Thursday, July 19, 2012

Interesting Happenings in Vintage Aviation

I recently learned information about two interesting projects. There are many reasons to discuss both but I’m going to leave it at a bare minimum. Why?  I really just want to see them fly; for the first time and again.
Rhinebeck News
With little fanfare, it appears Rhinebeck has contracted Ken Cassens to finish the museum’s Spirit of St. Louis replica. This is the same plane he had been working on when tainted new blood arrived on the board of directors and ran everyone off, including Ken. And please note that “ran everyone off” is being extremely kind. Those people never should have been involved with the organization yet the story is an all too familiar one. They came in with ideas of making it their playground, wanted to run it like a Fortune 500 company, and subjected most of the people keeping Rhinebeck alive to torture, thus running them off. Sound familiar? Now though, with better blood returning, perhaps Rhinebeck will catch its second wind.  If you want more, just scan the internet.  It's out there.
Lockheed Vega(s) Being Restored
A few years back, I spoke with John Magoffin just after he and a friend had decided to split up the projects they had hoped to rebuild. John kept the metal Lockheed Vega and his partner kept the Pilgrims. Back then John stated he intended to get the Vega restored and that was exciting news. Now though the new exciting news is that his Vega is starting to take shape in an Arizona shop and wow is that exciting to see. But, since I’m guessing you already knew about John’s Vega, I thought maybe you’d like to know another one is in the works to return to the air.
I am told that Kermit Weeks has contracted Kevin Kimball to rebuild the wing on his Vega so that it may fly again. Although it will likely be a while before it is complete, it should be worth the wait. You know its funny how these things happen; some relatively unknown guy rebuilds his Vega and overnight Kermit’s pops up for restoration. The dynamics of vintage aviation are amazing. Often times all it takes to get more planes in the air is a challenge from someone who rolled up their sleeves.
Someday I hope to be able to tell you about the rabid restorer who says he is actively looking under every rock for a Stuka.

Lee Bottom to Exchange Hamburgers for Help

Have you heard about The $100 Hamburger Tornado Relief Fundraiser Fly-In?  Ron Wilson has.

“Here’s your first $100. Tell everyone I challenge them to do the same”. Spoken by Ron Wilson last month.

Consider these sentences; “How about we go for a hundred dollar hamburger”, or “We flew up to the airport today to get hundred dollar hamburger”.  How many times have you heard conversations that included them? Yes, as long as I can remember the hundred dollar hamburger has been a staple in aviation circles for laughing off the ridiculous amounts of money we sometimes spend to go flying. Getting food just seems to be the most worthy excuse to aviate and, in my mind, I couldn’t agree more.
Look!  A burger in the sky!
Now ask yourself what you would do if you could actually get a hundred dollar hamburger and help out aviation in the process? What if that burger helped keep an airport alive? What if that hamburger could directly affect aviation in a positive way? Would you be hungry for such a burger? If so, now’s your chance to get one.
Announcing the $100 Hamburger Tornado Relief Fundraiser Fly-In. After every structure, every piece of equipment, and everything we use to put on events was either damaged or destroyed by a tornado on March 2nd, we were forced to reconsider what we’d do with the events that were already being planned. In the end, there was only one solution; cancel all events and replace the fly-in with a fundraiser. That’s how the $100 Hamburger Tornado Relief Fundraiser Fly-In was born.
Being held in place of the usual fly-in at the end of September, this event, hosted by friends of Lee Bottom, will last one day and run from 10-5 on Saturday September 29th. The rain date is Sunday September 30th. If you would like to attend, the following is what you need to know.
For every $100 gift, friends of Lee Bottom will cook you a burger and accompany it with chips and a drink. Thus, the $100 Hamburger. To get in the event, a $100 gift per person is required. Kids under 17 get in free and their burger will be $5. If you give your gift before September 1st, two can get in for a gift of $150. If you would like to give but cannot be here, we’ll give your burger to a kid. Corporate sponsorships, which will appear on limited edition shirts, are $500. That’s all you need to know. Flying or driving, that’s how it works.
