Monday, February 10, 2014

Talking to Anchorage

“Talking to Anchorage” is the answer I received when I walked into the cockpit.  Having just finished 5 hours in the bunk and quietly navigated the darkness where jumpseaters were sleeping, I marked my arrival up front with the usual question, “Where are we”?  Thus the response. 
Sitting in the front seats were the captain and operating first officer.  Behind them sat another first officer who together with me would replace them for the next five hours.  I leaned on the observer’s seat gathering my wits.
During other times of the year I could have looked outside to see our location but in mid-winter it’s still dark this time of day over Alaska.  Because of that the cockpit lights were up and the guys were talking about a favorite subject; flying.  That may seem redundant to non-commercial pilots but in the world of commercial aviation it’s not the norm.
Long gone are the days of pilots tapping instruments to get them to stabilize, and with them have vanished those who understood it to be an acceptable fix.  Rap the glass today and your fingerprints will do nothing but annoy the next guy as he observes the ever evolving video game that is flat screen flying.  Sigh.
Fortunately though, where I work, finding a true pilot in the cockpit isn’t that strange and there’s a reason for that.  A hard rule of aviation which few like to discuss drives it; the higher you go on the list of desirable flying jobs, the fewer pilots (aviators) you’ll find.  The closer the job gets to being a country club, the closer the pilots get to being members.
One of my first landings.
Those at top don’t like to talk about it because deep down they know it’s true.  And those at the bottom don’t like to talk about it because they do too.  The pilots at the top are there because they come from the right backgrounds and have the skills for the position; kissing butt, “playing the game”, and being “professional”.   Those at the bottom are there because they have the skills to fly airplanes; airplanes that at some point in history may have flown drugs through river valleys, hauled weapons for the CIA, and been held together with bailing twine.   Cropdusters, bushpilots, water-bombers and such, the rejects of modern aviation, almost never make it to the club.  But other than the pay, retirement, respect, what’s to like about the top?
Fortunately, at this point in time, I seem to have found the middle.
Where I work, the company doesn’t hire you because you’re unemployable elsewhere and those fit for the country club rarely stay.   With me as a likely exception, they just seem to hire good people.  Therefore, what we have is an overall group of good pilots who, with a little more ambition and passion for starch, would likely move on up.  Yet, many of them have no desire.  The country club types that stay around do so to play big fish in a little pond, and the pilot types stay around in hopes of seeing a Colonel fly without the auto-pilot.  Simple pleasures for simple minds I guess.
So like I said, when I came up front a discussion about flying, real flying, was in full swing.  I joined the conversation when the captain mentioned an RV-3.  “Want to buy one”, I asked.   His heart said “YES”, I could see it in his eyes.   Unfortunately, as he admitted, his wife preferred something along the line of a jet so the RV was out.  Then he added “Well, I need to find a nice airpark to live on first”.  And I asked, “Where do you live”?  “Atlanta”, he said.  And that’s when something very interesting happened.
Here’s how it went:
Me – “Oh yeah.  You ever go to Peach State”?
Captain – “Yeah I love the restaurant there but it’s a little far for my wife so I’m still looking.  How do you know Peach State”?
Me – “The owner is a friend of mine”.
Captain – “You fly small planes”?
Me – “I’ll fly any old plane I can get my hands on”.
Second First Officer – “Oh yeah, have you ever been to Spokane”?
Me – “Yeah, are you from there”?
SFO – “Yeah.  We have a lot of old planes out there”.
Me – “Do you know the guys in the cul de sac”?
SFO – “How do you know about the cul de sac”?
Me – “They’re friends of ours”.
SFO – “You’re kidding.  They took my wife and kid up for a flight in the Stearmans.  Larry and Addison I think.  That flight convinced my wife to let me have a plane.  We have a Bonanza there at Felts”.
Third First Office – “I know a fun airport.  Have you ever heard of a field called Triple Tree”?
Me – “Yeah; great place.  Have you been there”?
TFO – “Yeah I live nearby and go there quite a bit.  You sound like you’ve been.  Do you go to the fly-in”?
Me – “I’ve never been to the fly-in but I know the owner Pat, Mr. Hartness, and I’ve dropped in to see him.  Super guy.  He really built something there”.
TFO – “Yeah I love it there and I also do the RC event”.
Captain – “You guys are making me think of my property again”.
All of us – “What property”?
Captain – “I own a lot on this place west of Chicago where I really wanted to live but my wife wasn’t into it”.
Me – “Poplar Grove”?
Captain –  “You know that place too”?
Me – “Yeah, the owners are friends of ours, well we have several friends there; that’s another great place.  I always stop there anytime I’m through the area.  It would be an awesome place for you to live.  You could fly out of Chicago”.
Captain – “Yeah that was my thought too.  Where do you keep your RV-3”?
Me – “We keep it on a little field about half way between Cincinnati and Louisville”.
Captain – “Does it have a name”?
Me – “Yeah, Lee Bottom”.
Captain – “You’re kidding?  I’ve read about that place.  Keep wanting to visit.  Now I have to”.

SFO -  “You know, there’s a lot of guys here that really love flying”.
Captain – “You’re right; we have a lot of-em”.
All three F0’s nodded in agreement.  And with that the conversation faded with a long successive naming off of such and such with such and such airplane.
I’ll never forget that moment.  There over Alaska, six hours into a twelve hour flight to Incheon, four guys from very different backgrounds, all paid to fly 747’s, revealed their passion for aviation by the airports they frequent.  And what did I learn?  Two things: airports tie us together, the planes and people are the details.  Next, because of Lee Bottom Ginger and I have met a lot of wonderful people who either own airports or call them home and sometimes the number of people catches us off guard.  You really are our extended family.
A possible solution to an obvious problem.
If you own an airport or consider one your home, please remember that nobody ever says, “I’m going to see the Morane Saulnier MS.406"; they say, "I’m going to La Ferte-Alais".  Likewise, instead of, “I’m going to see the Avro Triplane”, they say, “I’m going to Shuttleworth”.  Pilots also don’t say, “I’m going to see Rich and Ginger”.  They say “I’m going to Lee Bottom”.
Airports are critical to our existence.  No matter how much you love your antique or classic airplane and couldn’t live without your aviation friends, if you forget your local hangout and let it die or fade away you’ll have neither.  It is for this reason we always try to express the point that preserving Lee Bottom for future generations isn’t about us.  It’s about creating a refuge for aviation; a place where aviators can set down and feel safe.


Anonymous said...

re: - the last sentence ....

Question: - .... even for Powered Parachutes?

Rich Davidson said...

Clement, We've had everything on sight. I think there may even be some photos on our website of powered chutes operating out of here. As long as the pilots know the rules of the road for operating out of a public airport, they are welcome.

Vultee Driver said...
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