That’s baloney!

The flight plan called for us to proceed up Airport Road, turn north to a heading of 350 degrees, pass between the truck stops, go over the hill, under the interstate, and park at the dollar store.

Yeah. It was time to replenish the airport snack baskets.

Regular readers may recall that my plane pal Lisa adopted the SXU terminal back in the winter of ‘17. It used to be one of those ratty, Third World kinda terminals that we cross country fliers are all too familiar with. In fact, it was that very familiarity that inspired Lisa’s adoption. After seeing the worst—and the best—that small local airport terminals had to offer during our SARL travels, she took things into her own determined hands and gave our little terminal a serious makeover. Now visiting pilots often tell me what a nice little FBO we have.

No small compliment.

Some of what she did was simply cleaning. Some of what she did was organizing. Some was hanging art on the walls, and hanging shear curtains to frame the windows. Missing light switch covers were replaced with new ones that look like cockpit instruments to create the appropriate aviation atmosphere.

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But a lot of the transformation came down to amenities. The fridge is now always stocked with bottles of water and a variety of soda—both regular and diet, some with caffeine and some without. There’s now a microwave, and one of those Keurig coffee pots you find in high end hotels—the ones with the instructional hieroglyphics on the side that make one cup of coffee at a time.

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Image: Amazon

In the bathroom, a shiny, round metal tray holds a glass bottle of mouthwash with one of those little metal pouring spouts, and a stack of Dixie cups. And then there are the snacks. Lisa found two large baskets and filled them with all manner of “snackage.” Chips. Cookies. Candies. Crackers.

I never realized until just now that most snacks start with the letter “C.”

She also got Cup-a-Soup (there we go again) to sustain those weathered in for a few hours. Now most of you know Lisa as an amazing aviation photographer, but that’s actually a very small sideline for her. Her day job is that of a part-time Adjunct Professor for a community college. That means slave wages and no benefits. So while she didn’t mind some sweat equity, and even absorbed the startup costs of the project, she could ill-afford to be the airport’s benefactor. Accordingly, she set out some donation jars.

At first things went well. Passing pilots donated generously, and when the snacks ran low, shee had the funds to replace them. Then, over the last six months, things started to change. Donations dropped off. Coins became more common and bills rarer. Then, donations nearly dried up. To make up the short fall, she passed the hat among the local pilots.

Which, of course, is just the two of us.

That wasn’t sustainable. We discussed the problem. Are we suddenly getting a rash of cheap pilots? Or did the visitors think, as they were buying gas, they were entitled to some free snackage—not realizing that the airport had nothing to do with the amenities? Or was it that most people don’t carry cash anymore? Or… worst of all… could someone be stealing money from the jars?

I didn’t want to think that.

One day, not long ago, we came to the airport to find the food cleaned out and exactly 12¢ in the jar. Lisa blew a gasket. Well, three or four gaskets, actually. Reluctantly, I went online and found a secure donation box, which Lisa—literally—bolted to a table so it couldn’t be stolen. Well, at least not easily stolen.

In the first two weeks the new box collected $54. All bills. No coins. Yeah. I guess we were being robbed. By whom? Who knows? Maybe by some ex-city worker with a grudge and the gate code. Maybe by one of the trash truck guys. Maybe by outlaw drug-smuggling pilots who are down on their luck.

But, that mystery never to be solved, we now had the funds to do a serious restocking of the snackage. Hence the flight plan to the dollar store.

And it was at the dollar store that a can of bologna caught my eye. Yes. A can. I’d never heard of canned bologna. I mean, bologna is typically in the cooler section with sandwich meat, hot dogs, and those fake cheese slices that are individually wrapped in plastic, right?

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But of course, sandwich spreads come canned. Anyone over the age of 45 will remember Underwood Deviled Ham, which the dollar store still sells for fifty cents a can.

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And Vienna sausages come in cans, I realized. As does tuna. And White meat chicken. Hams are sold in cans. And, of course, there’s Spam in a can.

So why not bologna?

