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HONEY, I BOUGHT AN AIRPLANEStories, Histories and Recollections of 597 flights in the Midwest
By BOB HECHLINSKI
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Bob Hechlinski
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH AN AIRPLANE?
It all began as a random thought that I said aloud one night in late 1988 or early '89 while having dinner with my wife. Recalling that we were at Briar Ridge Country Club, I casually mentioned that I wanted to get back into private flying. The comment barely raised a reaction. This was only dinner conversation and thinking aloud started conversations. We did not have an issue to resolve. This was not a key family decision. It was just another thought that the two of us could share with each another. However, I had mulled the thought of re-entering general aviation around in my mind for several months. It was just now that I would share the ideas with my wife.
The dinner conversation became more specific than Nancy had anticipated. In developing my thought, she became aware that we were about to own an airplane. What we were discussing was not simply a trip or two to the airport and then this whim of mine would be satisfied. Somewhere in the back of my mind was an idea of buying our own airplane. Should we decide to buy an airplane, my feelings were that it should be a used plane because it would be more affordable. More than likely, it would be a Piper Cherokee, although I had not decided if it should be any specific horsepower. As I went on, Nancy began to realize that I had come to a conclusion on the matter. My mind was firmly made-up.
She began to listen more intently to what I was saying. Now we had an issue to address. Soon, she stopped eating and listened carefully to every word I said. Finally, she asked the question: "What are you going to do with this airplane once you get it?"
Through our 48 years of marriage, Nancy has been the stabilizing factor. These are the moments when she looks into my dreaming to see if it needs to be turned back to sensibility. If she didn't take this time to help me see where some of my ideas were going to take us, then it wouldn't be done.
She needed to understand the justification for this sizable expenditure. For me, it was typical male shock. I had covered all the bases except this one. I had no specific reason to buy it. To merely say that I would have fun with an airplane seemed totally inadequate and if it were even muttered, the idea would be scuttled. The business need for aircraft ownership was no longer there.
Nancy did not like flying in a small airplane. With that realization went the thought that a family that flies together, stays together. I had already used the argument about an investment that grows. The last time that I used that reason was for a sail boat. The story on the boat is that we paid a lot of money for it, spent a lot of money putting little goodies in it and on it - then we ended up selling it for a lot less than we had in it. No, the 'return on investment' angle wasn't going to work.
So, I grabbed the first viable thought that came to mind. In a split second, all the useless and hackneyed reasons had been considered and discarded. The only neutral rationalization that I could come up with should never have even been uttered. I spurted out my objective for the airplane: I would fly to all the airports in Indiana!
Where that idea came from, I will never know. But there it was, out in the open. I said it. Now I had to defend it. Nancy and I have lived all over the United States. On innumerable occasions, we had discussed the pros and cons of all the different areas of the country. After everything was weighed, we knew our hearts belonged in the Midwest. In fact, we had determined that Indiana was the place where we wanted to spend our remaining years. We had fallen in love with Indiana, so my idea about visiting all the airports in the state was not totally absurd. Nancy was not yet satisfied, but she seemed willing to be convinced.
We left the restaurant that night with far different thoughts. I had a heart full of anticipation. The adventure lay ahead. I had the green light to actively look for an airplane. For Nancy, it was yet another case of "What is he getting us into this time?"
The search didn't take long. As soon as I mentioned the fact that I was in the market for a Cherokee, a friend immediately volunteered that he had an acquaintance who had been trying to sell his plane for some time. The principal reason it hadn't been sold yet is that the owner, Jon Hussey, the last remaining member of a three-way partnership, was not aggressively trying to find a buyer. There was no real need for the airplane in the family, but it was hard to get rid of an old friend. We met at the Gary Regional Airport one cold Saturday in December.
The airplane was a Cherokee 180. Since it was a "C" model built in 1965, it was still the short version Cherokee. The extra seven inches in fuselage length was still to come at Vero Beach. The paint and interior were original. The avionics dated back to the times of the apostles. The airplane had no added value since the time she rolled out of Piper on June 16th, 1965.
The engine was in its first one-third life of an overhaul and the airframe only had 2,500 hours. That is relatively little time for a 25-year-old airplane. The price was fair, but more assuring, the airplane would be sold as it came out of its annual inspection. The owner was well aware of what he had. The little Cherokee had seen sparing service in the last five years. In fact, it only had three tachometer hours in the last two years. The engine would have to be watched closely. The owner was reluctant to fly the airplane as it was already a year out of date from its last annual inspection. Jon insisted that the annual inspection would have to be done at the Gary airport; the airplane should not be flown until it was thoroughly inspected and serviced.
