Thursday, February 18, 2016

MIAO: What’s Not on the Brochure

Whatever reasoning I'm capable of declines immensely when I am missing my airplane (think toddler stage)

 There’s a saying about airplane ownership: “The happiest two days in your life are the day you buy it, and the day you sell it.”  I can’t prove or disprove that since I haven’t sold the Oklahoma Kid, but I can tell what’s lacking from that statement is everything in the middle.  You accept that buying an airplane or something of similar value will be terrifyingly exciting (or excitingly terrifying), but the anticipation helps get you through the scary bits, and then the joy of your shiny new toy tides you over.  I can imagine that selling an airplane is met with some level of relief (either you wanted to sell it or realized circumstances forced you to, and both options mean you’re probably glad the process is over), but the “in-between” period those two days is what occupies my time now. 

It turns out that owning an airplane is one heck of a roller coaster ride.  The notion of mentally preparing yourself to spend money on things like annual inspections and insurance is one concept.  Actually doing it is another.  Don’t get me wrong—I’m a big fan of doing my research and making educated decisions, so I’m all for mental preparation.  I am, however, going to tell you that that only goes so far and it sure doesn’t cover everything. 

You see, life has a funny way of playing tricks on you.  Even when you think you’re prepared—you’re not.  Sorry to spoil it for you! 

When I purchased the Oklahoma Kid in April of 2014, I knew she wasn’t perfect.  She didn’t need to be—she needed to be safe and airworthy for a few more years.


A few airworthiness concerns popped up in the first summer of ownership, and then came the first annual.  Several discretionary items were done along with some airworthiness ones (surviving the first annual is a whole other story), but the big surprise came when I was told over the summer that I needed to cover the fuselage and tailfeathers this winter instead of next winter or even a few years down the road as I had hoped. 

Speaking of surprises, guess what these are and where they're from!

So much for mental preparation.  I’m fortunate to have a good job that I enjoy working for a company I respect, but that in no way prepared me for the notion of a four-figure (that’s BEFORE the decimal) expenditure in the first two years of ownership.  After some of the discretionary purchases during the first annual, I didn’t have my airplane fund replenished.  I had once had visions of saving up gradually, planning out the work to be done, and ending up with a beautiful Cub perfectly suited to me.  It turns out life had other plans. 

What have we done??!?!?
The airplane is now spread across a few states.  Her wings, engine, and prop are just across the river in Wisconsin, her floats and skis are in her home hangar in Minnesota, and her fuselage, tailfeathers, and miscellaneous other bits and pieces are in South Dakota.  I’m stuck in the middle in more ways than one—geographically, as well as in this interesting (if un-fun) never-never land of having no clue what to do next but not being able to hit the rewind button. 

My dreams of procuring parts over the years and attending workshops and seminars to learn about recovering an airplane were shattered.  Instead, I suddenly had a very naked airplane 250 miles from home, and no plan.  I have a rough idea of what I want to do but no idea on how to do it.  I’m willing to learn anything, from cleaning parts to rib stitching to sweeping the floor, and I’m fortunate to have knowledgeable people helping me along, but I’m still fairly useless to them and not confident enough to attempt the “trial and error” method of aircraft maintenance. 

This is the part that isn’t in the glossy brochure on airplane ownership.  It’s the part where you feel totally useless and not in control of your fate.  It’s not a fun place to be, frankly.  In the end, I will have a wonderful Cub to cherish for decades before I have to worry about anything again, and she will take me amazing places.  Don’t think that I question the value of the work that will be done, or that I’m regretting my purchase; I’m not.  I am, however, here to say that there is a definitely un-glamorous side to aircraft ownership that doesn’t make it into magazine articles or Instagram posts. 

Side effects of being without an airplane include irritableness, whining, grousing, unhealthy consumption of baked goods, frozen dairy desserts, and/or alcoholic beverages, crying into your pillow, screaming in the solitude of your car, and who knows what else (I’ll probably find out).  Some days, you are sad and feel lost and lonely without your winged companion.  Some days you are mad at everything in the world without cause.  Some days you forget you even own an airplane (or pieces of it), and that’s probably the worst part.  When your magic carpet is a part of who you are and is why you get out of bed in the morning, being without it is painful enough, but realizing you didn’t think about the simple joy of smelling the exhaust, or the way floating off of the runway feels like being able to breathe after being underwater—that hurts.  It feels like part of who you are is slowly slipping away, and trying to pull that part of you back feels like sand falling through your fingers. 

Thank goodness I at least have a good supervisor!
It will be ok in the end—I’m confident of that.  The Oklahoma Kid is, bluntly, going to be one hell of airplane when she returns to the sky.  She will have been watched over by some of the finest Cub craftsmen around (unfortunately, she will also have been worked on by the likes of me) and she’ll be tailored to fit my puddlejumping mission with shiny new parts and improvements.  I’m excited to see her on the flip side of this process but, until then, I’ll still be feeling like, well, parts of me are missing and in a few different states.

Stay tuned for more on the progression of the recovery process, and both the Oklahoma Kid and I hope to see you at a fly-in some day.