Flying Journal - Enough Theory, Let's Have Some Action
Long-time Ozarks radio personality, Bill Ring, used to say, "If you're too busy to go fishin,' you're TOO BUSY!" Paraphrasing Ol' Bill, I realized I must have been too busy because I've been too busy to go flyin'. So I resolved to do something about it. Just thinking about doing some-thing made me feel better. I just have to admit it-if I don't fly some minimum amount, I'm not really a happy camper. In light of last month's column, I was probably getting depressed from flying withdrawal, and then even when I was trying to get an aviation fix by reading about it, I was depressing myself thinking about accidents and politicians.
So what was I going to do about it? Well, I further realized even a lot of the flying I have been doing has been just instructional, which is fine, but I have fairly advanced students at the moment and I hardly ever get to do a steep turn or even a landing on my own. So I told myself, "You silly goose, just schedule some fun flying!" Bill Cheek and I have planned our St. Louis trip in a couple weeks and this weekend I'm flying with friends to Indianapolis. They are going to a concert and I'm going to visit my granddaughter. That'll be great.
I did fly a business trip with a friend to Kansas City last week and that was fun. Missouri has really greened up in the last couple weeks. This last rain should help us start getting our exercise-you know, cutting the grass. But still, Earl, stay to the point, you need some fun flying. So I just "Nike-ed it"-you know, "just do it!" Last Friday I just borrowed a friend's Cherokee 180, strictly to practice by myself and for fun. I can't remember the last time I "soloed."
I took off the airplane's cover, unlocked the door and sat in the right seat. I took the fuel tester from the glove box and leaned over to pull the checklist from the pilot's side pocket. As I sat up with the checklist, I had one of those strong déjà vu moments. I returned to a vivid memory of my second or third flight lesson, when I carefully went around the Cessna 152 at Springfield Downtown Airport the first time I worked my way through a pre-flight by myself. Along with that memory returned the same original feelings of excitement and anticipation.
As I methodically worked my way down the checklist and around the plane, draining fuel sumps, checking tanks and caps and belts, I tried to savor each experience for its own sake. The pungent blue of the fuel samples, the little slide of rubber on waxed paint as the fuel cap turned into place, and the momentum of the ailerons as they turned on their pivots all took on a fresh significance.
I realized that so many times I have pre-flighted like a robot, or sometimes like a kid anxious to finish his chores so he can go out and play. I remembered that I used to enjoy just being around an airplane, just being able to touch it intimately and become attuned to its spirit while checking its airworthiness. That attitude was a blessing, a working meditation, and the attitude carried over through the radio calls for clearance and taxi, the run-up and the take off-"Fly runway heading; Cleared for takeoff."
I had spent quite a bit of time savoring the simple sensory experiences of preparing to fly. But now my stomach was growling. I announced my arrival into the pattern at Bolivar, gauged the growing crosswind and paid close attention as I felt for the crosswind correction on short final. The upwind wheel must have kissed the runway a moment earlier, but then I heard that satisfying little "chirp-chirp" as the other two tires touched down.
In the "Plane Café," I also savored the lunch special-Bar-B-Que ham sandwich with Tater Tots and salad. Other fond memories of airport lunches flooded in. You know how smells can trigger memories in the most direct way, memories of lunches with Bill and Raymond and other students and friends.
After lunch and checking out the planes for sale on the airport bulletin board, I went out, practiced a simulated soft-field take-off and flew to the practice area between Bolivar and Stockton Lake. After a few maneuvers to reassure myself I could still fly, I started paying the same kind of attention to the terrain as I had devoted to the plane on its pre-flight. I checked the condition of the old grass strip where I first learned to fly a taildragger. I was pleased that it appeared well-maintained. As I tried to prolong this pleasant and meditative attitude, I noticed the tiniest details on the ground, details like the trails cattle make through their pastures, and even cattle that seemed too small to be cattle and turned out to be goats resting in a lush green pasture.
Last summer I had worked on a couple volunteer workdays as Ozarks Greenways repaired and re-decked some of the old trestles on the Frisco Highline Trail through northern Green County. As my eyes focused through the foliage along the trail, I observed on this flight that the other trestles appeared to be nearly finished way up into Polk County. I noticed the grass runway just south of the landfill, freshly mowed. I was happy that it was still being used. As approach handed me off to tower for landing clearance, I grinned and realized I was just plane happy.
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