In “The Wind and the Willows” … the character Water Rat says something to the effect that there is nothing quite so satisfying as just messing around in boats. And as someone who grew up with canoes and homemade boats, a once and (I hope) future sailor, and the current owner (along with the bank) of a very modest little 20 foot fishing boat, I have to agree with that assessment. When I had sailboats, I spent many blissfully relaxing hours tacking back and forth across the Chesapeake Bay, and some equally satisfying time folded into a lazarette fishing CNG hoses, or nearly upside down, halfway under a partially-dismantled diesel engine trying to determine why there was no water coming from the exhaust … or suited up in Tyvek with a sander or a paintbrush under a boat on jackstands getting ready for the upcoming season. Nothing quite so satisfying as just messing about in boats.
But before I was a sailor, I learned to fly little airplanes. And I have never lost my affinity for things that fly.
I mention this because the Chamber of Commerce function I attended last night was in the hangar of Craig Air Center, a mostly-charter operation flying out of Craig Field about 6 miles from my house. They’re also trying to establish a scheduled route between Craig and Marsh Harbor down in Abaco, which I hope someday to be able to afford. When I walked into the hangar last night, I was simply captivated.
Now, there was nothing around that I’d ever been even remotely qualified to fly. A King Air sat in the hangar, and outside was a little Lear and a BeachJet 404. There was one other airplane in the hangar that I didn’t recognize. Big iron … fists full of throttles … airplanes that a single-engine-airplane-land pilot like me dreams about. And the doors were open.
The Lear got my first look. I climbed the steps, turned left, and was greeted with an aroma that I’ve only smelled in an airplane cockpit. I don’t know if it’s the electronics, or if it’s just my imagination … but I love that smell. I scanned the instrument panel, and everything was at once exotic and familiar. Horizontal Situation Indicator, turn and bank, altimeter, vertical speed indicator, radio stack with VHF and transponders and VOR and on and on and on. And all surrounded by circuit breakers and indicator lights and gauges and dials and switches … all for the express purpose of getting the airplane and it’s passengers and crew safely from point “A’ to point “B”.
The event went as events do. I talked and schmoozed and met new people and chatted with old friends. But my eyes, and my attention, were continually drawn to the airplanes.
I talked at length with the General Manger of Craig Air Center about his take on the controversy over lengthening the main runway at Craig. The decision will likely ultimately be made by the FAA, but for now, given the state of the economy and other, more immediate issues the debate has been pushed to the back burner. In the nearly 3 hours on a Thursday night we were there, the event was not interrupted once by the sound of a low-flying jet. I heard a couple of little planes cough to life on the tarmac, but nothing that would cause you to take notice. I’d love to see a study about which was louder: a modern business jet developing climb power but observing noise-abatement procedures … or a Honda Civic with a big megaphone “muffler” and a sub-woofer rattling the license plate frame on Atlantic Boulevard. I have a sneaking suspicion I know who’d win … er … lose.
So yes, I love airplanes. Through the night last night, I remembered the hours I spent at Grissom Memorial Airport pumping 100LL or Jet A into airplanes, giving runway traffic, and wind information on the Unicom, mowing the grass, answering the phones, all for the privilege of learning to fly. But as much as the setting, it was the people. The pilots and characters and hangers-on that accepted me into the airport fold for the time I was there, telling stories and swapping lies and playing practical jokes … knowing that I was working towards being part of the club.
And then, and I can still see it as clearly as if it was yesterday, early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the air was calm, taxiing to the end of the runway, running the checklist, and pushing the throttle to the firewall. Eyes darting between the airspeed and the runway, reaching the magic number of about 80 miles per hour, and easing back on the yoke changing the airplane from a rolling vehicle to one that flies. Climbing away in smooth air and feeling that from here, you can go anywhere. It’s way different in the front than it is in the back.
I hope someday I can know that feeling again.