awesome offer--"If you're at Lock Haven next year and I bring this, you can go out solo."

As if I needed more motivation to make it back to Lock Haven!

See, see!! Les doesn't even look terrified after my landing! (He did the takeoff)

There is something awesome about small fly-ins like Blakesburg. They have an intangible quality with a life all its own--either it's there or it's not, and no conscious efforts to construct it succeed. It's pure fun, and that's about all anyone can say about it.

I have to share 21Y's card, because I was somewhat proud of my perceived cleverness.

Owner: Steve and Sharon Krog, flown by Amy Gesch
Address: Hartford State: Wisconsin
Airplane Type: Piper J-3 Cub Year: 1938 N Number: 9721Y
Engine: A-65 Horsepower: 65 on a good day Cruise Speed: 78, maybe
Gal. Per Hour (Cruising): 4.5-5.0 Gross Weight: 1220 Empty Weight: ~750 (never ask a lady how much she weighs!)
Notes of Interest to AAA Members:
~2-Ply Award Winner, MAAC 2008
~Flew to Lock Haven, PA for Sentimental Journey 2009
~Kidnapped by Amy, taken to Mankato, MN for 3 wks (darn students!)
~Spot landing contest winner, Sentimental Journey 2009
~Former flour bombing champion
~Cover model for 2010 EAA calendar (the airplane, that is!)
~Featured on Canon USA's "Lens of the Month" site (17-40L lens)
~Flown on poker run by Amy and Leah Jones, former Piper ferry pilot
~Working airplane! Flies regularly as flight school's trainer

Little 21Y has quite a list of accomplishments for only having been flying 51 weeks at the time of Blakesburg!

Yup, she's my favorite : )

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

So Many Things

My I am behind. Life has been a little hectic, to say the least, although some might argue we cling more tightly to our passions during such times.

In chronological order, the Blakesburg trip dictates the first update. I went into work on Friday grateful I could at least head to Blakesburg on Saturday at all only to find that despite having been placed on the work schedule, I was not supposed to be there. Being entirely unprepared for the trip, tired, and a poor student to boot, I elected to stay (additionally I had only asked to take the airplane beginning on Saturday).

Saturday morning I overslept (after a certain level of exhaustion my body takes over and ignores my alarm, apparently). Luckily for me but not so fortunate for Todd, the Luscombe's tailwheel tube blew, and the easiest way to fix it was to put a Lang tailwheel assembly on to replace the Maule setup. That took enough time for me to get ready and on my way.

21Y all packed up again!

We finally got underway towards our fuel stop in Maquoketa, Iowa. Aside from some haze, it was a perfect day for the trip. As on the trip to Lock Haven, I ran 21Y a little harder, around 2250. Needless to say I was surprised when the 65 which typically sips a dainty 4.6 an hour burned over 5!

Todd in the Luscombe landing at Maquoketa. Cub struts make such nice frames : )

Dare you to try and pronounce it!

She just looked so pretty : )

Somewhere west of Maquoketa there are two giant towers, which all of a sudden seemed to pop out of the haze a few miles ahead. I tried to take a picture of them but with the haze you can hardly tell where they are--hence the surprise!

Flying over some ubiquitous town I spotted a line of cars waiting for a train to pass, and at once felt inexplicably superior, looking down at those poor groundbound folks with so many limits they had to live within. Forward, backward, left, right, when someone else tells you that it's ok is all one knows on the ground. I smiled widely and all at once fell in love with this wonderful little yellow airplane all over again.

Poor souls stuck on the ground

Passing over those unenviable folks on the ground, I wondered if they noticed me at all. Did they ever wonder what it was like to be flying like me? Did they think it was possible or unattainable? It made me wish I could swoop down and offer rides so they could know what it was like. (something tells me that would be frowned upon)

Another hour or so of flying later, we made it! The haze lightened up and a perfect flying evening materialized. We arrived right before dinner so a delightful amount of airplanes were out relishing the opportunity to fly a bit. That made entering the pattern interesting, as some faster aircraft were on a long final, but there's a microwave tower out there if you extend a bit, but then you're way out there if you extend past it (in a different ZIP code for a Cub). It took two go-arounds but I finally made it in and set up camp.

21Y settled in with her neighbors. That lasted about 45 minutes until I decided it was too nice to just sit around and watch other people fly!

