Saturday, January 17, 2009

More Background Stuff

Here's an article I wrote for the fun of it a while ago. An edited version of it was published in EAA's learn-to-fly e-newsletter "Reach for the Sky" in the December edition. Here's the longer, more complete, unedited version of the "285T's Gift" section (does not include "Keeping the Faith").

P.S. You can find Reach for the Sky newsletter here:

Keep flying. Always, always keep flying. Don’t work so hard to get your license, pass the checkride, then disappear from the airport. Learning to fly is certainly financially draining, especially by the end of the process, but always keep flying.
In my case, flying is as necessary as breathing. I can’t explain how, or why, but it just is. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m extremely partial to J-3s, but flying is flying. I’m not about to say that flying a Bonanza is the same as flying a Cub, but you can enjoy either, though in my case, I’m likely to have more fun in the Cub. But that’s just personal preference, and maybe some ingrained genetic predisposition.
In any case, here’s my “keep flying” story. I spent last summer in Texas (which is a terrible time for a Midwesterner to visit) for an aviation internship. While there, I learned a slew of amazing things that I would never have otherwise been exposed to. I helped make a fiberglass mold (I can measure resin like a pro, but boy, does it smell!), spent a week and a half half-upside down in an airplane cockpit doing some wiring work, learned how metal could be shaped and formed, learned how to safely transport airplanes on the ground, learned how to research Airworthiness Directives for applicability, learned how to machine custom fittings, how to maintain an airplane through general preventative maintenance, how to rivet, and how to cover fabric airplanes. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something along the way as it was certainly a whirlwind summer that I wouldn’t have passed up for the world.
I passed up an opportunity that summer. The foundation which facilitates this internship is run by several very dedicated and well-intentioned people. They lined up a Cessna 172 for the interns to receive flight training in, and had several wonderful instructors willing to donate their time, simply for the joy of giving some kids the gift of flight. I never made the sacrifice to get out and fly and start working on some instrument requirements. I passed up a fabulous chance to fly with an experienced instructor and get a head start on another rating, all at no cost to me. And I didn’t. Yes, I’m still kicking myself.
For the first few weeks I definitely felt as though I was in a foreign environment. I was 800 miles from home, with new people, in an unfamiliar home. Having learned to fly at an airport that was delightfully vintage, with a population primarily of Cubs, Champs, and Luscombes, I was a fish out of water in this world of airline pilots with Bonanzas and other high-performance airplanes. I longed for my beloved Cubs, something familiar. After some trials in the Bonanza, I began to doubt myself. It felt like all the work I had done to get my license had been for naught.
There were two Super Cubs based at this particular airpark, and I was always pleased to see them out and about. At last! Something familiar. I watched them with a particular fondness as they tugged at my heartstrings a bit. Maybe more than a bit.
One day myself, one of the other interns, and Mr. Keyt, our internship coordinator and Foundation founder, drove through the airpark to find a part someone else had, and we stopped to say hello to the owner of one of the Super Cubs.
Oh! What wonder! An airplane that was fabric-covered, and seemingly so much more alive and biological than the rest! What a beautiful creature. I was thrilled just to see it close-up in the flesh.
We chatted for a while and moved on. We went back to work on our many tasks, and the Super Cub remained a fond memory, until its owner walked into the hangar and asked if myself and the other intern present would like to go flying.
What?!?! Of course! As one very proud Cub pilot I was excited to see how the big brother of the J-3s I loved so would compare. Since I had no place to go after our traditional quitting time, Rey, the other intern went first.
For a little background . . . there was also an experimental Super Cub on the field. I had flown in it twice and embarrassed myself both times. It seems I never got close enough to use full rudder deflection, and, well, it just didn’t fly like a Cub.
I was itching to hop into this Super Cub though. It seemed like hours until Rey and Mr. Wood reappeared, and I leapt up to go, having collected my headset and even having put on the one pair of shoes I knew I could reach heel brakes with. Imagine my confusion as I looked at the pedals in the front seat of the Super Cub, wondering where they had hidden the heel brakes (Piper had switched to the now-traditional toe brakes). And a starter? How modern. A radio? We were certainly in the space age now!
At the back of my mind, however, was a nagging fear that if I was allowed to fly I’d make a fool of myself. Doubt had surfaced once again amidst all my excitement.
And fly I did. I basically had the airplane the entire flight, which I was extraordinarily grateful for. Mr. Wood took me over to a small grass strip (wonder of wonders! A proper Cub runway!), demonstrated a nice landing, then handed the airplane to me. He even talked me through a different takeoff procedure which the Super Cub seemed to prefer to my J-3 technique.
Somehow, some way, that first landing was perfect. I don’t often say that (that would be lying, after all), but it was. Maybe the stars aligned just so in some faraway galaxy. Maybe nature was on my side. Whatever it was, the Super Cub caressed the brown, dry grass so gently I had to laugh. A month away from Cubs and I grease it on? Too funny. I commented to Mr. Wood, “Well, I guess I got lucky on that one! Every once in a while it works out that way.” To which he responded, “No, somebody taught you right.”
Indeed they had. I still recall those words. They are, in fact, some of the most complimentary words that have ever been uttered to me, and I cherish them to this day. I had done something right. I had proven my capability to someone else, but, moreover, I had proven my capability to myself. Super Cub 285T gave me my confidence back. It restored my faith that what I was doing was right, both in the airplane and in pursuing aviation as a career. All was well with the world once again, and my little Cub pilot heart was once again at peace.
That’s not to say all the landings were perfect. The second was an accidental wheel landing (though it was pretty good), which I didn’t admit was accidental at the time. The third was nice as well, though not as nice as the first. But the view was sublime, with the door open and the window up. Steep turns reminded me why I loved flying and why I had pursued my pilot’s license. Everything felt right. Instead of struggling with managing and fighting the Bonanza, I was wearing the Super Cub, and everything was good and natural, tactile and delightful.
I was proud to be able to show Mr. Wood the spin technique I had been taught for the J-3. After getting a feel for stalls, I went to spin the Super Cub with Mr. Wood’s permission (how cool is that?!). I had to sigh with delight as the Super Cub obeyed my control inputs and spun just right. I had done something right again. I had been able to show the owner a different technique after he had said it could be difficult to do. At that point my little Cub pilot ego grew, if only out of pride and joy. A smile threatened to split my face in half. How fabulous!
I wanted to try a loop, but we had been struggling with the intercom and I certainly didn’t want to yank this airplane into a maneuver without its owner’s consent. I was not disappointed, though, as Mr. Wood demonstrated a Super Cub barrel roll a few times. What a wonderful experience! I had never barrel-rolled before in my life, and it was awesome.
My expanded Cub pilot ego was shortly brought back to size after two less-than-ideal approaches and subsequent go-arounds. To top the flight off was a memorable arrival. Bounce! Bounce! Bounce! It seemed I could almost hear the bungees stretch and grumble in complaint. Oops. I apologized to the airplane under my breath several times and also expressed my apologies to its gracious owner as well.
Months later, I still smile when I recall that flight. There have been many lovely J-3 flights but only one fantastic Super Cub flight, and the fact that that red-and-white airplane singlehandedly renewed my love of flying makes it a memorable flight. 285T and her generous owner gave me the gift of the love of flying, at a time when I wondered if my intentions had been true. She reaffirmed my every decision and rebuilt my self-esteem. It was the most amazing experience, because it felt real. Free of restrictions, limitless, and wholly enjoyable. I can never thank Mr. Wood enough for his gift. He may never know the significance of that hour, but I am eternally grateful. The best thing that I can say about it is, it felt like flying.

