Standing in sun this morning, wearing my flight jacket, a warmth I haven’t felt in months washed over me. Snow has melted and left the ground a soggy brown muck. Some little gray frozen piles live in the shadows, still holding on despite the warm temperatures. Lakes and ponds still retain some ice, but the rivers are flowing strong, lanes of light brown waters raging over their banks from the excess melt over the past couple of days. It is a very welcome feeling to have had this day of sunshine and westerly winds, minimal clouds, and best of all, no work to fill my brain with numbers, spreadsheets, employee relationships, or budgets.
This has been a trying week to be the boss, however I am not about to go into the details of the work week. This is about flying, and flying is what we did today. Big Red must have knew I was coming, as I was sure she was smiling in the hangar. Afraid that the cold temperatures and lack of use had flattened the tires or drained the battery, I was very pleased to see that she sat straight and stout when I entered the hangar. A quick blast of heat into the engine got the cylinders warm and the oil flowing. Fuel was at half a tank, so we would have to top off the tanks this day as much flying was ahead. Today’s flight was without real purpose other than to put a couple thousand feet between my butt and the muddy ground. Air Therapy! Just fly. Wander. Soar.
Last year wasn’t the best of flying seasons, since our lovely old girl spent much of the good months in repair. Big Red had had a top end overhaul with new cylinders, pistons, rings, valves, lifters, seals, gaskets, liners, and a slough of parts I have completely forgotten unless I were to study my credit card bill once again. At any rate, flying was limited. This winter has made flying nearly impossible with the cold, snow, and great polar vortex of myth and legend – if you believe the hype.
Ah, but today. Today was such a pleasant and welcome surprise. Although there was a good breeze, the wind was only about fifteen degrees off the runway centerline and therefore wasn’t much of a concern for the big tail Stinson. My father, new license in hand, rode as co-pilot. Nothing sounds quite like a Franklin engine at full bore on take off, and with the engine delivering the power it was designed to, we were off in short order and climbing out at 800 feet per minute.
The landscape can seem quite boring and brown this time of year. The fields are flooded in the low lying areas, with lingering snow and ice build ups in parking lots or hiding under the shade of a tree line. As we gained altitude after the first lift off, houses became just small pebbles on the landscape and that to me was not boring. Brown yes, but not boring. As pilots, we can see the beauty of any landscape, as it is our back drop, ever changing – evolving. Life happens down there, but our spirit lives up in the clouds.
To be truthful, flying allows me the total freedom to be separated from the normal life below. Even at 1,000 feet above the ground, people are like dots in space, and traffic moves in an organic, throbbing pace down roads and interstates. The separation from being on the ground is the ultimate reward. From above, you can see the best in the world without having to deal in the mud and the shadows. I flew over a barn today, and I must have flown over it a hundred times before, but this was the first time it ever truly caught my attention. On its roof, the farmer had painted “Have a Nice Day!” Thanks, I said. I am having a nice day.
We just flew. Climbed, banked, pushed over, pulled back, repeated the process until our feet and our hands worked in coordination on instinct. Dusting the cobwebs of our skills seemed logical and required after months on the ground, yet surprising ourselves at how natural it all felt. A pilot knows that flying becomes a skill set that is almost as natural as breathing and walking. Just feel yourself through the air, feel what the plane is doing, and how it flows through the air. Don’t ever fight it – that’s what leads to trouble. Just relax and fly.
I was so pleased to see so many friends at the airport today. After the first flight, I urged my father to go grab the FBO Cessna and take a fellow friend in the air with him. My friend and my father are new to the air as licensed pilots, but they both have skill and passion for the air. So it was with great pride and fun that Big Red soared about the skies with a Cessna creeping up its tail. Red returned the favor a couple times as well, scooting in behind them and looping inside their turn. We’re a long way from an aerobatic duo, but it was fun to dance about the sky with my father and friend. And it was even more fun to come to the ground and laugh at each other’s rather poor landings! But hey, if we were perfect…. No, we’re not perfect. We are just pilots.