More later, but now you know we made it : )


Wednesday, September 2, 2009


It was a little hard to write those previous two posts knowing what I know.

Last year I attended the Antique Airplane Association's annual fly-in at Antique Airfield in Blakesburg, Iowa. I had the most fantastic time, and couldn't believe how much I enjoyed it. I had figured it would be fun, but I got addicted to the atmosphere (and the gorgeous airplanes I got to wake up to every day). I vowed to return.

On awards night (casually referred to as the "Gone Home" Awards), I learned of an award for youngest person to fly in to the event in . . . and I started to think maybe, just maybe, I could win something . . . a pre-1956 airplane. Dammit! The Luscombe 8F I flew in was built in 1959. Next year!

Next year is this year. In 2008, I wished I could've been one of those lucky few to bring in a classic yellow Cub. I like the Luscombe, but my heart belongs to the Cub. It's just the way it is, and I can't help it. It simply wasn't in the cards for me to bring a Cub in 2008.

This year it just might be. When I went home last weekend for work, I had two students on Sunday and ended up spending the entire day at the airport (big surprise). I wanted so badly to ask Steve if I could take a Cub, solo, to Blakesburg.

I was terrified to ask, fearing I'd be overstepping my bounds, putting him in a place where he didn't want to say no in the fact of enthusiasm, but didn't really want to send the airplane out. I worried for a week, and then on Sunday, the day I figured to be my last to ask, the worries really set in. I stressed over how to ask, when to ask, second-guessing myself all along. Finally I worked up the courage to gently broach the subject, feeling every bit cowardly and rudely forward.

Steve just smiled and said, "Let's look at the schedule." Without another word, he blocked off 21Y for the whole weekend.

I felt my eyes getting warm and damp. I'm a complete sap. I admit it. But it meant so much to me to see someone giving me such a gift that I couldn't help it.

I'm one lucky kid to have people who will give me these opportunities. I realize that it's extremely rare and I always end up wondering how I got to be so damned lucky.

I haven't figured it out yet. I hope one day I can be that sort of person to others.

I don't know if Steve will ever understand how much this, the trip to Mankato, or the trip to Lock Haven mean to me. I have a feeling he has an inkling, because he gets this twinkle in his eyes when he talks about it, and I think he's remembering when people took a chance on him and believed in him. I know that I cannot adequately put the emotions into words.

My heart gets all fluttery and light when I think about being able to take this trip. The possibility of a weather cancellation exists, of course, but that's beside the point. Steve looked me in the eye and said, "I trust you" when I promised up and down to take care of his baby. That means more than any title or award that's ever been given out in the entire history of the concept of awards. It spurs me to be better at whatever I do, knowing that someone has faith in me to not only be ok, but to be awesome. I'm not sure how to do that yet, but I'm sure as hell going to try to figure it out.


--Amy, who will be having the best Labor Day ever! :D


I've since relocated to the campus mall area. Sitting outside by myself, internet radio on, observing the fountain, the twinkling lights, and the others walking around campus, I realize how much I like this isolation at times. It's not to say I'm antisocial, just that I adore my alone time.

I'm a part of something, yet on my own. It's a lot like how I feel about my airport. I feel as though I'm part of a [slightly dysfunctional] family, yet I know we're all independent, very different creatures united by a common love.

In some ways, sitting out here, part of a crowd yet entirely alone, reminds me of solo flying. I know I'm a part of something--the airplane, the aviation community, but I'm also all on my own, left to contemplate everything from my purpose in life to what I'm hungry for. It's a beautiful thing, to be alone and not lonely. I love it.

I love my friends. I love my family. But I sure do love just being me, without excuses.

Those little yellow airplanes are perfect facilitators for those emotions. They don't take excuses. They could care less what I'm wearing, who I'm friends with, what my grades are, what time it is or where we are or how hot or cold it is. They simply are.

I'm envious of that. In the rush of life, we forget to just be. We're caught up with living up to the standards of others and we neglect what we are to ourselves. You can't get through life ignoring what others think of you, but you can't thrive without being something to yourself.

Perhaps that's what I like so much about airplane people. We have an enviable ability to be things in our work lives--accountants, technicians, investors, mechanics, executives--but we have escaped identifying ourselves by what we are to others. We are pilots, and that's how we think of ourselves. Our identity is, as such, wholly our own.