When we first came up with the idea for this, admittedly we wondered how people would react. Thankfully, the initial reaction has been positive. There were questions though.

Some people asked about insurance for the damaged property. Well, the truth is that we were under insured. There were two reasons for this. First, since the chances of being hit by a tornado are so slim, we considered a fire to be the biggest potential disaster. Yet, secondly and more importantly, we were under insured because we were pinching pennies to keep the events, that so many people had come to love, going. Because of this, we had everything set to the lowest survivable levels. We were then hit by a tornado that damaged every single thing on the airport. That’s all there is to it.
Some people asked about FEMA. It is scary to me how many people believe government is there to help and how many people assume it does just that whenever there is a disaster. "FEMA money," as everyone calls it, is for people who have nothing. If you have insurance, then you’re out of luck.
What about FAA or government grants? Well, if you are a county owned airport that is funded by tax dollars you can get additional government tax dollar funding pretty easy. Fly around the country and look at all the airports that have world class towers currently being replaced with prettier world class towers. Money is being wasted at airports across the country like never before but for places like ours, nothing is available. That said, who would want it? If you take it, you follow their rules.
What do you plan to do with the funds? Well, our goal is to repair what we have and then build a new facility that would allow us to more easily host events. This would include a hangar with restrooms, showers, and a basic kitchen. It would also give us a facility to host events that would generate revenue to keep the airport going; weddings, meetings, concerts, car shows, etc.  We've needed this all along and such a facility is critical to the long term viability of the field.
All things considered, if we are to rebuild we have no choice but to go this alone and that is why this year the friends of Lee Bottom are hosting The $100 Hamburger Tornado Relief Fundraiser Fly-In. If you are interested in participating, please check out our website to give and to read up on some of the details that will be different from other events.
Today, no repairs have been started and our estimated losses, after insurance, are well over $150,000.
*You are welcome to come early and camp but transportation, food, showers, etc will be on you. This will be equivalent to a Sinful Sunday event in terms of services available.
*We do have rooms at the Clifty Inn reserved for the weekend. The code is on the website.
*If ten people show up for a hamburger, it will generate more airport funding than any of our events in history.
*If you usually attended all our summer events, you only have to pay the gas for one trip. This is likely equivalent to a $100 Hamburger.
*If you plan to attend, please bring a chair. Most of our picnic tables, standard tables, and chairs were shredded in the storm.
*Please share the details of this event with your friends.

*See those buttons there at the bottom below this last line?  Those are there to help you share this post with all your close, distant, and social network friends.  Try them out and spread the word.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sex, Politics, and Religion; Actually It was Just a Job

Twelve and a half years ago, I turned in my Dakota keys for that of a Saab. I had been offered a seat in the jet and yet I took the turboprop because I thought that was more logical. Today nobody would do that and back then I was one of the last.
Things were roaring in the industry at the beginning of 2000 and for whatever reason, I had taken the advice of many people and acquired a spot at one of the regionals. It was so crazy that year that the conversation in the crew room was not of where you would like to go but “where are you going to go?” Seriously, things were moving so fast, people actually thought they would just work at a regional for a year or two and then move wherever they wanted. A few did, most did not.
Myself, I was the oddball. People would ask me the question “Where are you going to go?” and I would answer “Well, if I could go anywhere it would be FedEx or Southwest”. This was always followed by guttural sounds of disgust as the words “I would never work at a low cost airline” or “I would never fly cargo” were spoken to me as if I were from another planet. When things went south after 9-11, those same people got jobs at Southwest and FedEx and I was snubbed. But hey, that’s how it goes for aviators in an industry of pilots.
Oddly, as much as people wanted to move on, the company I worked for was loved by crews. On several instances grown me wept on their last day. One in particular comes to mind because I witnessed it. An old salt at our company, this guy was taking a risk with airline that was new to the world. It was called Jet Blue. Back then, people thought he was crazy too. Today, I imagine he’s in the top 50 at that marvelous company. Sadly though, today nobody cries when they leave.
