Olivia had the main hangar all perfectly decorated for the last day of this fly in, all gearing up for the main even this evening. I walked into the hangar and felt like I had traveled back to a time long before I was born, in a war torn country of the forties. The hangar was always adorned with old photos and paintings of vintage aircraft from the thirties through the fifties. But today, in addition, we had erected a stage for the band to set up later this afternoon. Red, white, and blue banners hung from the hangar roof and around the walls. A huge net in the center of the hangar roof held onto a few hundred filled balloons. The last night at our annual fall festival fly always has a dance and big band music. A local band from the University plays the event, a good mix of local classics, some country, and plenty of horns to really cast all the people back to a different era, a romantic age of aviation.
Each year the fly-in has drawn more and more pilots from around the country. This year was no different, with over fifty planes flying over one hundred miles for the event. More have come and gone in the past couple days. And today should bring another set just to stay for the dance. Pilot can camp with their planes, though often they opt to head up to Nashville or locally for a more comfortable bed.
The neighborhood families just east of the field would be coming over, providing home cooked foods and our free “block party” catering. This was a genius idea designed by Olivia, letting the neighborhood use this event to host a block party of sorts, and giving them all an excuse to drink excess amounts of beer while their kids had a chance to play together in generally safe environment. My employees were always on look out to keep the kids away from the aircraft unless escorted. Surprisingly, the kids understood this rule well, and we didn’t have to spend much time rounding them up. Worst were the teenagers, always trying to sneak back behind the hangars out of site from their parental units. That’s usually where the most issues arose, but thankfully, incidents were few and far between. Mostly eager boys chasing after teen girls. Pilots knew to keep their hangars locked at night with padlocks, and we kept the hangar rows well lit.
“I do say, Ms. Hughes, the place looks fantastic.” Olivia was setting up the plates and utensils for breakfast along the lone buffet line. Christy was scrambling eggs and readying the skillet for the pancakes. I checked my watch and it was nearing seven. It wouldn’t be long before the crowd started to flock in for coffee and food.
“You’re looking more alert now, Mr. Logan.” We tended to go back to formal names when I was in trouble. And I knew I was in trouble for passing out in my office the night before. But there was something else, too, and I couldn’t put my finger on it just yet.
“Big day, today.” I said.
“Would you like some breakfast, Jack?” Christy asked.
“Not yet, think I’ll go see Mike. We’ll make sure we have the projector ready for tonight and help him set up the big screen.”
“Good to see you contributing, Mr. Logan.” Olivia cast me a sideways glance and then headed back to the kitchen. I’d have to work on my apology later. Something more was bothering her other than my excessive drinking from the night before.
Christy smiled at me, assuring me that all would be fine. She saw Olivia Hughes as a grumpy old woman most days, kind of like the school teacher that all the kids hoped they never got.
I marched from the hangar and headed back towards my house. If Mike was working on the Stinson, I needed to find out what was wrong with the old girl. Red was my first airplane, and probably the sole reason for all the mischief that has happened since.
Country music blared from my private hangar, and inside I found Mike ears deep under the cowling of the old Stinson. He was sliding the generator back in place, a new gasket to replace the leaking one already in place.
“Hey Mike, she spring a new one?”
“Oh, hey there, Jack. Yes, never met a Franklin yet that didn’t leak from somewhere. But nearly done and as good as can be. She’ll be ready to fly if you want in about an hour.”
“Sure, but when you’re done there, let’s get the screen up for tonight. How’s the Goose?”
“Same as yesterday, buddy. Ready to go.”
“Cross my heart. She’ll fire on the second blade.”
“I am going to hold you to that.” I helped Mike finish up the Stinson repair, then we opened the main door and pushed her out, down the pathway and parked Red right in front of the main hangar. I always liked to line up my planes in front of the festivities. Just a boy showing off his toys, I suppose.
