Around the Airport

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Thoughts on a Memorial

Photo - Rod Reilly
What makes a good man great? The building blocks, what are they? The answer defies me.
Have you ever known someone who was subtly and inexplicably different from everyone else, and in a good way? Can you explain why they were?

Sure, there are good people out there; the way your daddy is or was a great man. The best father on the planet. Yet, most likely, he isn’t the Merriam-Webster definition of great that eludes me. Instead, he, like many others, exist as bluebirds in spring. Look for them and you’ll find one; a unique specimen, a bright spot on the day, but not the birds on my mind.

Perhaps the perfect definition of a great man is one that is itself undefinable. It’s merely something you understand without thought. That’s most likely it - I can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it.

Ron Alexander was such a man. His memorial provided the proof.

A varied range of people, great in number, is not driven to span latitude, or longitude, for a man of succinct definition. Migrations of this type occur only when undefinable forces compel souls to move - forces they feel, and must honor.

The Ship

What is dying
I am standing on the seashore, a ship sails in the morning breeze and starts for the ocean.
She is an object of beauty and I stand watching her till at last she fades on the horizon and someone at my side says: "She is gone."
Gone from my sight that is all.
She is just as large in the masts, hull and spars as she was when I saw her, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to its destination.
The diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not in her, and just at the moment when someone at my side says,
"She is gone"
there are others who are watching her coming, and other voices take up a glad shout:
"There she comes!"
and that is dying.

Attributed to several authors

*The poem above was something Ron was known to send to friends who were suffering through great losses.


Friday, March 3, 2017

The Stuff Things Are Made Of

Stuff. My life is stuffed with it. Hell, some of my stuff is stuffed with the stuff. It’s a constant problem for anyone attached to things.
Things have a way of generating stuff that relates to the things your life is stuffed with. If you have a passion for history or machinery, God help you. It’s the stuff insanity is made of.
Insanity was famously said to be, “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Being passionate about old things, each time I bring some new stuff home I expect it to go differently. “This time the project will get done,” I think, and Ginger loses her stuffing. “What the hell do you plan to do with that thing?”
You see there’s some sort of physical law associated with stuff, or was it things? But then again, how would I know? I’m insane. The results prove it.
Realizing my handicap, some time ago I decided to remove the things stuffing my life. Those I could sell for enough money to stuff a mattress would be sold. Those that reminded me of friends would get stuffed into boxes and sent to them so that they could deal with the thing. And those that were worthless would be offered to anyone whose wife was not yet fed up with stuff lying on their things. It was a great plan.
An idea born of genius often puts a new kick in the step of its creator. That’s what happened to me. Suddenly, all this stuff was exciting again. The things nagging my conscience became the stuff dreams are made of. The image of friends excitedly opening boxes and placing the thing with the rest of their stuff brought a smile to my face.
One thing after another was stuffed into my car, driven to the post office, and shipped away. It was a magical time. People would drop by the airport for some friendly conversation and before they could swing the prop I’d say, “Hold on, I have something you might want.” Of course they wanted it. There was no “might” to it. They were aviators. Much like their cousins, Crows, they liked shiny things and couldn’t fight the instinctual urge to stuff their home with another jewel.
Away they’d fly with a thing I felt perfect for them. Inside our house each newly unencumbered shelf represented a friendship strengthened. The selfless act of stuffing other peoples homes, with things that had once stuffed my life, continued to put a new kick in my step - right up to the day I tripped over something on my step. It was a box stuffed with things.
Several days later, I was an expert on Crows. As it turns out, members of the Corvid family like to keep their stuff. In fact, they’ll often hide their things where they believe the Magpies down the road would be least likely to look. If they think the Ravens are interested, they’ll put them under lock and key. My friends, it turns out, are no Rooks.
What then was the reason behind the box?  A second inspection revealed a carefully worded hand written note stuffed nicely alongside a well-worn Stearman part. This set my ever-investigative mind to work recreating the scene.
The gesture had obviously been a big production, and I knew there was only one reason a man would do such a thing. Writing the letter, then thoughtfully placing both items into a stuff delivery device, was one act, of an animated play, produced for his wife who was tired of his things. That night, he probably ate steak. A few days later, I got tuna.
“Where are you going to put that?” Ginger asked. “With the rest of my things,” was the obvious answer. “But I thought you were getting rid of stuff,” she said, smartly, as my mind wandered.
Admittedly, this was nothing new. My mind had occasionally pondered the notion of living a minimalist lifestyle. Moving from one city to the next, the door would ring, and I’d say to the movers, “Put it over there with the rest of the stuff,” pointing to a small singular pedestal upon which sat a single vase, holding a single orchid, placed perfectly to highlight the white walls and my lack of a life. Each time that’s when I fall in love with my things all over again and consider renewing our vows. “I swear to lug you around for no particular reason and always come back to you at some time in the future, so help me God.”
Coming out of the daydream, Ginger had already moved on to another of my cherished deficiencies and all was right in the world. The briefly bare shelf was again encumbered with stuff, and my plan was falling apart. Over time, one after another, more stuff came in to replace all the things I had given away. The stuff wasn’t thinning but my workload was increasing. It had to stop.
Currently, I am no longer giving things away and am rethinking my formula. It is my hope, if nothing else, it will be discovered that these things are the dark matter making our universe expand at an ever-increasing rate. On the other hand, maybe the universe is expanding to make room for more things? Yes, I suppose that could be the explanation why there is always room for more stuff. It could also explain where the things I can never find go. Accelerating exponentially, eventually they zip away in a flash of light, not to be seen until they make their way through a wormhole and are found in the neighbor’s garage.
Whatever the answer may be, my friends and I now have things with a story - our stuff connecting us the way things always have. People who can’t let go of yesterday, carrying all these things, into the future, so the people of tomorrow have a reason to build shelves.