I'm reminded of the 2-year-old daughter of an "airport person"--when asked what her dad did, she replied, "My daddy's a pilot." That's not his occupation but it's what he is to both her and him. How cool is that?



A week after the occurrence I'm finally getting around to writing this. Life has been crazy, but otherwise I'd get bored. C'est la vie.

I had mixed feelings about returning to school. I was definitely looking forward to seeing the awesome people that I get to call my friends, but I knew I'd experience that familiar ache that comes from leaving my favorite airport, airport people, and of course, those little yellow airplanes behind.

In some ways, it's great to be back. My friend Kim and I visited the aviation learning community (a floor of freshman aviation majors designed to start the networking process and establish a support network) to talk about some of MSU's aviation organizations. It turned into a reminiscing and teasing session with some of the familiar faces--Ryan, a fellow learning community member from last year now manages this year's LC. Matt lives in a nearby residence hall and came to visit as well. Between the four of us, I'm sure we adequately confused the new LC members by spending most of the time joking around. It felt, in some ways, like coming home.

On the other hand, I walked out of class last Wednesday (the first week of classes--now I'm back in the same class of 200 getting fidgety) to see a stunning skyscape. The clouds glowed red, striated in varying degrees of fiery colors.

Oh, to have seen that sight from the air . . .

Any given glorious day, my heart yearns and pines for those airplanes that make life so worthwhile. I have no desire to sit inside this oversized auditorium learning about computer-based information systems on a CAVU evening like this. All I want is a classic airplane with the little wheel in the back, and some alone time. It's communion time, me time, sometimes the only time in which everything just feels right. Take that away and I lose some of that spring in my step and that overly romantic side of myself that is so in love with life and all it has to hold.
I guess I'm not sure what this year will hold. I'm excited about working with MSU's Women in Aviation chapter, aviation club, flight team, and Alpha Eta Rho, but unlike most of my peers, I do far less flying here since I don't fly through the university flight school. Seeing my friends work on new ratings and accomplish so many things is awesome, but it has a negative edge as well. I get to see others doing the things I want to do so badly, but cannot because life has simply not dealt me that hand at this stage in my life.

But that's life. I'll deal. Some things go my way, some things don't. You roll with the punches and make the best of it--and some times it works out far better than you could have ever fathomed.

So here we go, and I'll make the best of whatever comes my way. On my down days, something will remind me of flying, and it never fails to make me feel as though I have secret that no one will ever know or understand. I can fly. I can escape. I can be at home above the earth. It makes me feel special, as though I've got something up on a world that some days seems determined to break me down and grind me beneath an omnipotent toe.

A friend sent me a picture a while back of a toddler she babysits grinning in an airplane ride in the mall. She said it reminded her of me because I was always smiling in the airplane.

I never even realized I did that. But it certainly is right.


On those down days, I'll just look up and remember I have a fantastic privilege that few will experience and even fewer will ever truly understand.

Very special, indeed.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I realized a few nights ago, while reading Gordon Baxter's Bax Seat: Log of a Pasture Pilot that not many understand the joy and privilege of being able to fly. I had come home from work, surrounded by a very nice group of people, admittedly, but a group of people that did not know the world I knew. When they went home, they were simply tired. When I went home I looked forward to being able to fly the next day, something it seemed like none of them had ever considered.

I listened to a coworker talk to a a compatriot about spending over $1,000 on a computer to better play video games on. I had to shake my head to myself and wonder how the world of aviation did not fascinate people to look beyond the insides of their houses and computer monitors.

But at the end of the day, I still marveled at the fact that I could say "I am a pilot. I can fly!" If that's not the coolest thing ever, I'm not sure what is.

So, how to draw our peers out of the literal and figurative caves?


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

All Things in Perspective

This time I really do have a good reason for a delayed update . . . as if Oshkosh weren't a good enough reason!

My house started on fire.

Yes, I'm serious.

The culprit?  My black Lab, who, in a temper tantrum attempted to snag something off the counter and turned the toaster on.  Apparently you're not supposed to leave your toaster plugged in, as they are on of the top causes of house fires.  How nice of the fireman to tell me that after he punched out the windows and smashed the front door in.

