Thanksgiving Round-Robin

All flights were booked. #1 Son Trey couldn’t get a flight from Atlanta to San Antonio in south Texas. So I send the family on down in the van, and launch The VariEze from Fort Worth for Atlanta Dekalb Peachtree Airport, PDK, the busiest general aviation airport in the country. Four and a half hours later I ask if I can tilt the Eze back into that hangar corner. $300 for overnight. It’s bad when you’re happy to pay $30 for a tiedown.

The next day it was Trey and me seven hours southwest to San Antonio for turkey and dressing. Two days later it was south 1.5 to the in-laws in Kingsville, my old helo cattle herding stomping grounds. A couple of days later, with a tailwind for once, it was seven hours northeast back to Atlanta PDK.

Spectacular. Besides the view and fun of several days with my son and dueling GPSs along the way, I can’t even try to compare that round-robin trip to commercial transportation and the time that would have been spent meeting their routines.

Like any flight, this trip required significant focus and discipline. It was the exact opposite of the days flying my fierce 85 hp Cessna 120. Years before, coming from a very intense military flying environment, then going out to fly that 70 mph Cessna 120 was like night and day. Takeoff… OK, now what? There’s no mission. No positive control. Somebody tell me what to do…

That transition from military to civilian flying reminded me of a couple of years ago when an airline captain came in the hangar. He had flown only military and airlines. He said “I hear you fly lots of places in your Eze. I’m trying to make my first cross country in my homebuilt— …How do you do that?”

If it fits, that is a very wise question to ask. It took some humility. I totally related and had a few specific comments. But my main suggestion was to go to the new instructor across the field. She was on her game and excited and would readily move him through the local flight planning tools and new-guy elements of general aviation.

Just having landed a Boeing 777 from Japan doesn’t diminish the training one would need to then fly a Piper Cub into an busy non-tower airport. If needed, this training update would certainly be on ‘The List’ before flying my new plane. One may have to lay the ego aside for a few hours when asking a lowly civilian things like “How high do I HAVE to be when flying over this little remote airport here…?

He stopped in a few weeks later, excited about the trip he had made in his two-seater using only 12 gallons per hour. This time I just listened and didn’t mention having flown in a couple of planes like his, and how EZ spoiled I was. He later flew with me, and again I didn’t have to say anything.

Headin home
I am getting better with my kids at just listening to their question and answering that one. Hopefully that makes trips with them in the plane more enjoyable for them.
The whole Thanksgiving trip was great, but the last leg was a time that I look back on as kinda what Burt and Orville and Wilbur might have seen out ahead as they did the work to get a workable plane in the air. I made this flight the same way Lindberg flew. Ahh, the simple life.

Climbing out solo from Atlanta, the flurry of the last few days settles into the background. The one-forty mph cruise-climb gets me to eleven-five and well down the road. With the mode C blinking I level off and get in rhythm with best-friend-at-the-moment Lycoming and settle in for the four hour run. I think about the CD player and decide just to go with the flow and hum along with the engine. Sweet.

The headset comes off. With earplugs the headrest speaker works fine until I need to talk. The flow includes regular sequencing of the sectional map, although on this familiar route the airports and landmarks appear in my head and I am looking for them just a little before they come into focus . I like the scan pattern from the sky to the instruments to the map to the sky. The plane disappears around me and we somehow float almost silently along.

The grey slashes appear in the distance. Friends. Over the nose they begin to gently reveal their identity by their direction or position from town or the river or by their X or triangle. As they float under the canard, through the side window I can further invade their personality, spotting a crop duster or RV or Lear. They all seem a little aloof but some have offered relief or fuel or a crisp BLT.

The Eze chair is skimming me along over the greenery with one wing in Arkansas and the other in Louisiana. The calm rhythm now includes the ticking down of minutes and miles to Fort Worth Spinks. The two grey slashes and open hangars in Mineola welcome a little closer to home, having once offered safe harbor after the crank shaft accessory gear and bolt and pin had a parting of the ways.

Each year at Thanksgiving I try to read Victor Belenko’s MIG PILOT (by John Barron). It reminds me of how fortunate we are in this country. I enjoy reading his struggle that leads him to find his own way to nutrition and education and truth. And freedom.

Moments in time like this Thanksgiving flight push us through a common experience of agreeing with the maker of the molecules and those that went before us, that this works and this is good.
-You get to figure out what ‘this’ is for you.

The flight and the book have me positioned again that freedom, personal and national, is a struggle, a struggle that isn’t to be missed, or crunched through too quickly. I wonder again if the price of flight is too steep. But I’ll figure that out later.

Giving Thanks
Bill James, Fort Worth VariEze


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