Author - Rich Davidson

Friday, December 16, 2016

Have You Heard We're Closing?

If you haven’t, congratulations. You, apparently, are not connected to the string of aviators who believe contributing to the future of aviation means “offering their wildest gossip.” Why aviation has to be the low rent version of TMZ I’ll never know. However, I do find it quite funny.
The last time crazy gossip started was when we were looking toward development. Someone started the rumor the airport floods every year. Amazingly, in a week’s time, many regulars were asking us how we dealt with the flooding.
I’m not talking about the stray threads of society. These were people who fly in every few weeks throughout the year; people with strong heads on their shoulders. Yet, with no pushback, their minds accepted the gossip as reality and they repeated it.
As for the guy who started the flooding rumor, he ended up in deep water (irony alert) for deceptive practices (elsewhere) and quietly vanished. But, how did the latest rumor start? Any guesses?
Many things likely led the first aviation gossip fairy to utter the rumor we were closing. The last fly-in was held this year. That’s a potential trigger point. Then there was the fact I told those in attendance we had too much crap and to make me an offer on anything not bolted down. I hoped to free up some space, and instead of them getting great deals people gossiped. Finally, and admittedly, I have been known to mention selling everything so we could have a mountain retreat in Montana, an expedition boat, or a DC-3 converted to a flying Winnebago. But hey, let’s be realistic. Montana and the boat are not practical.
Note:  We're always looking for someone, possibly a retiree, who would be interested in extremely cheap rent on a home and hangar in exchange for mowing and basic upkeep. There is too much to be done for us alone to conquer.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Masters of Flight - Special VFR in Icing Conditions

Somehow, I managed to capture the scene.

On a crisp fall night I stopped and wondered,
                   Where is that formation of trumpeted thunder?
                                                               Chilled by the moon, and its gray light,
                                                                                           Ahead to the south, persisted a flight.
                                                  Head tilted back, my eyes strained to see.
                 "THERE THEY ARE!" Sandhill cranes in a V.

Marveling at the magic, I am alone in the experience. Standing quiet on a frosted deck, above me the last leaves of fall oscillate against a vague undercast moon. The slightest blue wind encourages them to drop.  North, in the darkness, a new facet is being cut through the night.  Collectors see brush strokes; investors the bottom line.  Myself, it is the undaunted voices I hear among the sedge.
Their volume growing at individual rates, each crewmember, perhaps playing coxswain, projects a staccato cheer.  Life is a race for these longnecks.  Losing has permanence. Cold is the opponent; warmth the finish line.
Shadows among shadows, their beating hearts deny cover.  No accumulation of moisture would ever behave that way.  Organized and directional, the gracefulness of the flight contrasts the song.
When receding temperatures set the scene, and gray skies become backdrop, these actors stir my soul. Waning in the distance, the song of the sandhills always elicits a thought. Both selfish and selfless, it is an eternal wish for safe travels and to see them once again.

