By lex, on October 26th, 2008
Flew twice yesterday, called in by the owners out of critical need on a day I had hoped to use more productively. A pair of families visiting from out of town, the first from Santa Barbara and the second all the way from Oklahoma – there would have been no realistic chance of rescheduling for better pilot availability. It’d have meant a lost opportunity for the company, two cost centers sitting there on the ramp generating no revenue.
It was a quiet day at the aerodrome. All of this recession talk and AVGAS still topping out at better than $5 to the gallon having taken some of the wind out of the general aviation sail. The folks from Santa Barbara were a young couple, mid-twenties. She had bought the ride for him as a gift – so many of our customers are flying with us out of someone else’s generosity – but the back seat was empty in the other machine. Would she like to come along? The company would sponsor her flight at half price.
She was game, but hesitant. They were the parents of a four month old child, she had qualms about leaving him an orphan should some untoward thing arise.
No, no, it was insisted: She’d be safe as houses and have great fun to boot. And I silently agreed, knowing that the odds were very much in her favor. While yet conceding in my heart of hearts that the lady had a point. We tend to take things for granted, like the trust a loved one places in our hands. It matters little that I have done greater things and successfully faced far larger dangers than ferrying paying passengers around the Southern California coast in a piston engine single. All that I can be certain of now is that my end, when it comes, will not be at the helm of an FA-18.
Apart from that, who knows?
Things all worked out for the best of course, or else you’d be reading elsewhere. The lady had a marvelous time, and – like so many of her gender – proved something of a tigress when removed from society’s constraints. It could only be hoped that her young man enjoyed the view looking over his shoulder to his six o’clock, because that is where he spent the balance of his time.
But there are at least two kinds of folks who buy dogfighting flights for their loved ones: There are those who seek to fulfill a hidden wish in the person they are sponsoring. And there are those who are doing so for themselves. The second flight was like that.
A father of about my age, and a daughter of the Biscuit’s age. He had once been the proud owner/operator of a Cessna 210 – a (relatively) complex, (relatively) high performance, and (non-trivially) expensive piston single.
She never seemed to evince much enthusiasm during the brief, and my well-worn laugh lines were trotted out fruitlessly, before being retired to the barn. Happy enough once airborne it seemed, and even sightseeing up the La Jolla/Del Mar/Solana Beach coast, at least until I handed her the controls.
All well and good for straight and level flying, and even for some gentle turns – see? Now you’re a pilot! But the greater bank angles that are required for any kind of success in the dogfighting arena left her clutching at the side rails. Never to fret, my dear, you cannot possibly fall out, strapped down as you are at four points and with all that plexiglas above us. But giving thanks, she’d have none. A passenger ever after.
I flew the first engagement against her father, who after all had paid for the experience, but who hadn’t paid to win. My guest found no joy in the maneuvering required to place him in our gunsight however, and a brief respite of straight and level banter was required to even contemplate a second engagement, far less the customary third. These I let him win as convincingly as possible, which was harder than it seemed: He either wanted her to claim top honors or his Cessna 210 time had ill-equipped him for the rigors of maneuvering flight.
Quiet heading home, and the flight controls could have been made of egg shells, I flew that smoothly – and that’s saying something for a single seat fighter pilot. She kept her lunch, and was grateful to return to terra firma. A couple of family photos by the machines and they were on their merry, your correspondent left to wonder how someone could be exposed to something so rare and even – dare I say it – beautiful, and yet experience nothing but a feeling very close to dread.
I have done this thing I do on weekends often enough for the novelty of it to wear off – and God knows it’s not for the money – but I do get a deep pleasure out of seeing the light in someone’s eye when they first discover the joy of Icarus, omitting, for the sake of repeatability, all of that flying too close to the sun business. But just as some people find the Buddha in art, or music, or dance, while others can take it or leave it, another class entirely is immune. There’s no explaining it, I don’t think.
It’s something innate.