It's an interesting experience, waking up to a smoke-filled room, realizing you can't make it downstairs because it's too hot and smoky.  An interesting experience, being unable to get a window open as the smoke gets thicker and hotter.  An interesting experience, hearing your home crackling in flames beneath your feet.

It's quite surprising how calm the 911 operator is as you struggle to find a window that will open, terrified that someone else is still in the house.  Even more surprising is the little things that come to mind--is some of my overnight face mask still on?  I didn't want to be rescued with white face mask still on . . .

It's a memorable sound, that of glass and wood giving way to a fireman's ax below you as you wait for a ladder.

It's a tremendous feeling of relief when the dog climbs out the window and onto the top of a first floor porch with you, safe but shaken.  A tremendously pitiable moment when all 75 lbs of her are carried down the ladder, quivering with dinner plate-sized eyes and her tail nearly touching her nose.  

It's a huge relief when you realize everyone is ok.  A huge strain to your heart when you realize you may have lost all of the photos you've taken over the past six years, a huge strain when you think all your identities may have been melted, and that your cherished logbooks may have been turned to ash.

Things come into focus.  The first concern was my mother.  Had she left for work?  Was she out of the house, or still in the basement with no knowledge of the fire on the first floor?  Next was Brandy, my dog.  Knowing she'd be terrified and confused, I knew I could never live with myself if she had been hurt or worse.  My next concern was not for my clothes or computer, but rather for the memories stored on hard drives and DVDs.  I cannot convey how difficult it was to leave my computer in the house after the fire had been extinguished, but otherwise it was not eligible for insurance coverage.

It's amazing how much money you need to rebuild your life temporarily.  Our insurance company gave us $3000 with which to buy food, clothes, and toiletries.  At the end of the first day we had spent half of that, but had little to show for it.  We had clothes and finally got a shower at 9 pm, but those are the sorts of things you don't normally have to worry about on a day-to-day basis.  All the little things add up.  Nail clippers. $0.97.  Pencil sharpener. $0.88.  Shower gel. $2.74.  Jeans.  $19.99.  Socks.  $9.74.  It all adds up.

After our basic needs were satisfied, the whole ordeal evolved into a giant pain in the ass.  It's a giant mess, a baby that needs constant watching and tending to.  The contractors need to know what to do, and we need to know what the insurance company will allow them to do.  We're caught in the middle of a paperwork shuffle, and that's somewhere no one wants to be.

Our insurance company has been fantastic throughout the entire experience.  I needed a computer for my photo work up at Oshkosh, and when we found out that mine had gotten fried on Friday before the convention, we had a check by the afternoon and a new computer that evening.  I loaded the software that night and departed for Oshkosh Sunday morning.  They've been just awesome and I cannot say enough about how kind they've been and how easy it has been to deal with them.

That doesn't mean it's not hard at times.  Some days I would really like to just go home.  It doesn't matter if my house had outdated decor or if it was always cluttered, it was home.  It doesn't matter if we hadn't seen the true color of our carpets since they were installed since Brandy sheds so much and her hair is impervious to vacuums.  It's home, worn in and lived in.  It's a fixture in many memories and stories, and suddenly it's boarded up like an old tenement, condemned as unfit for inhabiting.

I went to pick up my tent out of the garage (thankfully, detached) and felt like an intruder at my own home.  The temporary lighting was installed and on, but I could see the smoke staining on the back door and reminded me of what it looked like inside--burned out and empty.  It was eery, seeing the ghostlike streaks of smoke residue on the window.  The house had a story, clearly, but it did not yet have a happy ending.

It will, eventually.  In due time, our house will be better than it was, and we'll be better off than we were.  One just has to keep the faith.

The moral of this rambling?  Events like a house fire put things in perspective.  Where do things fit in?  

Although the whole experience really threw all my Oshkosh planning out the window, the convention was truly a therapeutic experience.  My week camping at Oshkosh was the most settled I had been in a week, and it was a week filled with visiting old friends, making new ones, and seeing some very cool airplanes.  It's always worth the stress.  

Something like this truly makes you appreciate your family more (arsonist dogs included).  You can't remember being scared at the time, only hurried in your pursuit of a solution.  It's when you look back, think about things and how they worked out, that you realize how much worse it could have been.  It's then you become thankful for what you have and recognize how important your family and friends are to you.