Look closely.
Click here to listen to an example of their song.
The Philosophy of Aviation
A pilot dispassionate of birds is dispassionate of flight - RD

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Discarded Words May Be Fatal

Wandering through pages of discarded keystrokes can be treacherous. A virtual forest of unmapped landmines lies ahead. Step here, you live. Step there, you don’t. Each coordinated effort of leg muscles begins with a cringe.

Whenever I charge into words I’ve written and never published, that’s how it feels. Will I implode from embarrassment or find a surprisingly strong script? It’s impossible to know.

Today I found a document written for Ginger. Titled, “When I die,” it was nothing more than a rambling list of post mortal instructions. My wish was that they would help her make decisions when she didn’t feel up to it. Hopefully, they would also discourage Death Induced Character Improvement Syndrome.  This is when the people at a funeral, while waiting for the right time to ask the widow if she's ready to sell, describe the recently deceased as a much better person than he actually was.

Below is one bullet point from the document. I still stand behind these words. Someday, for kicks, I’ll publish the others.

“Should I die in an airplane (as I have always felt likely), unless the proof is indisputable, please do not say stupid things like “he died trying to save others.” When your ass is in a sling, you try to survive, and it is difficult for me to believe everyone who perishes in a plane did so dodging some poor soul who was in the way.”

Saturday, December 3, 2016

New Management Abruptly Cuts Popular Column

Whenever I’m in town and needing to kill time, a bookstore serves me well. It’s the perfect place to feed a wandering mind. My friends are there, too.
One you can always find in the bookstore is Budd Davisson. Look through enough publications, and you’ll find multiple examples of his work. My favorite has always been the final page of Plane & Pilot, “Grass Roots."
Here’s how it ends up in my hands.  I walk into the store and stroll casually by the over-hyped books printed for the masses. Staying the course, business, philosophy, history, photography, and politics all get their moment of consideration as I travel to my destination; an isle of photos and captions. There, the simple mind is free to run wild. The heavy subjects which came before are forgotten.
Of course, being increasingly pressed for time, the herd thinning begins. Air & Space, the NPR of aviation, is booted because one writer has covered the same story a million times. Flying, well, there’s Martha and Peter. Unfortunately, a few buoyant lifesavers can’t float concrete and I move on. Aeroplane? I remember when they were cool.  Oh look, fifteen warbird magazines covering the same planes in rotation. Moving on I see something bizarre. It says Plane and Pilot, but the cover looks more like a fashion magazine. “How can that be?” I ask. Peeling back the cover gave me a clue. Pop culture and global warming creatives with a fetish for safety had surely taken over.

That actually was my reactive guess, from the cover alone. Looking up Madavor Media, I laughed out loud. I can smell them from two sectionals away. Sure enough, they fit the bill. So does management.
Fighting the urge to set it down, I thumbed pages to see what had always been the bright spot, Budd’s article. Hastily flipping open the back cover, I found he wasn’t there. “Maybe they redid everything and his piece is now in the middle?” I wondered. Nope. He was nowhere to be found.

Setting it down, I stared at it. Considering aviation may be in the final throes of self-immolation, I stepped back as if to avoid the heat.

Next, I sent a text, “What happened to your piece in Plane and Pilot?”  What I got in return was more evidence of my suspicion, “Last Grass Roots was June issue. 46 years to the month. That wasn’t written to be the final Grassroots. It was just the next one in line when they pulled the plug. Which I think is so apropos.” Along with the surprise cutoff, I learned the new editor had offered a brief statement about writing styles. Then, with that, it was over.

Why did Budd describe it all as “apropos?” I searched for the article and am including it below. With no warning, it was his last piece in P&P. On the upside, the new editor may have done us all a favor. Closing the door on “Grass Roots” was notification, whether you noticed it or not, that you and I no longer fit their target demographic. Therefore, we never have to bother picking it up again.

Always working.
Photo: Rich Davidson (Oshkosh 2016)

“The Last Flight  –  by Budd Davisson
*Everything has an end but too often we don’t know it’s coming.

Our Christmas morning wasn’t what it should have been: we got a call early on that my ex-brother-in-law had just unexpectedly died. He was only two years older than I am and a health freak. The net effect on me was stronger than I would have expected. It was as if the concept of mortality suddenly became real and I began looking at my life with a different eye. I thought back on that this morning, as I strapped in to fly, and a thought clicked through my mind that was as bright as a neon sign, “Someday you’re going to fly for the last time. Is this that time?”

