The Furry Dispatcher

Posted September 1996

Another glorious Fly-Baby evening...Clear skies, temperature in the high seventies and no wind. Today I decided to try my first grass-airport landing in 848. Just a few miles from my home field is a 2000-foot private airpark. One of Pete Bowers' old friends has a home and hangar there; I used to drop in on him with N500F and figured it was time to show him the new 'Baby.

Dave is interesting on his own. He's a long-time homebuilder and antiquer. He's one of the two people I know who ever survived a midair...he was flying his Fokker Triplane replica (see page 4 in KC, first edition) and a Cessna knocked his rudder off. He walked away from the smash, and is currently rebuilding his Tripe.

Anyway, I managed to land on the grass without knocking any bits of my own airplane off. I taxied up to his house and cut the engine. As I squirmed my way out of the cockpit, two dogs appeared. One was a friendly old yellow Lab that I'd met before. The other...well, I couldn't quite tell WHAT it was. All I saw was a greyish-white blur, smaller than the Lab, about the size and general configuration as a Sheltie. It kept running circles around the 'Baby. I kept a mistrusting eye on it, expecting it to jump atop the wing.

Dave wasn't home right then, but drove up just as I was getting ready to fire up and taxi out. As I showed him the airplane, a Cessna L-19 taxied past.

"There goes that damn dog," he said.

Sure enough, the grey blur was heading towards the taxiing Cessna. It darted up to the left main wheel, spun around the tail, and dashed up the to the right wheel.

"What kind of dog is that?" I asked. "A Sheltie?"

"Naw. Australian Sheepdog."

Sure enough, that dog was *herding* the Cessna. When the yellow taildragger spun at the end of the taxiway to face down the runway, the Sheepdog darted at the tailwheel. You could practically see her smug impression as the plane ended up pointing the way "she wanted". A four-legged airplane dispatcher.

Then the pilot put the hammer down. The dog raced alongside the Bird Dog, only slowing down when the plane climbed away.

"I'll try get her out of your way," said Dave. He called the dog. But she had seemingly disappeared...except for a pair of bright eyes and grey ears, watching from a bush near the taxiway.

I fired up and taxied out. I stopped far before the end of the runway to do my runup, hoping to fool the dog into thinking I wasn't actually going to fly. No such luck.

I worried a bit as I turned around at the departure end. The dog probably wasn't used to Fly Babies...would the flying wires scoop her up?

Turned out the dog was smarter than that, too. I shoved the throttle forward, and the dog took station about fifteen feet off to the side and about ten feet ahead.

By this time, I'm pretty confident on the 'Baby's ability to run straight on takeoff without undue attention. Don't tell Hinson, but I kept glancing at the dog.

The Fly Baby picked up speed. The dog didn't even look at the airplane. She just ran faster. Her nose got closer to the ground. The tail streamed out flatter. Four paws churned the close-cropped grass. The pooch seemed almost to be levitating; the legs almost disappeared.

Finally..far later than I thought it would happen...the dog edged back, out of sight. A few seconds later and 848 was climbing away.

That animal had me grinning all the way back to the home 'drome. You have to wonder what goes though the mind of a critter like that... is it just thinking that the airplanes are very large, very noisy sheep? Or are Australian Sheepdogs migratory, and is it just trying to hitch a ride back to Woomera?

Still, not a bad existence. Lie around the airport all day, just taking time in your busy schedule to keep the airplanes moving along the taxiway and straight on the takeoff run....

Ron Wanttaja 

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