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!


Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I passed my sport pilot CFI checkride today!! It has been very busy recently. I just got a part time cashier job at a local Sam's Club which I'm very glad to have. I'm finishing up training for that and will be cashiering part time and instructing part time as well.

More on the CFI process and a continuation of Lock Haven later this week : )