There’s an old, rather macabre saying that the only thing worse than knowing the next flight will be the last is NOT knowing that it’ll the last one. Frankly, I think not knowing would be a blessing of sorts. I can’t imagine going through the boarding dance and the strapping-it-on ritual knowing for a fact that will be the last time I ever taste flight while at the controls. As I’m sitting here typing this, part of my brain is refusing to wrap itself around the inevitability of that thought.

This puts me in mind of the conversations I’ve had with former military pilots, especially fighter/attack types. They may have disliked the BS so often attached to a military existence, but they lived for getting the gear in the wells. They loved the flying and dearly miss the “squadron feeling” of being with kindred souls. Each of those guys knew ahead of time when they were prepping for the last time that they would be astraddle a high-Mach column of fire, a Nomex-clad Zeus who was master of the heavens. You’ll not talk to one of them, no matter how old, who says they don’t miss it. Unfortunately, there’s a last time for everything, both aeronautical and otherwise.

I so clearly remember the last time I hugged my Mom. She didn’t really recognize me but, in the midst of the hug, she pushed back, looked me squarely in the eyes and the lights come on for a fraction of a second, as she said, “You know I love you, right?” and smiled that impish, almost devilish grin of hers. Then the lights went out and the veil of dementia was once again smothering the brilliant woman who had raised me. That was the last time we truly connected and I still get choked up thinking about it.

When you’re young, the concept of a final anything exists only as an existential, theoretical understanding, not an emotional one that connects with every fiber of your being. When you’re young, the concept of time is meaningless because there’s so much of it out there in front of you. When you go blazing through middle age, the reality of time nibbles at the edge of your consciousness but it doesn’t do much more than tiptoe into your thoughts now and then. However, Christmas morning the limits time places on us suddenly vaulted over the barriers I had erected around my thoughts and every minor movement during my days since then has been seen in a different light.

I now actually grin a little in anticipation, as I push the hangar door open for the first flight of the day. The low morning sun paints my little fabric-covered friend the color of wet lipstick and I can’t adequately explain how that makes me feel: it feels so good, it’s almost silly! It’s a wonderfully clean portrait not only of flight, but of a segment of life that I wish could go on forever. But, I know it can’t. On the one hand, that flat pisses me off, but, at the same time, it makes me more appreciative of the moment.

Then, there is that magical instant, when, amidst the thunder that fills the cockpit, I feel the Earth give up its grasp allowing me and my mechanical friend to leap free. And believe me, my friend knows how to leap much better than most. It’s not so much a take off as it is a release, a step through an invisible portal into another world where we are king and gravity is only a temporary inconvenience.

If it’s an early morning takeoff, I’m blessed with a golden sunrise much earlier than those below. Many are still sleeping and others are just arousing to a day that is still hidden in Earth’s shadow. Climbing up into a sunrise is a moment only pilots know and I sometimes feel sorry for those who don’t experience it.

The bottom line is that time respects no man. We clearly know when our time began but we don’t have a clue, when it’ll run out. Worse, we never know when time will begin to erode the person that we have been. Regardless, a last flight is a foregone conclusion. The key is to enjoy every flight as if it’ll be the last and take nothing for granted. Time is our friend at the beginning, but slowly turns into an aggressive enemy. For that reason alone, I’ve always lived by the mantra, “When you’re running as fast you as you possibly can, it does no good to look at your watch.” So, just keep running. You’ll get more done and it makes you a moving target. “
Thanks to Budd for writing what may have been the last true aviation column that was human, personal, and deeper than three drops in a thimble. Unforced and genuine, it was a unique holdout in a world driven to "replace what works with what sounds good."

One of Budd's many talents.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Once in a Lifetime Light Show

Photo - Panoramic Images. Not quite like what we saw but still good.
I have experienced the northern lights. Although seeing them is fairly common, what our crew witnessed last night, over Canada, is not; a natural light show of atmospheric proportion.

Climbing away from Rockford, they were immediately visible. Alive in ways neither of us had ever heard described, the view left us attempting to do it ourselves. To the north, overhead, and even to our south, they whipped excess energy from the atmosphere the way flames transport the coals’ hottest fire to their tips.

From takeoff to landing, they were visible. It was impossible to look away for six hours. Closing in on Anchorage, the entire burning sky became sheets blowing in cosmic wind. Curving away into the distance, areas of color turned brilliant white. Their hems changing sharply to green and then red. If there were any Italians in the air in our area, today they are telling friends of a message from God.

With me was a captain who once lived and flew in Alaska. His reaction revealed what I felt was no overreaction. It was something I would never see again.