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.


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