25 January 2009


I walk across the ramp to the row of broken-down hangars. The wind whips past me, cutting through even my thick winter coat and scarf, and sending chills down my spine.

The snow piles left by the plow trucks have frozen, thawed, and refrozen into mountain ranges of ice, that still stand as tall as a man where they were hastily pushed aside last week.

I step, and nearly slip and fall, on a puddle, frozen solid by the brutal cold sweeping down from the arctic. The cold I can contend with, it's the stiff breeze that makes this Michigan winter day intolerable.

The shining sun in the cloudless sky is merely enhancing the freezing temperatures, casting it's harsh light without the familiar warmth of summer. I open the door to the unlit hangar and step inside, removing my sunglasses as I wait for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.

She comes into view, a regal silhouette of years past. She deserves better than a dusty, run-down hangar. She has only been here a few months, yet I can see even in the dim light the layer of dust covering her bright paint. She has not been flown in a good long while, not even moved, her engine sitting silently waiting for her magnetos to be turned on, for her starter to be turned.

Yet even in this state of disuse and dusty neglect, she sits proudly, her stout nose pointed skyward, her smooth, classic lines defying the passing of years.

As I open the hangar doors for her, I remember when she first came to us. All of us at the airport came by to see her, to spend time staring and touching and dreaming. We walked around her, imagining the sound of the spinning propeller, the throaty rumble of the engines, the scent of exhaust and burnt oil. I stood there long after everyone else had moved on, and then sat in the cockpit for a while, just looking.

I looked out over the wing, and imagined seeing my home field, Riverview Airport, gliding beneath me. I look to the front of the airplane, and imagine the massive wood propeller pulling the airframe effortlessly through the West Michigan summer. But summer is a long way away from today.

The hangar is open now, the first sunlight she has seen in probably three months. The brightness of it seems to awaken her, her paint now gleaming even under the dust, the varnish on her propeller blinding with it's reflection. She seems, in my mind, to stir a bit, then stretch, as if her landing gear is stiff from disuse, like a limb fallen asleep.

There are buyers coming. Perhaps they will provide her with the home she deserves. The fact that they expressed enough interest to drive to the airport on this excessively cold day holds at least a small promise for her.

She was built for the air, not the ground. Every inch of her strives to be rid of gravity. I walk toward her, and reach out my hand to gently touch her wing. I lightly tap my fingers on the wing's surface, listening to the hollow, drum-like sound of the stretched fabric. Much of her is merely a wooden skeleton, covered in fabric that is stretched tight and then painted. Craftsmen, perhaps as many as ten or twenty, have slaved over every inch of this airplane, shaving and planing wooden ribs into shape, covering and stretching the fabric. There is some sheet metal on the airframe as well, no doubt bent and riveted and welded with the same craftsman's care as the fabric and wood.

She was built for the air, and every inch of her displays craftsmanship and artistry fit for any museum wall. It saddens me that a piece of art such as this can be reduced to a commodity, bought, sold, and traded on a whim of those who would merely collect it.

No, she was built for the air, and deserves to be flown. She deserves to be flown, to be guided by a caring pilot, and herself guide her pilot towards many unknown horizons.

Perhaps this may be the day she has anticipated! Perhaps these owners will bring her someplace warm, someplace with blue skies not filled with threatening clouds or freezing wind!

Perhaps she will finally be able to dance with the birds, to feel the breeze once again against her windscreen!

Her anticipation spills over into me, as I look toward the warmer days when I will be finally able to once again mingle with the clouds.

For we are both wintering now in a dusty, unused hangar. The dust covering her beautiful paint is the dust that is covering my flight bag.

The oil on the floor beneath her telling of long days spent in the same spot is the brand new sectional map that sits pristine and unopened in my kneeboard.

I am covered with dust. I am rusty, in need of a good, strong scrubbing.

But yet, like the beautiful aircraft I stand next to, I hold my head high, knowing that someday, soon, I will be able to frolic once more with the birds. I, like her, will return to the sky.


1 comment:

Ted M. Gossard said...

Quite good writing, The Wingnut. And makes me want to read on. (even though there is not much fiction that keeps me doing so, "The Old Man and the Sea"- Hemingway, being one exception.

Makes me want to see a pic of her. Yes, hopefully she'll end up appreciated from now on.

This winter is so cold here. It is wearing on me, I have to admit. We certainly do look forward to Spring!