Well, for only the 2nd time in ~45 years of
flying, I had to abandon an airplane and bum a ride home.
Got the holidays off, and it happened to coincide with some
severe clear. It's a bit nippy, but nice flying
weather. I lolly-gagged through the morning, and finally
headed to the airport.
As I was getting ready to take off, a Maule did a
go-around. "Coyotes next to the runway," he explained.
A Bellanca called entering downwind. I make the takeoff
call, and rolled onto the runway.
"Watch the coyotes," called the Maule.
"Roger". I powered up. Saw they after I broke
ground, dashing back into the brush well offset from the
runway. "Coyotes are still hanging around," I called.
The Bellanca called base.
I continued my climbout, and started heading towards my usual
Call on the radio. "Are you OK?"
Continued my climb, but curved slightly back towards the
"All aircraft, Auburn airport is CLOSED, aircraft on the
Crap. I dropped down a bit and curved back. Sure
enough, the Bellanca had landed gear-up. My guess is he
got distracted by all the coyote warnings.
So. What next? Obviously just couldn't circle the
place until they cleared the runway...that could be hours.
I dropped in at the closest airport, and airpark about five
Pulled on on the apron near the office. NOW what? It
was about 2:30, and sunset was a little after 4 PM. I
called my home airport office to get an estimate...no answer,
probably out with the accident.
The airport I was at was the base for one of my EAA chapters,
and knew a couple of the members who lived on the airport.
Didn't have their numbers. Asked at the airport office,
and they gave me a couple. One number was bad, no answer
on the other.
The airport is about a 25 minute drive from my home...but my
wife is out of town. The next door neighbor I trade favors
with is ALSO out of town.
I call my home airport again. Get someone this time.
"We'll probably be clear in about an hour." About 4 PM,
just fifteen minutes or so prior to sunset.
Some problems, there.
First, it's likely to extend to sunset and beyond. Second, I
don't have lights on my airplane. Third, I'm flying as a Sport
Pilot, and am not LEGAL to fly at night. And, last, the only
glasses I had with me were heavily tinted sunglasses. Even
if willing to waive points 2 & 3, the sunglasses would make
it extremely difficult to do.
I was beginning to regret not shoe-horning the plane into the
~2000 feet left beyond the point where the Bellanca had
stopped. I saw that done once when I witnessed a
Stinson Reliant turning over on landing. one of the
local flight school Warriors snuck in.
But... I fly a very distinctive airplane. Unlike that
anonymous Piper, EVERYONE would know it was me doing a fairly
I was standing grumpy in the airport office, cogitating with no
real success, waffling about going out and doing SOMETHING, or
giving up and calling cab.
Five young men came into the office. They wanted to learn
to fly, and there is apparently a financial-aid program.
They picked up the applications, and started wandering around
The airport staffer shooed them away...they were not allowed
loose on the airport grounds.
The usual instinct kicked him. "C'mon guys...I'll show you
At that point, the usual Fly Baby magic kicked in. They
were amazed one could buy an airplane for $10,000 or less.
That it ran on car gas. That it was covered in fabric.
That anybody could maintain it.
Cycled them through the cockpit in the usual way. Photos
were taken. Fabric was stroked. Cylinders were stared at.
I sent them off happy, I think.
Karma came through. The EAA friend who hadn't been home
answered his phone. His wife came over and drove me and
another refugee back to the home airport.
Now, tomorrow, I've got to try to chase down a ride back.
So there I was, plane untied and rotated so the sun would melt
the frost on the wings, nearly ripping out my jacket, shirt, and
jeans pockets going, "Where the keys???! WHERE ARE THE
Day started off well. Last night, a neighbor offered to
drive me the ~15 miles to the airport where Moonraker had it's
little campout. We agreed to get going about 1 PM on
Sunday...giving us about three hours before the sun would set.
Didn't sleep well last night. That airport had had some
vandalism problems, which 'Raker would of course be more
sensitive to. I was concerned about frost, too. The
area I tied down in still had frost when I'd left the airplane
at about 4 PM that day. I was going to have to make sure
it got cleaned off.
I was also worried about showing up without my flight gear or
the airplane keys. The airport staffer had given me a
garbage bag for my flight gear (helmet, goggles, scarf, gloves,
facemask) and I had kept them in there. I attached the
airplane keys to my regular key ring with a twist-tie.
A bit before 1 PM, I locked the front door of my house, climbed
in the car, and drove down the street a bit. My neighbor
followed me to my home airport, where I left the car and climbed
in with him to go to where the plane was sitting.
Got there just fine. He offered to hang around until the
engine started. Plane was intact, with most of the frost
melted. I untied it and rotated it around in the sun to
get rid of the rest. Reach for the keys to open the
baggage compartment and store the cockpit cover....
No keys. Anywhere. We searched the parking lot, we
checked my friend's car. My airplane keys have a big hot
pink key fob (souvenir from a Romance Writer's of America
conference...my wife's a published romance author) so they HAD
to show up if they'd just been set on the ground.
Went nuts for ten minutes trying to find them. Considered
backups...cutting the P-leads to make the mags hot, prying open
the baggage compartment to if there was a spare set in the
Gave up, and had him drive me home. Thought I knew where
the backup set was. I started walking to the front
door, and there were the keys with the hot-pink fob. Just
sitting in the grass. Apparently the twist tie had just
Got back to the airport about 2:15. Stuck the keys in the
ignition. Wiped the rest of the frost of the wing.
Donned the scarf (wasn't intending to fly long, didn't need the
face mask), climbed in, slid on the helmet, and fired up.
Fifteen minute trip back home. Back in the home
hangar...and off to Ace Hardware to get some spare keys made.