Mike and I started then on the big screen for outdoor projector. It was always a task to set up, but after an hour of sweating and cussing, we managed to get it up and secured with the moderate wind that was picking up. All the while, people started arriving by car and by plane. The ramp was getting full. I sent Christy out with a yellow vest to start ushering planes to tie down locations. Janet showed up and aided in guiding traffic. The parking lot filled and before you could blink the main hangar was full, standing room only, people diving into the pancakes, coffee, eggs, and bacon. Olivia and I worked side by side serving and cooking as fast as we could. A couple of the University flight instructors came by and helped serve as well. Overall, with minimal crew, we managed to feed the hoard.
Then the planes started firing up and lining up for take off. Weather was cooperating with all of us, bringing sun and light winds. Planes were going up and down for hours, generating a lot of gas sold throughout the day. Mike kept busy fueling planes, Christy manned the register, and Olivia and I just meandered through the crowd laughing and listening to the stories told. These events had a life of their own.
By lunch time, food trucks rolled into the parking lot and set up shop. Olivia and I gave up a couple year’s ago doing breakfast and lunch then hosting the dance, too. She went out to the locals to participate, and food trucks were fantastic. By the end of the night, there would be six or seven on the ramp and in the parking lot serving the masses with everything from bar-b-q to asian spring rolls.
Not long after lunch, we announced the final competition for the fly-in this year, which would be the flour drop. I put out a call to all local traffic on the Unicom and held traffic up from landing for twenty minutes as we set up a circle target just to the west side of the main runway in the grass. Target in place, all the pilots who had signed up, took to the air and started lining up for their bombing runs. I grabbed my bull horn and not knowing one from the other, just announced the plane type and numbers from my lawn chair as they made their approach. Olivia took a seat next to me, setting up her lawn umbrella. Everyone else just gathered behind us, and a make shift line was drawn on the ramp to keep everyone from wandering into the bombing zone.
Plane after plane made their approach, some too high, some way too fast, and dropped their sack of flour trying to hit the bullseye. White smudges lined the grass and runway; it was starting to look like a cake factory exploded. Then a Waco came low in a side slip, aimed and dropped. The sack landed in a white puff just five feet from the center of the target. The crowd sent up a round of cheers and hoot calls, whistles, and applause. The sound of the Waco RNF climbing out reverberated through my soul and I felt cast back seventy years in time.
I bellowed into the bull horn, “I think we have our Winner!” The crowd cheered.
Out of ammunition, the planes started lining up in the pattern and coming back in for landing. When the Waco pilot landed, it was escorted by a walking crowd back to his parking spot. Shutting down the engine, the pilot climbed from the cockpit, wearing a leather flying helmut, jacket, jeans and brown boots. Before this morning, I had not seen the Waco on the field and wasn’t sure who the pilot was. Didn’t matter really, I was terrible with names. I was glad it was a Waco that won anyway, as the first place prize was a tank of free gas and the Waco’s tank was smaller than many of the other competitors.
The pilot removed the leather helmut and deep red curls cascaded down to her shoulders. She turned and held up her arm in triumph. She was a striking young woman, green eyes, pale skin, and long legs. She unzipped her leather jacket and slung it up with the helmut into the cockpit. She wore a blank tank top, tucked into her blue jeans. She reached under the pilots seat and came up with a straw cowboy hat. Still smiling, she turned and started walking with a group of men and women who obviously knew her and they headed over to the main hangar. The rest of the crowd walked around her RNF and admired the old plane.
Olivia turned to me, putting her hands on her hips. “Think you can close your mouth Jack? Leave it open like that and you’ll choke on a fly.”
“Huh,” I managed.
“Yea, huh. Where’s airport Dog? Haven’t seen him since this morning.” Olivia started folding her chair and packing up the umbrella. I gathered my senses and helped her pack up. We carried everything back to the main hangar.
“Haven’t seen him since he woke me this morning. He’s probably shadowing Mike, usually is. Do you know who that woman is?”
“No, Jack. And by the way, I’m still mad at you.”
I paused. “Why is that Olivia. Normally I know when I mess up, but this time, you have me perplexed. Me getting drunk and passing out in the office generally doesn’t upset you.”