After living through one of the most insulting interviews ever at FedEx, never being called by Southwest, and turning down a job offer at Continental, today I found myself flying my last flight at the same company I expected to leave long ago. Admittedly, there was a time things were so good it was easy to consider staying. Yet like so many other places, it has now become a cesspool of union vs. executive rhetoric dressed as concern for the little guy. That is why last year I began to consider my options. A few months later I was in “the pool” at a great place and expecting a call within a month. Eight came and went.
Then came a day that felt like bottom. Running into a good friend in the crew room, he asked “Weren’t you supposed to leave long ago?” I was and although he was joking, and I often joked about my thousand yard stare, for some reason at that moment it resonated with reality. As the day progressed, things got worse. Everything that could go wrong did and everywhere I looked it seemed was a message for me, “Get out, get out now, RUUUNNNN!” Yes, it was one of those days when a person knows they no longer belong and can no longer hide it in the back of their mind. I think everyone has been there for something and it’s a miserable feeling. Fortunately, it almost always is followed by a positive but I couldn’t find it.
Weather delays, reroutes, and a controller who couldn’t get anything right chose to pick on us as if we were to blame. Some places are known for cranky controllers looking for a fight and on that day we would pass through one such wedding cake three times. That’s how we ended up briefly accused of doing something wrong. When you forget your assigned speed, turn the wrong direction, and forget to hit “NAV”, among other things, being called out is helpful because you actually did them and you can correct them. When you’ve done everything right that’s a different story. Unfortunately, the pilot is always assumed to be the wrench in the gear. It’s so bad at times that I occasionally find myself expecting to be corrected by the restroom concierge for dressing the wrong direction. It’s maddening. The FAA’s cultivation of an us vs. them mentality has removed many of the common sense methods that once made things work and replaced them with procedures. Therefore, at fault or not, pilots often end up filling out senseless paperwork merely for the purpose of heading off senseless attacks created by poorly thought out procedures; in this case, a standard arrival and an RNAV arrival that are nearly identical.
Pecking away on the computer at the end of a terrible day, filling out forms that I never fill out (for many reasons), thinking of how I would rather be anywhere else, and that I would never be called, I found myself at the punch line. All of these “programs” have them. What’s the punch line of a safety program? Well, it’s the point where they offer you the chance to offer solutions. It’s a punch line because it’s a joke. Only there to make it appear they care what you have to say, it’s the one place where pilots get to have fun because nobody is going to read them anyway. Yet, as the letters on the screen added up, once again I found myself the victim of optimism “…and having researched this on the web, I have found a large number of identical issues reported. If you want a fix this once and for all, change one of the arriv” RIIING. Grabbing my phone like I was jerking a knot in it, I looked to see a strange number. Ordinarily I would never answer an unknown number but being at the point of not really giving a shit I did.  How bad could it be? At the very worst it could be someone telling me my house had been hit by a tornado Yep, it was a bad day and this solicitor chose the wrong person to call.
Wrestling the screen with my thumb, I tapped it and answered with an I’m having a bad day and why the hell are you calling me “YEAH?” On the other end, the poor guy asked sheepishly “Is this Rich Davidson, I’m calling from _____”. HA!  Moments earlier I had decided this call would never come and now like a dealer offering a hit of something I'd almost escaped, the guy on the phone offered what I wanted; international cargo.
One week later I would fly my last flight at my third commercial aviation job. Thinking it through, it felt shameful to have stayed twelve years; a lifetime wasted. Then I noticed a DC-3 sitting neglected by the runway. Just before the same twelve years, I was hauling freight in such a plane and often crossed paths with that very machine. During nights encrusted with ten carat hail and haunted by the soundtrack of radials, her crew and ours would swap stories of leaks in the cockpit and lightning on the horizon. In short, I was moving cargo.  Now, ONLY twelve years later, I find myself about to do the same in 747’s.
Notes about twelve years of life: You would think that after twelve years at a company, I would be a little sad to leave. I was not. In fact, it had become so bad that long ago I disassociated and now it is as if it never happened. How anyone could take something as amazing as aviation and turn it so miserable is beyond me. I believe the reasons are many but I will not go into them. Instead, I would like to discuss the one good thing about the job; all the wonderful people I met.