So, all things in perspective, I'm still addicted to airplanes and I wouldn't give them up for the world.  I even commented to my mom, "Well, I'm not going to make it into work today, so I may as well head to the airport!" (Unfortunately I did not make it out there that day)  I know that flying is still immensely important to me, because it evokes emotions within me that nothing else can.  That's how I know it's so important.  And after all, life is pretty short, so why waste time trying to justify something you love?  Go for it!

Ok, ok . . . on to the dirt!

Previously a toaster and counter with overhead cabinets

The fire was hot enough that it melted our ancient plastic blinds in the living room.  The fire restoration specialist told us that meant it was 800-900 deg. F in the living room (this was when I realized my computer and hard drives would need professional help).

Smoke damage all the way up stairs . . . very heavy throughout the house, and directly adjacent to the living.  The heavy smoke and high temperatures were high Adam, who was visiting at the time, and I could not go downstairs to get out.

The window Adam, Brandy, and I escaped out of.  Adam had knocked the screen out so we could get out, but the fire department broke it to ventilate the house as the smoke was quite thick.

Hot enough that it peeled the paint off the door frame next to the kitchen.  The mess to the left was the kitchen ceiling.

Formerly a kitchen

Because of the construction of our house, the firemen had to rip out sections of the wall to ensure the fire was not burning inside the walls.  The good news?  That terrible wallpaper is going away!

The humbling part . . . this outlet is next to and under the bed I was sleeping in.  Smoke was seeping through the outlet and along the seam between the wall and floor.  In hindsight, it was a good thing we couldn't get the first window we tried open . . . it was directly overhead the kitchen and would have sucked the fire upwards.

Illustrating the scope of smoke damage--that's the outline of papers I had stored in that dresser, with the drawer closed.  (At least the yellow carpet is going!)

There are more, but I think you catch my drift.  The insurance adjuster told us he initially thought when my mom called that it was just a small kitchen fire (she thought so too, when I called her once we were off the roof and safely on the ground).  I responded, "No, no . . . little kitchen, BIG FIRE."  All told, Brandy's temper tantrum and curious nose caused approximately $90,000 in damage.

I'm pretty sure my dog starting my house on fire beats out Marley eating a gold necklace for the title of World's Worst Dog.

But damned if you just can't help but love those big brown eyes and soft ears!

We'll be ok.  But it sure does put things in perspective.

Keep flying!!


P.S.  Unplug your toasters!  (And irons, apparently those follow toasters in numbers of fires caused)

P.P.S.  Endless thanks to all of those who have been so kind . . . from the fireman that took my trembling pooch down to safety to those who made sure the fire was out to the neighbors I hadn't met before who offered clothes and a place to stay to the kindest insurance adjuster you'll ever meet to the sympathetic woman who gave us an extra discount on our clothes purchase to everyone who has offered support.  We are truly and eternally grateful (and as much as I like to joke about the firemen breaking down my front door before putting a ladder up to us, I'm extremely thankful for their speedy response and their great kindness).  

Friday, July 17, 2009

Flying Again

I remember a clip from the aviation movie One Six Right. An elderly gentleman is recalling his early flying days, and he says "I wrote in my logbook, 'This is a love story.'" This picture makes me realize how true that statement is.

Meet Leah. She's an 82-years-young former Piper employee who worked in final assembly and was also a ferry pilot during her tenure at Piper from 1946-1951. She has been attending Sentimental Journey for a while. She is the last of a group of Piper ferry pilots that called themselves the "Herd O' Turtles" and brings a former comrade's book, Close Encounters of a Vagabond Ferry Pilot, to a few fly-ins each year. She is working on a book of her own, tentatively titled Herd O' Turtles: One Girl's View From a Thousand Feet, More or Less. She ferried J-3s in a skirt and has the pictures to prove it!

Steve and Sharon have gotten to know Leah fairly well over the past years and introduced me to her on Tuesday. It took a few days to fully realize what a spunky woman she truly is! Her mind and wit are as quick as ever. Steve offhandedly suggested Leah and I go flying sometime when the weather cooperated. Two girls in a Cub--it doesn't get much better than that!

