Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Finding Your People

Sitting on the ramp at Reno.
Finding your people is important.   If you have no opinions, enjoy the taste of white chocolate and dark, don’t really care what kind of car you drive, and find yourself easily entertained, you’re lucky.  “Your people” come in one dimension; those who breathe.  If you’re like me though, deep down inside, you know somewhere out there your people exist and for them you’re always searching.

Tom and Betty Jane doing their thing.
Does that make sense to you?  How about this?  Have you ever felt like you were dropped on this planet from somewhere else?  Has the question, “Who are these people?” ever crossed your mind?  Do you get it now?  Yeah, I bet some of you know precisely what I’m talking about.
Nice view.
If you’re still not getting it, I don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression.  It’s not my belief that any other group of people is inferior or less likeable.  OK wait, that’s not true.  Folks who like white chocolate, those people concern me.  But, for the most part I’m sticking to my story; different people are an interesting and valuable part of life.  When it comes to my people though, to me they feel like home.

Who are “my people?”  I’d love to tell you. Unfortunately, nailing down a description is difficult.  But, I guess after all that I have to try.
Biologists often spend their lives looking for new species without success.  Being able to nail down distinct differences is critical to the process.  Unfortunately, to identify most new creatures you have to deal with traits that aren’t visible to anyone but the most observant.  Although, the fact they fit into nearly any environment without appearing obvious should be the first sign to someone really sharp. Those are my people

Produced without a mold, to the eye they seem an unlikely species.  From afar their surface is random.  Yet, through a microscope their DNA seems cloned.  To them, titles are unimportant to the point of embarrassment.  They do not dress to indicate who they are, “a seat” is something to be shared, and they don’t fly for the sake of others.  There are of course more characteristics but the ones mentioned are for a reason. 

Late last year I was invited to fly with The Collings Foundation.  It may be hard to believe but at the time I actually knew very little about the group.  Years ago I wrote off warbirds as I focused furiously on flying every vintage aircraft I could find.  The downside to that was that in the process I fell out of touch with the “heavy iron” community.   Unfortunately, being aviation omnivorous, that became a problem.  Over time, my life began to feel like a dinner of meat with no potatoes.  Something had to be done.

When I couldn’t ignore my passion for big metal any longer, I did a little digging.  A short time later I asked the one person I knew within the foundation how a person could get involved.  He told me to send my resume, and soon after, I had the invite.  Thanks Ryan.

Amazingly, as much of an airplane nut I am, it took me until June to make it out on the tour to meet the group.  I regret that.  When I got there I was pleased.  Looking across that crowd, it was impossible to tell who the members were.  That’s always a good sign. 
As the day played out I couldn’t help but notice the wide range of folks involved.  Some were quiet, others not-so much, a few were from the South, others from California and the Midwest, and the rest arrived from places far and wide.  They spoke with different accents, held different points of view, ranged from 19 to (?), and seemed to have no connection other than the planes.  Ah yes, the planes, there’s the connection.  On the surface the people represented a cross-section of America.  Underneath they were all pretty much the same.
Railroad Mike never stops moving.
There in one place was a great group of folks who loved the old flying machines but shared no interest in aviation politics.  There was no fashion show, no grandstanding, and no parting of the waters when certain members of the group walked through.  And although due respect was held for leadership, it was obvious no salutes or other methods of acknowledgment were expected.

Everyone was on site to share the history of the planes with America, keep them flying, and have a good time doing it.   That’s my people; a team of enthusiasts accomplishing a task with no temperament for bullshit.  What else could you ask for?
Thanks again to everyone at The Collings Foundation for inviting me into the family.  I had a great time, was made to feel at home, and will most certainly be back to help out.  My experience left me energized and reminded me of a once beloved part of aviation I had written off to time.
Nectar of the Gods

Random notes from the trip:
1. I went on the trip planning to fly the B-24 and fell in love with the B-25.  So natural and intuitive (once you get the brakes), I couldn’t help but want more.  As for the B-24, although I ended up not flying it that much, I found it to be less of an animal than everyone makes it out to be.  I’ll discuss the planes more in the future.

2. On the second day I asked one of the pilots for a cockpit checkout in the B-24Being new, I had no interest in looking like a fool when it came time to fly.  The guy enthusiastically said yes and took me straight to the plane.  Sitting in the cockpit I received one of the best checkouts I’ve ever had.  To the point, it was what I needed to know and stated in a manner that made sense.  Who the guy was or what his background was of no concern to him or me and neither was mine.  From the get go it was merely a fellow aviator helping another aviator.  When I later found out he was only 19 I was stunned and had to laugh.  I was stunned because he was knowledgeable and relaxed well beyond his age, and I laughed because I was happy to see the group had such a person as part of the group.

3. The same night as the group was eating, I exchanged brief conversation with the chief pilot, Jim Harley.  When he mentioned having an interest in even older planes, the conversation broadened.  Eventually it came around to I want to fly this – “Me too,” I said.  Then it was I know someone who has that – me too.”  Next it was “He said he’d let me fly it – me too.”   And before long I had to stop and ask, “Wait, who are you talking about?”   – MEEE TOOOOO.  It was hilarious.  That’s when I found out our mutual acquaintance had been part of the Collings clan for a long time.  I couldn’t believe it.  It knew right then I was going to have fun.  Mutual friends, mutual interests, and a shared passion for hilarity.  And who could ever forget the peacock feathers conversation?  My God I could barely breathe I was laughing so hard. 
Jimmy's reaction to my flying.  Couldn't quite tell if it was
terror or amazement.  Judging by the screams though, I'm going
with terror.
I have a fun story for everyone I met during the week. Pilots, mechanics and organizers were an equal and enjoyable part of the group.  There were so many fun moments.  Next time I'll get to theirs.

The last thing I would like to share about my experience is something I noticed during the week.  There is a large generation of “descendants of WWII” who view these planes as a connection to long lost family members.  The Greatest Generation may be almost gone but those they’re leaving behind want to be good sheperds of history.  They may not be pilots, mechanics, or even enthusiasts but they certainly understand the importance of these machines and find great peace is supporting and being around them.  In fact, I was describing this to Ginger the other night at dinner.  Then, today I see someone posted this link online.  It is exactly what I was thinking after my time with the foundation.  Click here to read it.

1 comment:

yoloflyer said...

What a pleasant surprise to find your Collings story in my email inbox this afternoon. I was in the back of the B-24 when it flew from Stead to McClellan, thanks to Jimmy, who has a hangar around the corner from me and is an all-around Great Guy. Unforgettable. I have my own "descendants of WWII" story, which made the experience even more memorable.