“I opened the letter you gave me yesterday. The bonus check, Jack?”
“Oh, that. Well, you deserve it. Why the hell does that got your feathers ruffled?”
“Because you know I don’t need the money, Jack. You should be investing that!”
“And the success of this business wouldn’t exist but for you. So bloody hell, woman, you should take the money and go on vacation somewhere for Christ’s sake!”
“Jack, you’re an idiot. But I love you like a son.” She placed the palm of her hand on my cheek. “Now why don’t you go back into that hangar and find out who she is. And then you have your big debut coming up. I am very much looking forward to seeing that Goose start up. It’s been a long road, and you deserve the night.”
“Olivia, you know me. I can tell when something is wrong, but I can’t read minds. Tell me what’s on your mind.”
“Oh dear boy, no. Just the ways of an old woman. There’s change in the wind, but I think it will bring great things for you very soon. No. Go. No more talking today. Let’s get us a drink, well one for me anyway, you’re about to start your dreams with that Goose and I want you dead sober!”
Olivia walked off to the newly setup bar area, where breakfast was served what seemed only a few short hours before. Mike, Christy and Janet were all taking orders and pouring drinks. Pilots had dragged in coolers and popping their beers. Our festive band was nearly done setting up on the stage and the evening dance would soon begin. But first, we had our big event.
I nodded at Mike, and he took the queue, leaving the bar and we headed out to the large maintenance hangar together. It was time to retrieve the Goose and start those engines. I was very concerned about Olivia, and admittedly it cast a certain doubt and churning in my gut that made me quite uncomfortable. I turned back and looked at the gathering in the hangar and couldn’t spy her anywhere. But then I saw those red curls, and my eyes paused. Mike was a few steps ahead, talking about mixture controls on the Goose, when he suddenly noticed I had stopped walking.
“Jack! You listening to me?”
“Yea, Mike. Heard every word. Do you know who that girl is?”
“No clue. Pretty though. Saw her come in this morning in that RNF. Beautiful airplane. Engine sounded strong.”
“Where’s Dog?” I asked.
“Oh, my boy came by today, took him home. Didn’t want Dog getting too attached to all the food trucks. Better he be at my house than getting lost in this crowd.”
“You know where she flew in from?”
“No the red head.”
“Jesus, Jack, focus. Now, let’s get back to the right engine carburetor.” Mike waffled on and I followed behind him, nodding my head and grunting when it was my queue to reply. So much was going through my mind, Olivia’s odd mood, the Goose, and that strange girl with the crimson hair.
We arrived that the maintenance hangar and slipped in through the side door. The hangar was dark, and I nearly tripped over a parts cart.
“Mike, turn on the lights before I kill myself!”
With that the lights boomed on, and there was Olivia, Christy, Janet, Mike’s son and airport Dog standing in front of me. Behind them was the goose, covered in a huge fabric tarp. A small tug was hooked to the tailwheel and ready to pull the plane out when the main door opened. Olivia was clutching a package in her arms, and smiling at me approached and gave me the box.
“We found this when you first had the plane delivered here. You were so giddy sitting in that cockpit, you didn’t notice what was in the aft locker of the plane. I don’t know who left it in there, but I thought you might want it. Whoever flew this plane year’s before must have left it.”
“We found this plane in a desert in New Mexico. It had been sitting there for forty years rotting away. What is it?”
“Well, open it stupid and you’ll see.” Olivia smiled and walked back, putting her hands on Christy’s shoulder. Janet was smacking her gum in her mouth, chewing with her mouth open, sporting a canary-eating grin.
I ripped off the newspaper wrapping and opened the box. Inside was the softest leather I had ever felt in my hands. I pulled it from the box and held in my hands something that I knew was at least fifty years old. It was a jacket, a flight jacket. Amazingly, the leather was supple and strong. There were signs of age and worn areas, but no holes.
Olivia said, “We can only assume it belonged to the Goose’s former owner. He must have left it in the plane. Figuring that plane was in New Mexico, not much use for a jacket like that in the desert. Try it on, Jack. I think it would fit you well.”