The weather, of course, had other plans. I was grounded until Thursday for the spot landing competition, but the forecast for Friday was supposed to be decent. 2009 marked the second year of the Sentimental Journey Poker Run, organized and run by Camp FUBAR. Jordan suggested that would be a good opportunity to take Leah out in 21Y. Friday morning I asked Leah if she'd be up for it. She was apprehensive at first, mainly about getting into the airplane, but Jordan promised to help, so she agreed. I pulled our first card at Camp FUBAR (and no, I'm not making that up) and we headed to our waiting chariot.

Despite some stiff joints, Leah got settled into the Cub fairly easily.

Back in the saddle!

Ready to go!

We departed and headed down the valley towards our first stop, Bellefonte. I knew that while Leah was looking at the same patches of land I was, she was seeing a different world, 60 years ago. I remarked how I planned on following the valley down to a pass through the ridge since 21Y's compass is unreliable at best. I asked if she had flown this way before when ferrying Cubs. She replied "It was the road out," in a voice that hinted slightly at the memories I'm sure were flooding back into consciousness.

Soon after establishing us in level flight, I asked Leah if she would like to fly me to Bellefonte. My heart fell when she declined, saying she'd like to enjoy the view. She mentioned that she would like to practice some slow flight and stalls with an instructor to get the feel of the airplane again, so I told her I'd make sure she and Steve got to go flying sometime. I was sure she would enjoy flying again, but she also had to be comfortable doing so.

Leah picked the second card at Bellefonte. Bellefonte, by the way, is the skinniest runway I've ever landed on. 40 feet wide, paved, and I did it from the front seat! I was relieved to have that out of the way, as I was somewhat concerned about it, especially from the front.

The next stop was Centre, an immensely wide, gently rolling grass runway. We followed a pink Champ in, as we had been doing since takeoff. I picked a card at Centre and we were off again.

We flew over Lock Haven again en route to Jersey Shore, a beautiful grass airport east of Lock Haven. Someone was mowing the runway so I held off on descending. Noting myself quite high, I put 21Y into a good, aggressive slip, to be rewarded by a quiet chuckle from the back seat. "Oh my, I do love slips," Leah commented. "I missed them."

I'm not sure who smiled more the entire trip.

Two very different generations of Cub pilots, with an awful lot in common. You see, some things really haven't changed that much over the years. There's still endless joy in simple pleasures like flying, and still people who can think of nothing better to do with their spare time.

We returned to Lock Haven, where a spirited eight-year-old girl named Christianna picked our last card (more on Christianna later; she was my bombardier in the flour bomb drop contest). It turns out none of us are any good at picking cards for a poker hand, but, as Leah said, "We had more fun than all the rest of them!"

I'm pretty sure she was right.

Despite pitiful poker skills, all smiles!

I reminded a very busy Steve about flying with Leah and gave him a weather update. Later that day he told Leah to come back after she returned some things to her hotel room--they were going flying!

The sun beamed through for the first time all day, and the field came alive with flying. Leah arrived and we brought the airplane over by the gate (the entire field was a nasty spongy consistency after so much rain, riddled with mucky puddles).

Two Cubs in one day!

Ready for some dual! I believe this marked the first time Leah had flown and logged Cub time in over 20 years.

Once getting Steve and Leah on their way, Jordan and I dashed over to 21Y with my camera in tow to chase them down and try to get some pictures.


Click on the picture to better see the Cub. Leah said in a later email, "Some of those pictures, especially of lil yellow Cub meandering along the ridge, through the gap and following the river cut through some 60 years of living mostly on memories."

Leah landing back at Lock Haven. She and Steve flew to Jersey Shore to shoot some practice landings after tooling around. Despite being 10 miles up the valley, Leah had never been there in all her years. Then she went twice on one day!

Two happy campers! Steve had always wanted to go flying with Leah, but it simply hadn't been in the cards previous years.

In retrospect, Leah commented: "This has to be one of the luckiest, happiest old birds flying."

That Friday marked the one-year-anniversary of receiving my private pilot's license. I still can't get past the significance of those two days--and quite honestly, I find the anniversary far more important than the actual checkride day. It was my license that allowed me to fly with Leah, but the experience of getting to fly with her has been one of the greatest things that ever happened to me so far--and I'm sure it will always rank "up there."