What I was truly trying to convey in this writing was the simple joy of flying, something that markedly few people ever get to experience. Airports have become hostile places, ringed with chain-link fences and endowed with a certain elitist mystery. Many people have an interest in flying, but have no idea how to become involved. These fortresses of airports, oddly enough, are not so much designed to keep these would-be enthusiasts out as they are to keep those involved with aviation in.

You see, if we can neatly contain aviation within that fenced plot of land, it won't be a bother. In a lot of ways, the aviation community is like the mob. Outside of your like-minded contacts, it's not much of a huge discussion topic. It might come up occasionally, but by and large, it is easy to go without realizing there is another aviation enthusiast nearby.

The exclusive nature of airports is perhaps the biggest challenge facing aviation today. We keep everything concerning flying in a small, sterile area so that the rest of the world doesn't "contaminate" it. Mostly, what this security hype does is dissuade the curious from seeking further aviation exposure. Without an "in," it's nigh impossible to gain airport access. One bad experience with an unknowledgeable airport employee can ruin a possible relationship.

The long and short of this entry comes down to activism on behalf of us who have become involved. I'll try to cover more of what I've experienced later (in the pm later).

--Amy : )

1 comment:

  1. nice piece - it seems you think and feel the same as me. I have held my commercial licence for over a decade but have never ventured into the airlines as they just seem to be sterile and not "really" flying. give me a tail-dragger and a piece of grass any day over an "auto-land" aircraft and a long stretch of concrete.