I'm fishing out old articles I've written that are no longer available on the Internet. This one, from March 2007, is as pertinent to me today as it was then. I haven't had stick time in an RV since I ferried N614EF off to its new owner in late 2016. There are heroes who walk -- and fly -- among us. Here's the story of one of them. Who are/were yours?
(Mar. 31, 2007) -- After I graduated from college, not being able to get a job in radio news (it was a lot tougher back then thanks to Woodward and Bernstein), I went to work for my Dad in the insurance industry. I'm sure it was one of the happiest days of his life because a few weeks ago, my son got a fulltime job where I work, and it was sure one of mine!
I would have enjoyed the insurance business a lot more except for one thing: I really don't like asking people for something -- especially money. It's just not something I have ever been able to do. My career in the sales business was a short one and in the subsequent age of venture capitalists and movers and shakers, no doubt I also missed any chance to become a wealthy man -- well, that and the fact I had no marketable idea. During my radio career, I've also never asked for a raise. That's 32 years and might explain why I've moved so often.
I got to thinking about all of this a little over a week ago in an e-mail exchange with Dan Checkoway. I told him, it had been over a year since I've flown. He wrote and said I need to ask someone for a ride.
He was right, of course, but people are dying uninsured, brilliant products have gone to market, and two feet have stayed on the ground in the last year for the reasons previously cited.
And it's here where the events continue to suggest that there's a bigger force playing with us, moving us about some chessboard somewhere, because sometimes things work out just too darned perfectly.
On Saturday, I was at the quarterly meeting of the Minnesota Wing of Van's Air Force. I had wandered around the gorgeous airpark hangar, wishing I'd been better at the insurance business, and daydreaming about the good life. I enjoyed Pete Howell's demonstration on landing lighting, and I had thoroughly enjoyed watching One-Six Right.
During the film, listening to all the folks recount the moment they fell in love with flying, and listening to it almost always go back to their first consciousness as a youngster, I realized that I can't remember when I first came to realize I wanted to be a pilot. I didn't have an airport near my home that I could bike to, a barnstormer never dropped into the field near the house, I didn't build a go-cart that looked like a plane. Nothing.
(Alex version 2007)
The closest I came in my recollection was wanting to be an astronaut more than anything else. But flying a plane isn't being an astronaut, so I began to wonder if I really am a real pilot, complete with the DNA composition that apparently makes you think about nothing else from the time you exit the womb.
Fourth grade, maybe. But that's about it.
I was thinking about the origins of passion while walking over to the other side of the hangar for a cup of coffee.
"Hi, Bob," RV-6A builder and pilot Alex Peterson said, waking me out of my travels back to the 1950s. Alex is not just an RV pilot, Alex is one of those RV folks who other RV folks hold up as a hero. You know who they are. What marks them all is that they don't. But they are. Heroes, that is, in the sense they inspire us when we're building, not only with the knowledge they willingly -- and enthusiastically -- pass along, but with the flight tales that provide the motivation for us to want to do the same thing. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's a definition of hero in my book.
"You keep cranking out those great newsletters," Alex said. "And I owe you an RV ride. Is that something you'd be interested in?"
I don't really know how to describe the sound of someone making your day, but it goes something like this: "I owe you an RV ride."
"I'd love to," I stammered.
"How about today?" he said. "A couple of us are flying to Olivia for lunch. I'm not coming back right away so you'll fly down in an RV, and can fly back with Bernie Weiss in his Bonanza."
Now, as I can recall, the only better words I've ever heard in my lifetime was when my then-girlfriend and I were in a nice little burger joint in Harvard Square back in 1981 and she said, "So are you going to marry me or what?"
A half hour or so later, we opened Bernie's hangar to reveal Alex's RV-6A, Bernie's Bonanza, and Pete Howell's brand new RV-9A... making me second guess my instructions in my will that when I die, my ashes are to be scattered at Home Depot.
It had everything an RV builder could want. In fact it had two of them.
After a proper checkout, we jumped in and fired up the RV-6A, only the second time I've even been in one. Alex called the tower, got a clearance, and an instruction to make a right turn, and firewalled the throttle. I was now an astronaut after all, because we were climbing as fast as the space shuttle, I was sure, even though it didn't feel like it.
It only took seconds, as I looked all around that gorgeous canopy to realize that I really I do have the right DNA.
We proceeded downwind and the tower told Alex his transponder wasn't working. Alex figured, correctly, that he was looking in the wrong spot, for this was an RV. No doubt the controller was looking upwind on his screen, and we were already miles out of the pattern. "OK, it's working now," the tower said. "OK it's working now" is controller talk for "Whoops."
It was a gorgeous and enjoyable ride to Olivia, about 80 miles away. We found an open burger joint, had a great lunch with terrific company, then headed back to our respective steeds and headed back home.
Me? I headed back to the garage, and started working on the plane (well, at least until I realized I needed a 6" or 12" #12 drill bit to properly drill the holes in the 705 bulkhead for the canopy latch mechanism. And I didn't want to ask anyone if they had one so I ordered it from Avery).
I don't know how to describe (a) a better day or (b) how things just happen to fit together perfectly from time to time.
The EAA, appropriately so, has championed aviation through the Young Eagles program. I've often thought someone should sponsor an Old Eagles Program, to give motivating rides to people who are building, or just want to remember what it was like to fly. The RV community, specifically I think, seems to understand this better than many pilots. There are, in fact, lots of heroes out there and I want to be sure they all know -- you all know -- what it means to us.
After we returned to Anoka, Bernie filled up his Bonanza and we were taxiing back to the hangar when we noticed Pete was in the runup area and he had a passenger. As I understand, Pete will give rides 'til the cows come home. We didn't know who it was, but they were about to have a great day.
Just as I had.