I think that's part of why I love flying so much. It has spurred me to live by the motto "Live beyond yourself." Not beyond your means, but beyond yourself . . . beyond the limitations of your everyday life and everyday expectations. It allows us to be something more, above and beyond it all, for a little while, and it's tremendously refreshing. It's not everyday that I can make someone's day or make a dream come true.

No matter how expensive it ever becomes . . . how restrictive the government tries to be . . . how disliked GA may be . . . it is always, always, always worth it all.

Even more so when you can share it.

You can make dreams come true, and that's not something everyone can do.


Thursday, July 16, 2009


When I took my sport pilot CFI knowledge test, I also took the Advanced Ground Instructor test (and passed). To get my certificate, I finally wandered down to the FSDO to have an inspector sign off on my knowledge test and issue me a temporary certificate.

While in the neighborhood, I stopped by Midwest Airlines' maintenance facility to say hello to a friend of mine who works there. While he dashed to a meeting about the changes they would face after being bought by Republic Airways, I kicked back at his cubicle. I spotted two old Midwest spoons sitting on his desk, which, when combined with errant MD-80 and 717 return schedules formed a humbling timeline. From the days of china and full meals airlines have progressed to fee-riddled entities lacking in character. I wonder what will happen to Midwest under its new ownership, but moreover, the visual representation of the decline of the airline industry struck me.

Even examining Midwest's old and new logos made me think. The old scripty logo seemed much grander, but perhaps I'm just nostalgic. It seems a symbol of happier, more prosperous times when flying was still exciting and exotic to the general public.

It's debatable whether the changes to the airline industry we've seen over the past months will work in the long run, but that's not really the point. I simply find it startling how much aviation has changed in the past ten years (I had some delicious cinnamon pancakes on a Midwest MD-80 ten years ago, on airline china), and hardly for the better.

I guess my point is, we've been headed downhill and we're not doing enough to stop the descent. The sport pilot/light sport aircraft rule is a great start, but it can't be of much help unless we bring more new pilots in. The challenge is to bring the emotion back to flying again, where it isn't about shuffling a herd of passengers from point to point.

It's shocking how many changes I've witnessed in my short life, and they unnerve me. It's akin to sitting coach class on a runaway train, wondering what will be done to save the day while feeling entirely unable to affect the outcome. And I don't like that feeling.

Perhaps that's why I identify so much with airplanes like the Cub. Cubs are not about efficiency, expediency, ease of use, or convenience. They are entirely about emotion--when you're flying a Cub, you are not distracted by anything other than the million-dollar view mere inches away. You become a part of the airplane and wholly immersed in the experience.

In short, we need to insure the future of aviation now, by bringing pure fun and excitement back into the equation.

I hope I can be a part of that with my new CFI-SP ticket!


P.S. I need students!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Girl in the Cub

More Lock Haven tales, almost a month after the fact!

The weather was absolutely horrid all day Wednesday, the first half of Thursday, the second half of Friday, and less than desirable on Saturday too.

It rained. A LOT. Every night. At about 6 on Saturday morning my poor tent finally couldn't take any more and I began to feel faint drips infiltrating my previously dry haven. It took four nights and about eight straight hours of rain Friday night/Saturday morning, but my tent was finally beaten into submission. I took refuge under my sleeping bag for a while, updating my logbook, but eventually I decided to pack up as much as I could take to the shower house and hope the rest stayed dry. Of course, when I left the shower house it had stopped raining. Figures.

Shockingly, 21Y stayed almost completely dry, save for one dribble down the left window. Dan did an excellent job restoring her! In fact, due to the uncertainty of my tent and lack of hanging space, I draped my towel over the seats to dry. It worked quite well!


Sentimental Journey was the first fly-in I had attended with a spot landing contest and bomb drop contest. Since I had never done either, I decided I would enter. Despite the opportunity for public humiliation I vowed I'd have fun nonetheless, and surely no one could fault me for trying.

When I went to sign up for the spot landing contest, I was the third entrant, and I was beginning to get a bit nervous. A girl and a Cub can disappear in a crowd fairly easily, but it's hard to forget when there are only three! Thankfully, the weather cleared up just in time for the competition and a total of 16 pilots had registered at that time. I felt better knowing a dismal performance would likely not be as noticeable then.

