Posted July 2010
I really didn't want to fly.
Work has been intense for the past several months.
I'd been working until eight o'clock most nights, coming home exhausted
to eat supper, read the newspaper, and go to bed. I'd taken a Saturday
off to work with the A&P for the Fly Baby's annual, but hardly had
had a chance to fly it since.
I'd worked even harder this week to get far enough ahead so I could
take the whole Independence Day 3-day weekend off. The issue
wasn't settled until about 6:30 Friday evening. I left work with
mixed emotions; I was free, but my friends would be coming in.
After their repeated assurances that, no, they didn't need me to come
in and help, and "you look like hell, get out of here," I was free for
Free? Perhaps. I was facing an article deadline, so I got
up early Saturday to do the research and start writing the piece.
It was cold and rainy, and I could just as well work on the computer.
But the rain stopped; the streets dried. The clouds didn't go
away entirely, but patches of blue opened up. But I was tired;
the research turned out to be more complex than expected, and geeze, I
really didn't feel like flying.
But...weather breaks had been rare around here, especially on the
weekends. The last time it'd happened on the one weekend day I'd
had off, I *hadn't* flown. Stayed home and napped, in fact.
So the "guilts" were at work. Why own a plane, if I didn't fly it
at least once in a while?
So I dragged myself out to the car and headed for the airport. As
I got closer, I noticed people with blankets and lawn chairs set up on
the sidewalks. The horse-racing track adjacent to the airport has
a fireworks display every year on the 3rd of July (so their employees
can have the 4th off) and a bunch of folks were grabbing good spots
early. Turn off onto the airport and pull up at the card-key operated
gate. Sign saying the airport would be closed from 2200 to 2300 that
evening because of the fireworks show. Through the gate and on to
When I preflighted the airplane, it was like I was looking for petty
excuses to ground the airplane and go home. Tail post
loose? Nah, solid. More oil streaks than normal? Not
really. That creak from the wheel... dry bearing? No, just
the brake pad rubbing a little.
Finally, the plane was sitting outside the hangar on the ramp, and I
was zipping up my jacket. I stared, morosely, at the plane for a
moment. I really didn't feel like doing this. Why didn't I
just push it back into the hangar, and go home and read? I
scanned the airplane one last time, looking for a mechanical
All right. Just go up, shoot a couple of touch-and-goes, and that
should take care of the "obligation" to fly the plane.
Onto the wing, drop into the cockpit. Straps buckled, helmet on,
headset plugged in. A squirt of prime, a tug on the handle, and
the Continental settles to an easy lope.
Taxi to the end of the hangar row, to meet a strange apparition:
Next to the taxiway sits a cannon.
It's not a *big* cannon...but it's not a little toy,
either. It sits on a standard horse-artillery carriage, about six
feet long from muzzle to end of the trail. It's just...sitting
there, pointed off across the open airfield.
On to the end of the runway for the runup. The plane feels
good. I watch a Cessna 150 do a go around, then turn back to my
own runup. Controls free. Hmmmm, maybe I'll go out and do a bit
more than just touch and goes. Throttle forward for runup.
Hmmmmm.... did it miss, just a little bit, as the RPMs came up?
Hope I don't have to scrub the flight. Mag check goes off without
a hitch, so we're good.
Start rolling onto the runway. "Auburn traffic, Fly Baby
eight-four-eight departing Runway three-four, departing to the east."
Throttle forward...and the Fly Baby starting doing its magic.
The first time I'd flown a Fly Baby, about twenty-five years ago,
I laughed aloud climbing out after my first takeoff. I
haven't done that since...but, really, the feeling is still
there. Cares seemed to drop away like the last grass clippings
clinging to the 'Baby's fat tires.
Turn south, head over the nearby Indian Reservation. Fireworks
stands are going gangbuster business. I expect to see a barrage
of rockets and roman candles aimed my way, but maybe I'm just too high.
The mayor of my city is absolute *death* on fireworks. Nothing
that goes up or blows up; the big display at the horse track is all
we're allowed. But of course, the reservation is its own
territory There's a line of backed-up cars leading from "Boom
City" into the town. The mayor often has police cars stationed at
the city limits, making the incoming drivers a bit nervous. Those
with fireworks are, technically, breaking the law...and the road
through town is the only one back into the populated area.
(Let me quickly add that we've got a pretty good mayor. I don't
agree with him on everything, but he runs the city well. He just
has this "thing" about fireworks...)
Anyway, I curve the Fly Baby away from Boom City and wing above the
farmland. With all the rain this year, everything is a lush
green. I wing over to a co-worker's house, and blip the
engine a couple of times. No response. Hope he's out riding his
bike, and not still at work.
Start heading back. I note an airplane crossing from my left, a
few hundred feet above, going like a scalded cat. I realize it's
a fellow chapter member's bright red Falco...a past Oshkosh Grand
Champion. As he crossed above and in front of me, I curve in
behind. We're close enough to his home field; I punch in that
frequency on the Icom. "Hey, Dave, I'm on your tail."
I wish. His plane is over twice as fast as mine.
The Falco's right wing slices down. "I'll get out of your way,"
comes the response. I pull the Fly Baby around to keep the Falco
in my sights. He race-tracks back, and soon we're passing
right-side-to-right side like a pair of jousting knights. I wave as the
red Italian design flicks past (several hundred feet of separation,
"Been getting IFR current for the trip to Oshkosh," he says. He
usually goes early to teach wood-building techniques at the Air Academy
"Right...have a good trip!" I start heading back to the home
drome to do those couple of touch-and-goes.
Around the pattern, onto short final. Just off the approach end
of the runway is a commuter parking lot with a wide, grassy verge
leading to the threshold fence. The verge is filling up with
families staking out space for the fireworks. As I slip down, I
see children running to their parents, tugging their sleeves and
pointing up at me. I can almost hear them screaming, "Mom!
Dad! Airplane! AIRPLANE!"
Touchdown, throttle forward, go around again. The downwind leg is
directly over the horse-racing track, and I see the fireworks
technicians making their last adjustments. On final this time,
the kids have their arms out like wings, chasing each other.
I run a couple more patterns, then full-stop. On the taxi back to
the hangar, the cannon owner comes out of his hangar and waves.
Turning down my hangar row, I realized what was probably going on.
Anything that "goes up or blows up" is banned. The poor guy
probably can't fire his cannon too often, as the cops would probably be
on him like brown on rice.
Unless...unless, of course, there's a thundering great fireworks show
happening right across the street from the airport.
(the cannon was located in the dark area to the left of the bursts,
just above the rows of sodium lamps.)
I could just imagine the scene in one of the local patrol cars.
"Sergeant, didn't that sound like that came from *behind* us?"
"Nahh, it's just an echo...."
Laughing, I turned the Fly Baby in front of my hangar and shut down the
I climbed out of the airplane with a big grin on my face. The
fatigue was gone. The blahs were gone. I was desperately,
DESPERATELY glad that I'd forced myself to fly, that afternoon. I
was myself, again.
I was an aviator.
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