Along the way I met some of the most well known people in the world, several of the most powerful politicians, and even a few legendary business people. Yet it was the other people I’ll never forget. The stories are amazing and too varied to cover here. But, I’ll try.
I will never forget the pilots from other airlines who were trying to get home for one reason or another. One guy needed a jumpseat because someone important to him had been killed and another witnessed me do something colossally stupid and then turned to genuinely suggest I considered applying to his very successful airline; he was an assistant chief pilot and he claimed he had always wanted to do what I did. There are all the exhausted crew members who fell asleep hanging from the harnesses of an uncomfortable jumpseat and those who allowed me to do the same in theirs. Some of them had been at work too long, some had so much going on that was the only time they had to sleep, and others, like me, merely fall asleep as soon as they set down in any airplane they aren’t flying.
I will never forget the soldier I flew home. It was the last leg of a journey from a hospital overseas and I ended up waiting and talking with him while a wheelchair made its way to the airplane. “What got you” I asked. “An IED Sir”. “Are you doing ok?” I asked. “Yes sir, I have a plate in my head, lost a large percentage of several organs, there’s nerve damage, still some shrapnel, and many bones pinned together. I should be ok but I do have nightmares”. As he told me these things I got the distinct impression nobody else had asked. He was young and he was a great man. I also got to fly a German Sheppard to his new home in Milwaukee. This dog was nationally famous. He had been a soldier in Iraq and a human soldier had fought hard for the right to save and bring him home. And of course there was the family who wanted their son’s ashes to ride in a special place on the way home. I obliged without question; where that was is between them and me.  And of course there was the Medal of Honor winner I met in line at Chik-fil-A.  When I saw his cap and the Flying Tigers symbol, I had to ask if he had won the award.  That led to a convesation about how he was one of the first Flying Tigers, how he made his way to China, and many other things.  He was in a wheelchair and too soon he had to go catch his flight.  He was heading home from what he said would likely be the last reunion.  A month later I read he had died.
Along the way I flew under the colors of TWA, United, Delta, American, US Air, Continental, America West, Frontier, and some other company I can’t remember right now. Continental is well known in pet circles for its relatively good treatment of animals. Before I go any further, allow me to ask you to please never ship an animal on an airline. It is cruel even under the best circumstances. Even if they are treated well, the environment is extremely stressful for them. Now, that’s I’ve spoken my peace, here’s to all the little cats and dogs and even birds that I took time to walk back and hold, scratch their heads, or talk to. I could tell it made them feel better and it was always the highlight of any day.
The people I worked with were great; a truly wonderful bunch. There was the female whose basic flying skills were consistently better than all others, the guy who was easily the best FO anyone will ever have, and one good friend who was one of the first Captains I flew with. Many wonderful crew members moved on, upgraded, got married, had kids, and even told the industry to go suck it so they could go home to be with their families (my personal heroes). Several of the people I hope to talk to on the phone when I am old and gray(er) were FO’s when I first met them. One of them is the most loyal person I’ve ever known, one prefers farming to flying, another has truck loads of weaponry, and the others stand out because they are quite normal; an oddity in aviation.
Many of the Flight Attendants I flew with were surprisingly wonderful and I wish them the best. One was the life of the party and she ended up running off to marry some Southwest pilot; go figure (party/Southwest). Another FA showed up to help us clean up after the tornado. She too was a lot of fun with an equally good heart and a great sense of humor. Oh there are so many more. I wish you were paid better.
Outside of the crews, I have actually come to know several van drivers, lav cleaners, tug drivers, front desk employees, restaurant employees, and a few janitors by name. When we first met, I’m sure some of them probably thought I was strange for asking them about their lives but eventually they realized I was just being friendly. I’ll miss them and I wish them the best because I’ll likely never see them again and I won’t be there to ask them if they got it.
