Sunset Run

Take a deep breath…
Over the opening airport gate the six o’clock sun is racing and grinning toward the hill country ridgelines egging me on. The hangar doors rattle and bang open teasing their token resistance at my efforts. A quick swing around the plane and the bedsheet drapes slide off and we got ten gallons and the vent plugs fall into my jeans pocket and the plane rolls out with two fingers nodding onto the ramp out over the hanger door rails.

No interruptions allowed on this preflight list and the well-worn duct-taped shot-filled inner-tube weights come up and out of the nose and plop heavily on the concrete back at the hangar doors as Dancin Dave takes his guard position. The third prop flip step continues in a swing around the wing to the oil pressure needle coming up and a tad back on the rpm and up with the nose and Dave’s got the canard and I’m hopping up and over and in and squiggle under and he lays the shoulder belts over just so and we salute and try not to say something unlucky and he waves us on and checks her hinny as we head off and she rolls a few feet and stops and goes-

Pedal turning through the roundabout taxi path and growling along the runup hill and clear past the grass strip and hold short for 17R and three hooked and the handle’s locked and call and all clear and rolling onto the runway the steed is chompin’ at the reins and rpm’s good and airspeed’s off the peg and fuel and oil pressures are good and pull the elevators an inch TE low and acceleration’s brisk and there’s 55 and the nose is off and the tires are spinnin’ freeeee

The tires stop gyroscoping with a tap the brakes and there’s a hundred mph and let the crosswind push a little off and we’re past the abort/landing point so we’re going and hold her level for a little and there’s 160 mph and a gentle forearm pull and she’s lofting beautifully up into and through the crosswind, hunting for the blue sky but watching for options if we need it on the grass strip over there or we can still teardrop ‘er back over to the runway backwards but we’re climbing good and we’re winging it good and life is good and we’re level now and lower the nose and pulling around for a low approach and a check down the runway and everything looks good over the nose at two hunnert and two hunnert and that didn’t take long and she’s had her chance in the pattern to quit and - fellers we’re heading west and see ya later-

We both like climbin’ out over I-20 at 130 and how’s everyone down there and a waggle at the baseball folks and a little further and a good push over and the whole world’s open out there and we’re droppin’ off the edge of civilization here, gauges good and engine sounds better than Patsy Cline or Shania right now, over the ravine and across into our well-traveled high speed low level torture course over the ranches. Plenty of dirt roads out here over the years un-needed thank goodness. This route is now our friend, giving us the test course that even on the hottest days never got the CHTs to complain. But now it’s the oil temp we’re watching. Two weeks running all out now and she levels off at 210. I’ll take it.

I’m a happy guy now roaring wide open over the last hurdle and can’t hurt the gal and so now we’re rushing up through the turquoise wingover, ever overinto the golden red down into green, deep green pastures all haloed in the circling canopy of riches just out of reach but keep trying lofting over there to that pink end of the rainbow- no, back over there- sweet- no, it’s back over there- yeah, right here…

Snap out of it you got ten minutes to beat the runway lights and you’re not gonna make it so take it back right now buddy, well, OK, let’s head out over the lake there a little, hey get back on course and get us home - - - F-16 climbing out at ten o’clock- - he’ll pass well overhead - - pretty well overhead - - he’s past, two o’clock, probably never saw me - - so I’ll just snap a turn in here and climb up his behind and take a shot - - whoa, he can really turn that thing yes it will really turn! He’s coming around - - I bet he doesn’t see me? - - coming around - - yep he sees me - - YOU WIN - - see you later, well I’ll just duck out quick and head for this friendly ravine over here and get my little self on home - - yeah buddy he can turn that thing…

Heading fast over Paul’s and Cindy’s and loft it over a little and there they are on their porch waving sayin’ see you Sunday…

There’s our house and the family’s by the pool and a tight “I’ll be home soon Honey” 360 and a turn south and we’ll be in the pattern in a minute and a half for a quick entry, well maybe one low approach, oh good the runway lights aren’t on, and already we’re on this sweet, sweet, sweet last float around base and oh this is good - - out ahead that indescribable not-yet-quite-set golden sunscape and don’t let it end and how can this all be so perfect and she flies herself so smooth and don’t touch yettt…

Coasting up to the hangar the timer says 42 sweet minutes and we conclude the strict ritual echoing out “Cheated Death Again” against the hangar walls and she bounces to a silent stop and I pull the pins and Dancin Dave lifts out the nose hatch and plops in the duct-taped lead-shot filled inner tubes, again.

I hop out and walk around to adjust the weights in the nose just so, again. As usual, bringing her in the doors Dave walks the wing and says “How’d it go?” As usual, I push on the prop and say “It was terrible, you would have hated it.” Dave says, “Yeah, my flight earlier was terrible too.”
Dancin’ Dave is a good man. My best friend.

One day I hadn’t flown for six weeks. After a great flight I flew over our house and made the usual “I’ll he home soon Honey” 360 on the way in. Driving home I remembered the message to get some milk and swerved around back down the block to the store. Waiting in line to check out I heard some guys behind me talking about going to a fly-in at the base that coming weekend. One of them interrupted and said “Hey- speaking of airplanes, guess who I saw a few minutes ago!” The other guy said “Yeah, I saw him too- Five O’clock Charlie!”

It’s no fun. You’d hate it.

Bill James, Fort Worth VariEze

If you get a chance, don’t miss the movie “World’s Fastest Indian” with Anthony Hopkins playing New Zealander motorcyclist Burt Munro. The first shot in the movie pans through his workshop, showing the streamlined Scout and shelves with dozens of hand made pistons…
When he bought the bike in 1920 its top speed was 54 mph. In his late 60s, with a mostly hand crafted engine he ran 201 mph, at Bonneville! If you haven’t seen the salt flats, here’s a good chance. My wife enjoyed it too. I’ve seen it twice.

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