Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bearhawk to Alaska – Part 1

Several years back, Ginger and I were tasked with flying the Avipro company demonstrator Bearhawk to the Alaska Airmen's Association Trade Show.  That state is, after all, a perfect market for it.  Cruising at 150+mph with a stall speed somewhere at or below 40mph, and an amazing cargo capacity, the Bearhawk seems made for the 49th state.  All we had to do was get it there.  Yes, as they say, it was a tough job but somebody had to do it.
Knowing the weather between Austin Texas, the aircraft’s home base, and Anchorage would likely have some long stretches of no-go weather, we arrived early and we were keen to get off the ground.  Our goal was to fly somewhere, anywhere, before sunset and that’s what we did.  Launching late in the evening, we flew steadfast until the sun ran out.  Looking at the chart for a place to land, a name jumped off the paper, Breckenridge.  “You know, that sounds very familiar for some reason.  There’s something there but I can’t remember what” were the words I spoke, and Ginger agreed.  Therefore, it was decided the small town in Texas would be our home for the night.
Taxiing into the ramp, that “something” we couldn’t remember filled the windshield.  There in front of us was Ezell Aviation, one of the world’s premier warbird restoration shops.  Aircraft of every type, from all corners of the planet, had graced that ramp.  Yet, once we stepped out of the airplane, had we not been familiar with aviation the extreme quiet and lack of anything what-so-ever going on would have masked its existence.
Every pilot with any hours has experienced our next thirty minutes.  Time was running out and we needed to move.   Fortunately, proper crew resource management made it easy; I tied the plane down while Ginger went to round up transportation.

Ladies, dispute it if you want, but I can tell you with great surety that any female aviator who truly believes “everyone is so nice” is blind to reality.  Nowhere on the planet are such a high percentage of people nice.  Deny it and you’ll miss opportunities.  Accept it and you’ll find transportation much easier to locate.  Combine that understanding with a true knowledge of  aviation and the world of flight is your oyster.  So, like I said, Ginger went to find us transportation.  A short while later she returned.
Having made her way to a phone, she had found a number, dialed it, and who but Mr. Ezell himself had answered.  Nelson (Mr. Ezell), a genuinely friendly guy, had made it easy and told her where to find keys to the car, where to stay, and which waitress to say hello to when we ate at the recommended restaurant.  Furthermore, she was told that we should come find him in the morning for a tour.  Ah, Texas hospitality; it’s hard to beat.
The next day, we left the recommended hotel in Nelson’s courtesy car, went for breakfast at the restaurant he suggested, and said “yes” when everyone asked us “is that the airport car”.  There are few other sports, if any, with such a large fleet of mechanical ambassadors, and the number of folks who treated us as family due to that car proves their effectiveness.
Back at the plane with our bags on the ground and the keys returned to their spot, we decided it was time to visit.  Then, like rookies, without thinking we headed right to the hangar and walked straight through the door.  I say “without thinking” because I firmly believe places like this should have “ATTENTION: Please gather your thoughts and take a deep breath before entering” posted above all entrances.  If you love flying machines, the view inside such locations can be overwhelming and it’s rare to find anywhere to sit down and collect your wits.
Even knowing what to expect, Ginger and I were stopped in our tracks by what we saw inside.  Bearcats, Fifi QEC’s, and even an amphib Husky belonging to Red Bull sat mingled among the countless rare aircraft under restoration.  To list them all would be difficult so we'll just go with "WOW".
We had a great time with Nelson that morning.  After viewing the shop, he asked to see the Bearhawk and to my surprise knew a great deal about it, we discussed mutual friends, and after taking a break to talk to Howard Pardue, we walked over for a tour of his hangar.
There are so many obvious things one could say about Howard’s airport get-a-way and the aviation history inside, but the large, and I mean massively large, containers of wine corks spoke of his ability to have fun and entertain others.  I can’t imagine what a hole his loss has left in the community and I’m sure he’s missed every day.  Here’s to you Howard.
Back at the Ezell hangar, Ginger and I took one last look around as the crew prepared to move a Mustang onto the ramp.  We were thanking Nelson for his time and were just about to leave when out nowhere his dog appeared and jumped into the bed of a four wheeler sitting next to us.  “She knows it’s going to move”, he said with a smile.  “That’s what Texans call a truck slut; she’ll ride in anything that moves”.  Apparently, the low rumble of the hangar doors sliding open had triggered her actions and the look on his face spoke of a man whose existence was made better by the presence of a puppy; a photo was necessary and I stepped back to take one.  That's it below.  If you look at it and experience anything but a heartwarming smile, you’re in the wrong sport.
Walking toward the Bearhawk, a feeling well known to pilots slowed our feet.  It’s always tough to leave friends behind.  And yet, despite nearly every great aviation experience demanding it, it never gets old.  Maybe, in a way, we’re all masochists?  I took one last look back and kept walking.

Our harnesses latched and the doors secured, we moved forward.  Ahead was the next memory and the friends it surely held.

1 comment:

Ken Bittner said...

As I read your posts you somehow always manage to make me feel like I'm there with you. But...that's the point, isn't it?
Great job!