As for people that I will never forgive and a few who will always be slimebags to me, there is Captain K and First Office W who bumped me and my uncle off a flight to DC over 175lbs of gas. My uncle was in Europe during WWII and he really wanted to see the WWII memorial. Instead of taxiing out and sitting for five minutes to burn off that gas that was nothing but extra, you bumped us off. I hope you both find a little perspective and though I know you don’t care, I’ll never forgive either of you for what you pulled that day. When it comes to slimy there is the guy who punched a Flight Attendant in the stomach when she shot him down. He went to Air Tran and is now at Southwest. And of course there is the guy who got a flight attendant pregnant and then refused to talk to her about it. When I asked him why, he said “Having a kid would be a real inconvenience for me right now”. I have no idea how I got out of that plane without killing that worthless asshole but I made sure everyone knew what a dirtbag he was; especially the flight attendants.
For the few of you guys that once were friends until you became check airmen and lost all perspective and memory of your time in the seat, I expect it to happen to politicians but not to you. I sat with one of you as a new hire on your initial landings and you F’d everything up. We all F things up and you need to remember that. Safety does not make proficiency, proficiency makes safety. It really is that simple.  You're there to make pilots better; not to make yourself look good.
My last crew: David Kuzman and Rebecca Rogers, thanks for being the way I had hoped you would; relaxed and going about the day as usual. Dave married one of our previous flight attendants (Nicolette) and they recently found out she was pregnant. I am very happy for them. Good people should have kids and I wish them the best (I think Eldon would be a great name if they have a boy). Dave has always been on my short list of good people to fly with I hope he gets his upgrade soon. He will do a great job. And as for Rebecca, I had never met her until yesterday but she’ll do well. She’s got a great smile and a great attitude and she fits right in with the SDF gang. Thanks for an uneventful day. I’ve included a photo of the sunset we saw on the way home. I think it is appropriate. The setting of one day always precludes the rise of a new one.
Here a few stories from this job. Some of you will get them and some of you will wonder what that was all about.  It on the Saab and ended on the ERJ.
OK here goes:
*I’ll never forget all the members of the memo club. You earned it well and I am proud to call you a fellow member. Some of you gained as many as three stars.
*Safety card surfing. How did we do that without getting hurt?
*The giant bull outside our hotel in Toronto and everyone that rode it in one way or another.
*The reason our windows froze over on rotation during a snowstorm and how the Captain kept yelling “Make it fly Richie, MAKE IT FLY”.
*The tornado I saw out the right window after making a 180 degree turn to the right. Think about that one.
*The way we completely shut down Cincinnati airport for three hours and didn’t know it because we were in the Outback restaurant eating.
*Neither pilot having the charts.
*Crewmembers flying in the lav.
*Running cover for a first officer who had two women visiting him in the same hotel at one time. In my defense, I was running cover to keep the day from turning into a disaster for everyone involved.
*The FO who thought he was “the one” when a flight attendant messaged him about hooking up. Right next to him on the van another guy got the same message.
*The fact I was never called in front of the Chief Pilot for ________.
*You realize you used the F-word four times in one sentence.
*The Carmex Conspiracy that supposedly almost killed a thousand people on a fifty seat aircraft.
*Static Man – I honestly can’t believe you fell for that.
*Jumping out of the cargo compartment after landing and scaring the all female ramper crew in Waterloo, Iowa.
*Getting out of sequence for take off by accident (yeah right).
*Racing Air Tran to the runway as ground calmly said “And down the stretch”.
*Telling Houston Departure the reason for our go-around.
*Teaching new flight attendants to do stupid stuff so the next crew would think they’re crazy.
*The bar in Toronto that had photos of our pilots on the wall.
*One extremely backed up day with planes sitting everywhere a friend who was once a controller and now an FO called metering while we were backing off the gate: As soon as the engines started “Banana 3214, cleared onto the runway, back taxi full length, cleared for take-off.”
*The airplane that flew funny and we refused to fly it.
*The reason our Flight Attendant's manuals read “underwear” under the heading of “required uniform items”.
*Me to FO, “What are you working on?” FO to me, “Well, I’ve got to get these wedding present thank you cards done, sent, and to everyone before they find out we’re getting divorced”.
