Monday, March 14, 2016

MIAO: The Pursuit of (Im)Perfection

In my experience, there's a lot of Scotch-Brite and solvents involved in aircraft ownership.

Starting an airplane project of any magnitude is an invitation for the peanut gallery to show up, usually with a proverbial bag of popcorn that they will drop all over your hangar floor while telling you—with a full mouth, of course—what you should do instead of whatever you’re doing.  It’s an entertaining, if occasionally progress-derailing, part of the process.  Sometimes, it even results in good ideas!*

*Definitely not always
Inevitably, what the commentary centers around is a million and one ways to make your airplane perfect.  This might mean making it faster, slower, lighter, more comfortable (heavier), prettier, or just about anything –er.  The folks behind these suggestions have pure intentions and no financial obligations to the project, so you’ll experience no end to the ideas.  The prospect of freedom from such social interactions might be enough to push your project across the finish line.  

Let me be clear that there are many good ideas to be gleaned from this kind of commentary and insight.  Your hangar visitors might notice things you’ve missed, inform you of an easier or more efficient way to accomplish something, loan you tools, or genuinely come up with a great feature to include.  They might even offer to help (they might also camp in your hangar and drink your beer, but there are risks to anything).  

People ask if I'm keeping the venturi.  So far the answer is yes, because I'm reusing the boot cowl and there are holes already in it.  It's a great time to make a new boot cowl, but I've decided that I'll live with my existing one for reasons of cost and time. 
When I bought the Oklahoma Kid, I knew I didn’t want a perfect airplane.  First and foremost, I could not afford one (I still can’t).  Perhaps more importantly, I wanted an airplane I wasn’t afraid to enjoy.  After all, it only took me two days to ding the wingtip bow on a hangar door for the first time.  Side note: It was a 60’ wide door that can fit a Caravan.  I still have no clue how I managed to hit the wing of a 35’ 6” wingspan Cub on that, but I’m guessing it took some level of skill.  

Even when presented with the option of having a perfect airplane over time, I’ve decided I don’t want the Oklahoma Kid to be one.  I appreciate them, and have great respect for their owners, who invest countless hours in the pursuit of impeccability.  At the end of the day, though, I’m far from a perfect person.  My desk is usually a disaster, and I’ve been known to do dumb things like fall asleep with the lights on while knowing better.  I’m the kind of person that will never have a perfect dwelling, or a perfect car, or a perfect hangar (ok, that one I will probably get a lot closer on).

I love this barb stripe.  It wasn't perfectly done but it was different than the norm and had some flair.  Peeling it off was pretty sad. 
I appreciate a little scruff in an airplane.  I like little imperfections that have stories.  They remind me that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of my airplane—it’s mine, and not theirs, for a reason. 
To all of you who want historically accurate airplanes down to the exact hardware manufacturers—that’s awesome.  I love looking at your work and seeing the history preserved.  To all of you who want the fastest airplane on your hangar row—keep it up.  I only ask that you not run me over in the pattern.  To all of you who want to sit on a sheet of cardboard to save a few ounces in your STOL beast—my hat is off to you.  I still think I want a cupholder.  To all of you who want your perfect airplane to be any combination of all the myriad options out there—good for you.  I hope you go out and get it.  

Every piece of green tape indicates something to be addressed.  The tube might get removed or replaced, or there might just need to be some cleanup done.  Either way, there is a lot of green.

For me, an imperfect airplane is the definition of perfect.  Each imperfection has a story, even if it’s as simple as “I’m an idiot and ran it into a door.”  As I go through the process of recovering the fuselage (don’t worry, there’s plenty of blog material there), many imperfections in the airplane are revealed.  I’m left with choices.  If it’s an airworthy issue, the imperfection will be fixed.  If it’s strictly cosmetic, there’s a bit of a debate.  How much time and expense will it add to the project?  What’s the gain?  

I’ll admit, there are some fuselage areas I look at and think, “Boy, this thing sure has a lot of splices.”  And it does—the Kid’s history includes the installation of a repaired fuselage done by an aerial application business.  “Pretty” and “cosmetically appealing” were not requirements on any work done.  The main request seemed to be “won’t fall apart.”  Looking at the repairs, I sometimes think it would be nice to not have so many present.  That’s strictly an aesthetic issue in most cases, and usually not even that, since you won’t see the splices when the airplane has been recovered.  But there’s still this internal debate where you think “Am I the only one who would leave these?  Am I being a poor airplane owner for not feeling these have to be addressed?”
Sometimes the pieces of green tape are big!

I pondered on this for a while and came to the realization, once again, that I don’t want a perfect airplane.  At least, I don’t want this airplane to be perfect right now.  In the future, maybe I’ll take the time to remove all of those blemishes, but right now, it’s more important to have a safe, airworthy, flying airplane to enjoy.  Moreover, as I scrubbed paint off of the cowl that I curse so much at oil change time, it all became clear.  I might have a perfect airplane someday, but the Kid will always be my favorite, and she’ll be my favorite because of all her imperfections.  She represents a time in my life where I am learning and stretching (both my knowledge and my wallet) and gaining the perspective of an airplane owner trying to scrap through the ownership experience.  Everything is new and I’m figuring out how to survive it all.  I’m riding the roller coaster of emotions, and lately there have been more downs than ups.  That’s how the ride goes sometimes.  

I still hate that cowl.  That’s one thing I will replace down the road, but who knows when.  Right now, sniffing paint stripper and keeping the thing in all of its hokey-ness gets me flying faster with less financial impact.  And in that light, I love that damn cowl.


1 comment:

  1. Another Great entry Amy . I feel your pain , just a little . As an Airplane Owner too , I struggle with these same decisions . Do I Fly when I might get Happy dirty or wet ? Do I worry about each imperfection ? May answers reflect Your sentiments . I bought the Airplane to Use ..not become a Museum Piece . There are some of Those out There . I wanted a Plane to Fly and connect me with like minded People . So it WILL be dirty and dinged , a little . Enjoy the rebuild and keep Us informed . Thanx .