Sunday, June 14, 2009

Little Things

Some times small things make you stand up and take notice. A sunset, a smile, a simple "have a nice day." Recently I've had a lot of little things that have made me ponder and realize that life is, indeed, pretty good. Small things have given me pause to recognize how lucky I am, and that realization has once again brought me to the task of sharing the joy flying has brought me.

June 2nd: Al from the across the runway at Hartford cruises by in his Super Decathlon at sunset. He stops by Steve's hangar, pops the door open and gestures for a passenger. Steve volunteers me, and I'm thrilled to go! We climb to a safe altitude and do some loops and rolls, then Al asks me if I'd like to try some. I say I'd love to, but, being vertically challenged, I can barely reach the rudder pedals. He says " maybe next time" (I can go again?!?!), and then does another loop. He tells me to try one of those, which turns into three in a row. The view never gets old. Each time we crest the loop and I look up at the ground I've just cheated, I can't help but smile and laugh slightly. Life is good.

Al forgets I told him I couldn't reach the pedals very well and suggests an aileron roll. I try and find I can reach enough for what's needed. The first few are sloppy by my measure, but Al says they're not bad and we do some more. I get better and supposedly do a good job--nothing ever fell out of the seat pockets or floated up from the depths of the floor! I'm wary of over-rolling my welcome, but I could do this all day!

It is getting dark though. Al asks if I would like to land and I respond "Sure!," trying not to sound too overeager (but I am!). Trying to lose a healthy chunk of altitude, I extend the pattern a good deal and still end up floating halfway down the unlit grass runway (I was not quite gutsy enough to try the pavement). We end up going around on that approach. The second time seems much better, although I can't see any of the instruments from the back seat (but I'm used to that, from Cub flying). I can manage without the instruments, but as we approach the airport, the runway disappears completely and I end up drifting to the side. Al directs me more to the right and I bounce us spectacularly. He laughs and we just let the airplane finish bouncing with the stick locked back. Oh well. Can't grease 'em all!

Back by Steve's hangar, I disengage myself from the two seat belts holding the airplane on and hop out. I can feel the involuntary grin on my face and thank Al profusely. He gives me quite the compliment by telling Steve, "She's a hell of a stick . . . if I would've known she was that good, I would've put her in the front seat!" I still smile when I remember that, and when I remember the way the earth seemed to gently arc around the Decathlon.

It strikes me that this is precisely why I love flying, whether doing loops in a Decathlon or putt-putting around in the Cub. A simple variance in perspective changes everything. It's why we love flying. In the sky, we are different. We are above the petty cares of daily life. Some people elect not to fly because of the price--I say it never weighs on my mind for those glorious moments, and that's all that matters. I'll find a way to make it work, because those moments are worth it, when I feel completely at home and fulfilled.

Thanks Al : )

June 5th: I leave my house early (for once) to get to the airport, a 45-minute drive, by 8:30 to get checked out in Steve's Super Cruiser. I notice a funny noise and stop my car in the middle of the driveway. The left front tire is completely flat. I grumble, call my dad, and ask if he thinks the bead will survive the 1,000 foot trip to the gas station. He says to use the air compressor he recently loaned my brother. I drive across the lawn to no avail--I can't find the attachment to fill the tire.

Royally upset, I angrily get in my car and drive to the gas station at no more than 5 mph maximum, 4-ways flashing methodically as other drivers get mad at me. Somehow the bead survives this trip, and I breathe a sigh of relief as the tire fills with air. Then the air hose is removed, and the whooshing continues. The tire is deader than a doornail, with the ruptured steel belt protruding menacingly. So much for that idea.

The mechanics at the shop put my spare on for me (which was also flat, but thankfully held air)--despite the fact that I consider myself moderately automotively adept, I couldn't have broken the bolts without an air tool. I worry about the bill, having heard nothing back from the numerous businesses I submitted job applications to. I'm mad that things have gone very awry the one day I'm excited to have plans, and the one day I leave early.

I ask how much I owe the two mechanics who helped me. They both say not to worry about it. I thank them sincerely, make a mental note to bring them a gift, and hold back the tears that always want to come when I'm truly touched by an act of generosity.

I didn't get checked out in the Super Cruiser that day. I didn't get to make my lunch flight. I was so tired I didn't get much done at all. But as I drove on the roads less traveled to avoid high-speed traffic, I paused to realize what a gorgeous day it was, and what a beautiful place I was lucky enough to get to call home.

June 12th: I get to make that lunch flight. It's not in the Super Cruiser, but instead a darling 65 hp Cub that admittedly had to claw its way skyward on the way to our destination. I had good company, an absolutely stellar flying day, good landings on both ends (from the front seat!), and a really good pork chop! I got to see an airplane I've always wanted to see--a Cessna 165 Airmaster (I want one even more now!), added some time in the log book, and got a phone call to do some photos with EAA's chief photographer Jim Koepnick back down at Hartford. We returned and I cleaned 21Y so she could be a model again. Jim and I flew around for a few minutes, and then he got out to do some panning shots while I got to cropdust the grass runway for photo passes.

21Y at 68C

The Airmaster I lust mightily for

After that I chatted again with Joe and Phil, a student pilot and born-again pilot who was returning to flying after a 20-year break. They had flown all the way from Bakersfield, California in a Cessna 182 and declared Hartford the friendliest airport they had stopped at. Life is good.

June 13th: I take my black Lab Brandy to the airport. While we're playing ball, I spot five powered parachutes and an ultralight airplane heading for Hartford. I poke my head into the now-closed hangar and announce our visitors. Steve, Kandace, Jordan, and Paul congregate outside and we all watch the posse of parachutes fly low passes and perform touch-and-goes on a crystal clear, calm, warm day. The perfect stillness and low hum of the powered parachutes is memorable, and I count myself lucky to be able to experience this sort of grassroots, pure fun aviation. Life is good!

A great bunch of people I'm honored to know, simply enjoying an evening at the airport

A good day to be alive!

I'm fortunate enough to be able to experience these little moments on a regular basis, and most of you probably are too. However, there are many out there who don't get to see this side of aviation at all. It is because I know I'm so incredibly lucky that I want so much to share these moments with others. Some will get it. Some won't. But the ones that do, the ones with an insatiable appetite for the pure joy of flying, will make it all worthwhile.

Invite your neighbors and non-aviation friends to an evening out at the airport. Make a day of it. Fly to lunch, or just fly around. Cook out. Enjoy nature's big picture show and watch the sun slip away.

Host a small airport open house. Show your peers it's not all rich people and the toys they buy simply because. Show them the passionate community that aviation is, and open the doors to their involvement, even if it's not in a flying capacity.

Understand the beauty of aviation's ability to bring out the childish giddiness in all of us. And embrace it.

Life is, after all, quite good.

Jim Koepnick photo, (C) 2009


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