Inside the jacket, there was a map woven into the lining. The map was silk and very intricately stitched into the lining as if it belonged there. The map was a world map, showing all the continents across the globe. The map appeared as old as the leather, aged to vintage perfection. I pulled the jacket over my shoulders and it fit like it was made for me. The leather was soft, warm and comforting.
“It’s you,” said Janet. “You’re an old soul, Jack. It suits you.”
Mike slapped me on the back. “You look like a Flying Tiger. Now, can we get this plane out before the sun sets?”
“Guys,” I said, feeling a bit emotional. “This is fantastic. Thank you. And yes, Mike, let’s get this Goose out of here and light her up.”
The hangar door opened, casting light onto the ramp. Twilight was approaching fast, a little later than I had intended for this event. However, at the same time, it all seemed perfect for what we were about to do. Janet took control of the tug and as Mike and I manned each wing tip, she slowly pulled the covered Goose onto the ramp. Clear of the main doors, we all gathered together and walked slowly together while Janet drove the tug, pulling the Goose to the center of the ramp.
Seeing the plane emerge from the hangar, our crowd of spectators slowly started making their way over and forming a circle around the Goose. Even the food truck chefs shut down and headed up to see what was about to happen. A boy ran up to me and handed me the bull horn. As we neared the spot marked off, Janet shut down the tug and unhooked it from the Goose.
A light breeze blew from the North, and the tarp flapped in the cooling wind.
“Ladies and Gentlemen!” I called out through the bullhorn. “This has been one of the best fly-in events of my career as manager here. And tonight will go on as long as we can stand and dance. In a short while, there will be music, dancing, and plenty of liquid encouragement for all of you to have a fantastic evening.
“But first, I want to share something with all of you. For the love of aviation. For the love of our history. This has been a project of shear madness and passion. And it would not have succeeded but for those standing with me.
“Olivia Hughes!” I turned, winking and smiling at her.
Cheers and applauds erupted.
“Mike Shephard! Master mechanic and the only one I know that can carry on a conversation with a piston engine!”
“My lovely staff, Christy, Janet, and airport Dog! I thank you all for putting up with me over these past year’s to make a boyhood dream a reality. So without further delay. Let’s listen to the sound of two 450 horsepower engines come to life for the first time in nearly five decades!”
Janet and Christy took hold of the tarp and starting pulling it clear of the plane. The Goose was beautiful, shining under the evening light. It’s aluminum haul polished to perfection. White wings reflected the azure sky. A long crimson red stripe down each side, and a nose that pointed to the sky, yearning.
I walked around the rear of the plane to the entry door. As with any other time I climbed into the plane, I felt slightly giddy and childlike. But this time, I didn’t want to pause too long. The crowd was waiting for a show and I focused on what needed to be done. Mike followed me through the hatch and we made our way to the cockpit. Sitting in that left seat was like coming home.
Mike pulled himself into the right seat and grabbed the checklist from the side pocket. He immediately started calling out commands, and I followed them with action.
Left Generator On.
Primed by pumping the left throttle.
The left engine started spinning under the power of the starter motor. Smoke puffed from the exhaust. Two…three…four…eight turns, and the engine burst to life in an explosion of smoke, fire ejecting from the exhaust. Quickly the engine smoothed out and came to an idle at eight hundred RPM.
We followed the same procedure on the right engine, and similarly, it fired almost immediately. I adjusted the throttles and brought them into sync. Oil pressure and temperature rose and stayed in the green. Manifold pressure was in the green. I couldn’t hear them, but the crowd was applauding and waving their arms.
Feet firmly planted on the brakes, I advanced the power up to fifteen hundred rpm per side. The roar of the engines made my smile extend from ear to ear. She was ready. I turned to Mike and saw his happiness and laughter. I grabbed his hand in victory. We had done it. Eight years of searches, restoration, long hours into the night working and too much money to remember or care to add up.
She was ready to fly.