It took the fixed base operation (FBO) at the Gary airport (Gary - Millionaire) more than two months to get the airplane through its annual inspection. The folks at Millionaire didn't care to work on general aviation aircraft when there were corporate jets to look after. Some days they would do something on the airplane. Then, they would ignore it for a week or more. Little people like us didn't make a lot of profit and loss sense to them. No matter what the owner said or did, Gary - Millionaire could not be motivated to move along faster on the inspection. It was aggravating and irritating. Regardless, the weeks of anticipation were over and the airplane was handed over to Nancy and me. We were airplane owners for the first time.
From now on it was going to be different. No more would I show up on a beautiful Saturday morning to rent an airplane only to find out that all the planes had been scheduled well in advance and there were no airplanes to fly. No more would I schedule a rental airplane only to find out that the day that I so carefully planned was the one where ground fog ruled the morning and thunderstorms were moving in for the afternoon.
This was my plane. This is where the term "Pride of Ownership" aptly applies. It was the product of a grown man realizing that he finally owned his own airplane. Never mind that the hourly cost of ownership exceeds the equivalent rental time. Never mind that taxes, insurance, maintenance and avionics upgrades couldn't be paid for on an hourly basis. No sir. This was my airplane. I could fly it whenever I wanted. I would not have problems with availability either. There would be no overdue renters or inconvenient schedule. It would just be 8369W and me. This was a match made in heaven. But there were things to tend to before we got serious.
As a Cessna trained and reared pilot, there was a transition to take place and it had to be an orderly one. It would not do for me to get into a strange plane and splash it in during a take-off or landing. A little time with a certified flight instructor was the more prudent move. After an hour of full-stop landings and take-offs, he judged me a 'non-dangerous pilot'. He did not pronounce me a good one; rather, one that was rusty but not likely to hurt myself. The prescription was to practice touch and go's and other simple maneuvers. He felt I should stay in the area of the airport for about three or four hours.
The very next morning was Saturday, the weather was seriously clear and there was fifty gallons of gas in the airplane. Certainly, that would be enough to get me through the initial training with this new mount. The radio work with Ground Control and the Tower came back easily. Thank goodness that I was trained at Tamiami airport where intensive radio training was an integral part of my flight education. The first take-off was an exhilarating experience. With just me on board, she climbed like the proverbial homesick angel. This was a good airplane and we could easily grow into each other.
The first solo circuit was nothing to write home about, but a relationship was growing. The first landing was a little heavy handed and there was some slight swerving of the Cherokee. Slowing to just less than 50 MPH and reconfiguring the plane for takeoff, we were ready for nose up. I pushed in the throttle a little too quickly. The fast application of power quickly reminded me about prop torque. That was another lesson remembered. From that point on, power increases would be slower and smoother to avoid abusing the airplane. As instructed by the tower, I reported left base for Runway 12. Something was taking place within me. This airplane and I began to fit together.
It was not clear at the time, but this was not just a relationship; it was a partnership or maybe some sort of marriage. From now on, N8369W was to become an equal partner in my flying exploits. It would never be correct to think of the airplane as a tool or just a vehicle. From this point forward, the little Cherokee and I would be teammates in one adventure after another.
Furthermore, we would pledge ourselves to each other. There would be mutual promises of Trust, Respect, Faithfulness and Honesty made between us. These were not idle agreements, but solemn vows - vows taken with at least as much sincerity as a couple during their marriage ceremony or a priest upon entering the religious order.
Over time, we found that we remained faithful to each other. I never asked the airplane to do more than it could and the little Cherokee never gave less that it was able. We were good for each other.
To say that the approach to visiting all the airports in Indiana was 'unstructured' is an understatement. At first, there was some apprehension. Each trip was tentative and was draped with extreme caution. It can be seen that the first cities visited consisted of a fast dash in and then a quick trip home. The rate would be one airport per day. Finally, at airports six and seven, I dared to visit two towns in one day: Warsaw and Wabash.
And I was learning. The airplane became very predictable, as Cherokees often are. The equipment was reliable and trustworthy. Especially, the Loran C exhibited extreme accuracy, and I began to be totally dependent upon it. Only occasionally did the VOR system play a part in air navigation. The Non Directional Beacon never did work reliably and I wondered if it should even remain in the airplane. Remarkably enough, it managed to function through my instrument training. Soon after the FAA gave me the instrument rating, the NDB failed and has not worked since. Nonetheless, the airplane and the equipment were dependable and enduring.