A bit of background: My airplane neighbors had pointed out a blue-and-yellow Taylorcraft and white-and-purple Kitfox that frequented the pattern continuously, even on the not so pretty times of the day. They told me they were very active in flying during the fly-in and typically took first place in the spot landing and bomb drop contests. When I told them I wanted to enter, they told me the Taylorcraft and the Kitfox were sure to win. I was somewhat intimidated but hey, this is supposed to be fun, right?

I was in the first group of four airplanes and took up a position as either the third or fourth airplane (third I believe). It was my first time flying since arriving in Lock Haven on Tuesday, and it was sunny out finally! Lock Haven is situated in a beautiful valley and my two short trips around the pattern gave me a chance to fully appreciate my surroundings.

I was surprised at the size of the patterns flown by some of the other aircraft but did my best to stay in closer (21Y, like any Cub, gets frightened when flying large patterns and higher than 2,000 feet AGL, unless for the sake of spins). The approach was looking good but the trick was to figure out how much space I needed to properly flare and touch down. In the briefing the rules had been outlined loosely--it was not stated that you had to make a three-point landing but the judges couldn't very well say you could just slam the mains onto the ground, bounce back into the air, and call that a landing. I'm more comfortable with three-point landings so I just decided to go that route.

The first landing was sweet! I can't say that about all of them, but I was thrilled that I made a nice landing in front of a bunch of people! I knew it was pretty close but it was hard to tell how far from the orange line we settled. The second landing was farther from the line but it wasn't terrible. Within 15 minutes, it was over. As I taxied back it was fun to see people wave at me--so I waved back! Some even clapped (a lot of the wives and other women pilots seemed to be clapping--I felt like a poster child for a moment).

One of the judges held up one finger at me. What did that mean? There's no way I could be in first place . . .

Then he called over the radio, "Nice job, 21Y, you're in first place."

I laughed and told 21Y she was a darling little Cub and that she had done well. I taxied back and Jordan (who works for Cub Club/Luscombe Association/Taylorcraft Owner's Club) helped me tie down 21Y. "They were nice landings," he said, "but 35 feet won't win." I must've had a confused look on my face, because he then added, "I'm just kidding, you're in first place with two feet!" (my second landing was 35 feet from the line)

I'm sure I grinned wildly. How funny to have been so worried and then put up a decent attempt! I walked back by the runway to watch the rest of the competition. I was getting nervous again . . . how cool would it be if I won?!? But wouldn't it be a bummer to watch someone beat you if you got your hopes up? Either way, I was extremely curious and wanted to watch. At some point in time, one of the spectators yelled up to the watch tower "Who's in first?" To which Ed Watson, airport director and VP of Sentimental Journey, replied "The girl in the Cub!"

That was pretty cool. I was now "the girl in the Cub." That seemed like a pretty awesome title to have!

12 other aircraft completed their two attempts and in the end, 21Y and I were still in first place! I was reminded of a time prior to leaving for Lock Haven when I had jokingly said to Steve, "What would you do if I actually won the spot landing competition?" He had replied, with a chuckle, "I might even take a picture with you!" (he did not do so, for the record)

It was sort of weird afterwards . . . people knew who I was. One man was walking behind me and called out "Amy!" and when I turned around he said "I just wanted to see if that was you . . . you're the girl who won the spot landing contest, right?" I would be lying if I said the 15 minutes of fly-in fame wasn't fun, but I did find it funny. I made two landings and all of a sudden people recognized me. Of course, being female helps, but there were at least two other female contestants, one of whom placed second.

Somewhere out there one of my airplane neighbors (the whole group was congratulatory and probably quite surprised) has photos of the first landing, but I haven't received them yet. Maybe someday I will get them, but maybe not, and I certainly understand how one can get behind with pictures!

The less-than-stellar weather--there are some decent-sized towers on this ridge, and they, along with the top of the ridge, were invisible for almost two days. Yuck!

Yours truly and the spot landing/bomb drop trophy, with W. T. Piper in the background

A proud 21Y

A decent turnout despite some miserable weather before/during the fly-in

Meandering around the ridges on Friday, when the weather was finally clear for a decent amount of time! (Jordan got tossed into the front seat and was flying at this time while I was shooting--we were chasing down Steve in the other Cub, but more on that later)

What a view!

Life is good!

We had plenty of time to appreciate where we had been, but that's fine by me!

Lock Haven kaleidoscope

Life is good!