*The failing pilot’s seatback that had been written up 11 times in 8 different places and signed off by five company maintenance managers as fixed on six different occasions. My write-up, intended to put an end to it, was three and a half pages long. To this day I still have the message the Chief Pilot left on my phone.
*The first time my brother flew into LGA with Comair was the same day I had finished training at the company where I would spend 12 years of my life. I had been in the sim in LGA and was scheduled to commute from LGA to CVG then home. My life has had an amazing run of coincidences like this. I finished training and got a free ride home from my brother.
*Listening to Potomac Approach for the double-dog secret password neither of us had. Our government really is that stupid.
*Learning my Pakistani sim partner had been in the country illegally and working for us with apparently no background check. We found out after 9-11 and only because he was a jerk to Canadian Customs as he was trying to get back in.
*Running down a TSA Agent who had against protocol boarded our plane and then walked off across the ramp and then him telling me he could legally kill me for grabbing him and or make it so I never worked again. This is the face of our government.
*The Flight Attendant who would take all the alcohol on the airplane. Later she ended up working for the TSA.
*“Idabout ayyohclock”. This was the funniest thing I think I ever witnessed. I wish I could tell you what it’s about as it too involves the alcoholic TSA agent.
I better stop. There are so many more.

Airlines whose colors I flew under:
TWA; I miss those guys and gals. We used to joke “If you meet two pilots in the airport in St. Louis, how can you tell which one flew for American and which for TWA”? The answer was, of course, “The TWA guy will smile and say hello”. TWA was the last legend standing and several of its crew members, pilots and flight attendants, were my first crashpad roomies. I will never forget them and their stories of how “it used to be”. Damn they were off the charts. Best descriptor: St. Louis misses them.
American; I have only known three of their pilots that didn’t have mustaches. All three were great guys. As for their culture, hmmmm, well I know they taxi slower than grass grows; never understood that. Maybe if they moved faster they’d make more money? Yet, despite the days they spent on my front bumper, and despite the fact TWA would have been a better combined name, I wish them all the best. Oh, they also have a sub-airline called American Eagle that is known to the many in the industry as The Hitler Youth. Personally, I don’t like that name. They’re too old to be “youth”. Best descriptor: Pressed uniforms right down to the hats.
United; I know a few absolutely wonderful guys who fly for United. That said, United has screwed them all. Best descriptor: Four people standing, one working.
Continental; had what was likely the best operation in the US until it was merged with United. Everyone hoped Continental ways would cross over but I fear the opposite is happening. Good luck guys and gals. Best descriptor: We were the rollout customer for the 787 until someone conned us into going with the name UNITED. Where is that person so we can beat him?
America West; Remember them? They were a cool company until Airways happened. Now they are merely a call sign. Best descriptor: We had Bart Simpson on our planes.
US Airways; The perpetual fall back for prom night and the ongoing center of a silly rumor that it’s the place to be in the long term. Best descriptor: Are you lonely? Just call 1-900 1HookUp and I’ll make all your troubles go away.
Delta; five years ago they had the best operation going; five years ago. Now we can only wait and see. Best descriptor: Remember service? So do we and we hope to get it back.
Frontier; Little known fact: This is the very first airline I ever flew on. I think I was twelve. Anyway, I know a great guy at Frontier who escaped one scary place to go there only to see Frontier acquired by the same scary place. I wish the best for Frontier only because I hope my friend gets what he deserves; the best. Best descriptor: We’re that sucking sound Republic pilots hear in their sleep.

My biggest regret - Ginger never once flew with me at work.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Of Biplanes and Watering Holes

KAPOW! Then silence.
Crossing the Cascades to begin a long journey home, my mind could not free the memory. Another venture from another time had certainly left its mark. A new engine over mountains breeds nostalgia or death and I was not in the mood for either; a week’s worth of flying topped the agenda. Fortunately our cylinders, stressed by explosions, contained the force propelling us forward. Thank you God.