Finally, about the third or fourth month into the adventure, four or more air field visits per day became the norm. Along with more airports came longer legs. As a matter of fact, I would overfly some fields to get to others. The next time out, I would stop at cities between the ones that I visited earlier. It was more a rapid accumulation of flying hours than a growth in the number of cities visited. Obviously, confidence was growing.
Another hallmark of trust was the time when the first guests were taken along. Even that was cautiously measured. The first to fly with me were other pilots! As time went on, non-flying adults and finally children were to be my company. My favorite passengers were my wife, my parents, and young children, in that order. My wife because I love her so much, my parents because I wanted to share my joy with them, and young children because it was a thrill to see their faces light up when they realized that they could fly an airplane.
In all cases with children, they were immediately enamored with the airplane and flight. Their senses took in everything they saw and they missed nothing that I did. What really caught and kept their attention was the extra 'steering wheel' in front of them. This wasn't present in daddy's mini-van. I would set up the airplane to fly straight and level without being attended. When the kids were accustomed to being aloft, I would simply ease back and my hands would slowly leave the control column. Then, with my arms folded, I would point out to my young guest that one of us should be flying the airplane. In every case, the youngster would react, mostly as an expression of fright, and grab the wheel. They were flying the airplane. They didn't even think about it. Once they realized that they were indeed providing primary input to the control of the plane, they would look at me for approval. Maybe the broad smile across my face provided them with the endorsement they sought.
THE AIRPORTS OF INDIANA
#1 Gary, Indiana Gary Municipal Airport Type: Class D Identifier: GYY March 25, 1990
#2 Plymouth, Indiana Plymouth Municipal Airport Type: Paved Identifier: C65 May 6, 1990
THE FIRST VISIT
Gary is my home field so it is really the first airport on my list. But Plymouth was the first field visited. The first visit was a mistake. It wasn't supposed to happen on that May 6th; it just evolved that way!
The pre-flight inspection took about half an hour. Nothing went unnoticed. Once in the airplane, the settling in process took another half hour or so. Finally, I was about as ready as I was going to be. It was time to follow the flight examiner's instructions and make touch and go's for a few hours. I announced my intentions to Gary Tower and they cleared me onto Runway 12. Like most airplanes with minimal load and one person, the airplane literally jumped off the ground.
The first take-off and landing were good, better than expected. As I came around the left side for the second landing, my eyes began to look further and further out into the horizon. The second landing was about as good as the first, but the climb out was different. Doing touch and go's for two hours was going to become very boring. In fact, it was becoming too boring to continue. My mind focused in on Plymouth, Indiana. It was only 70 miles away and, for goodness sake, climbing out on a heading of 120 degrees, the plane was pointed right at Plymouth! What the heck! At the next radio reporting point, I requested a straight away departure and that was that.
This was the first cross country in our new (to us) airplane. The plane was everything I expected. It seemed solid and predictable. While it had some years on it, the total number of hours was lower than could be expected. The plane was 25 years old but only had twenty six hundred flying hours on the tachometer. While this was positive, the fact that it had only accumulated four or five hours in the past three years was troublesome. Furthermore, we bought the airplane out of annual inspection. During the annual, the mechanics found some corrosion. It seems that little animals had nested in the plane. The urine and waste matter combined with condensation took its toll on the bottom skin. While it was fixed in the inspection process, this condition still added to my concern. The interior was in terrible condition. The avionics were vintage 1965 coffee grinder Narco's and the FAA was ready to outlaw them in favor of narrower band width models. All this and I paid more for the airplane than what it sold for when it was new. While I wouldn't turn back, there were some concerns.
Frank Kish was the manager at the Plymouth FBO. He said something nice about the Cherokee and I told him that we just bought it. He wanted a closer look. Frank spent the better part of an hour going over the whole airplane. He paused at several places to point out areas of concern. He was impressive with his intimate knowledge of Piper Cherokees. Frank found nothing wrong or in need of urgent attention. He felt that we would get years of reliable service from this airplane. A warm feeling came over me because two things were resolved that morning. First of all, we had a good airplane. The people who conducted the annual inspection pronounced it airworthy, and now the independent opinion of a person without a vested interest deemed it trustworthy and reliable. The flight back to Gary was a good one. Frank's opinion was very important and well received. He would be doing our annual inspections from now on!
Excerpted from HONEY, I BOUGHT AN AIRPLANE by BOB HECHLINSKI Copyright © 2011 by Bob Hechlinski. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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