Through the eyes of a memory, all things are better. Ferrying aircraft is no different. Whether it’s your airframe or another’s, work, trust, and doubt are demanded. Doing so over rocks commands use of the E6B. Find "work", spin in "trust", then read the outer line for "doubt". Next, locate “mountains” on the card and slide that line through the wheels until you reach the size of mountains through which you are flying. Flip the devise over, and read the “F’d” window. There you will see your chance of death. Although E6Bs usually work on a factor of 10, this scale goes all the way to 11. But hey, that’s real flying. Aviation and risk, bred from the same desire, need each other to be whole. Without either, the other is a shell of itself. This begs the question; where’s a good shell when you need one?
Everyone deals with stress differently. Some folks laugh, others go silent, and a few people get moody. My friend up front, Glenn Frith, was the later. He’s known for that and I love to kid him about it. Yet on that day, I went easy. It was after all, his new plane I was flying; a bright blue and orange Travel Air. As for me, I relieve pressure by socializing.
If you’re wondering how this works, I’ll let you in on a secret. When flying cross-country, the best cure for tension is a good watering hole. Now you must understand, when I say watering hole I do not mean the fine establishments which retail adult beverages. Nope, for me a watering hole is a safe place to tie up (down), kick back, and if need be, get the old girl some new shoes. Yeah I know, me and my equestrian references. Anyway, every good biplane watering hole has three things in common: Good friends, good friends with hangars, and good friends who are handy with tools.
Again, don’t get the wrong idea. A good watering hole is not a place to take advantage of others. It is what it is and all of us who fly these things understand that good friends are necessary for the survival of old planes and pilots. Of course if you like old planes, your good friends are probably going to have the same passion. Likewise, if you meet someone who owns an old plane, chances are fairly good you'll like them. Ultimately, and for whatever reason, everything that makes a good watering hole involves great people and I have been fortunate to know some of the best. That’s why we were headed for Spokane.
Rolling to a stop in the cul-de-sac in sight of old friends and new, for the first time in my life I heard an engine say “I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could”. It had been a long day and the trip ahead was already wearing on me. Something just didn’t feel right and it was all I could think about. When that happens I'm usually able to resolve the problem and move on. This time was different. My first piece of solid evidence came in the form of those new friends.
Having said our hellos, exchanged admiration for every aircraft on hand, and settled into the moment, a couple walked up with a familiar story. “We were in the house when we heard a radial flying over so we stepped outside to see what it was. When we spotted the plane we were so excited we dropped everything and drove for the airport”. Although I’ve heard those words a million times, I could tell there was something different about these folks. They knew the plane and they really wanted to see “her”.
Skeeter showing us his Model T race car.  The man is amazing.
Younger years were in their eyes as they told us of tach time in this very Travel Air. Speaking through smiles, it was obvious the old girl was precious to them. Their collection of documents and photos revealed how much. One by one though, they were given to Glenn as we learned the story of each. It was their attempt to keep the history alive. With each passing yarn, more memories were triggered and the morsels of time accelerated. Back and forth they bantered, "Remember the time when…wasn't there a passenger that…what about the backfire….she’s a darter…our favorite place to hop rides was…” “WAIT, BACK UP”, we blurted. “What did you just say?” “Oh, our favorite place to hop rides was…”. “No not that, the part about a darter?” I requested. “Oh yeah, she’s a darter; that’s what we used to say; she goes where she wants. (Chuckle) But with a little work it’s not that hard to handle her.”
My suspicion was confirmed. This plane may have been “restored” but years later it was still very much the same plane our new friends had flown. The rest of the day was spent discussing the gear. Upon closer inspection, our worst fears were verified; pigeon toes. But, were they too far off to be livable where it was going? Could they easily be repaired? Was there anything else wrong with the plane? They were all good questions and they would have to wait; a night on the town was called for.  "Anyone know a good watering hole?"
Indeed, the best places to tie up involve good friends. When you find yourself at the end of the day with concerns about your aircraft, if nothing else, those folks are there for support. Thanks to them we had a good meal, took a flight in the forty, and blew off some steam. Then, like so many times before, with fewer days available than ferry time required, early the next morning our minds took us flying while our hearts stayed behind.