Heck, what did I have to lose but a dollar? Plus, although I was stuck on the ground, the can was offering me a way to continue to visit distant new horizons, and experience new adventures. If only in a very small way. I snatched up the can.

Lisa thought I was mildly crazy, but she knows I get a little bonkers when I can’t fly (and for the last two years I’ve been getting increasingly loco as long periods of maintenance-induced groundings take their toll).

When I got home with my new treasure, Grandma Jean, the original adventurer, was enthusiastic. Rio, cautiously so. My wife, on the other hand, was having nothing to do with bologna in a can. She called Texas to check on the progress of the plane’s repairs.

After searching for about half an hour for our rarely used can opener, I clamped the plier-like tool on the edge of the can and twisted the handle, recalling that at one time canned goods were such a part of our culture that most households had electric can openers. The top off, I turned the can over and gave it a shake. Thump!went the solid mass of meat as it fell out of the can and onto my cutting board. It was bologna-colored, but only smelled vaguely of bologna.

I set the disk of meat product on end. Like jellied cranberry at Thanksgiving, the lump of bologna had the ridges of the can’s lid embossed in its surface. Taking a knife, I cut the disk into four thick slices. It cut easily. Smoothly. More like butter than like meat. Of course, I’ve never sliced bologna before. It generally comes pre-sliced. All you have to do is pull the red paper off before you put it into a sandwich.

How’d it taste? Not quite like traditional bologna. The flavor was milder, but pleasant enough, with—as they say in wine tasting—notes of Vienna sausage. And the consistency was different, too. It was softer than traditional bologna, but not as soft as Vienna sausages. All of that said, I enjoyed it. It has a boxed mac & cheese comfort vibe to it.

Grandma J liked it, but Rio, usually a fan of all food not jicama, was uncertain. He didn’t hate it, but didn’t give it his seal of approval either.

That said, he ate his entire share.

Lisa was in the same cockpit as Rio in her evaluation. And in her lack of left overs. Maybe she would’ve liked it better with a can of wine. And yes, they sell wine in cans now, and they’re not bad either.

No baloney.

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Worth changing your flight plan to visit

I parked in the deserted lot in front of Doc’s peekaboo hangar, walked up, and pressed my nose against the glass to get a better look.

I wasn’t the only one to have done so. The towering glass windows were pristine above the seven-foot level; but below that, to the left and to the right—for seventy feet in either direction—were smudges, fingerprints, and handprints on the dark glass.

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Cupping my hands into a scuba mask-like oval around my eyes to block out the glare and the reflection, being careful this time to get as close to the glass as possible without touching it, I took a second look. In the dying light of the day, the lovingly restored World War II bomber was a beautiful thing. Not a machine of war; rather, a pristine, polished, gleaming work of modern art.

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Then, back in my car again, I slowly drove on up Airport Road, checking out the signs of the various businesses. Large hangars displayed the logos of Beechcraft, Cessna, Hawker, Textron. Signature Flight Support had an outlet, as did Rockwell. Flight Safety International had a campus. I was cruising around the neighborhood of Wichita’s Eisenhower National Airport. It’s quite the healthy aviation ecosystem.

But, of course, Wichita is supposed to be the air capital of the world.

Then, as I passed Ylingling Aviation’s block-long building, a sign caught my eye. A graphic of an orange wind sock at half-mast and the words: The Aviator’s Attic. And below that: Gifts and Pilot Supplies.A pilot shop!  I slammed on the brakes.

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I love pilot shops. I quickly parked and dashed inside to check it out. Although excited at my unexpected find, I was cautiously pessimistic. Why? Well, I don’t know how many pilot shops you’ve been to, but frankly, most are the retail equivalent of a ratty flight school trainer that’s been on a ramp a decade too long. They are dirty, disorganized, and inventory-wise tend to be limited to ASA training books, overpriced headsets, local charts, remove-before-flight keychains, and the occasional aviation-themed wine bottle stopper.

Imagine my delight to find a long, skinny store with dazzling collection of flying merchandise from floor to model-airplane-bedecked ceiling, with the best mix of practical and impractical aviation stuff I’ve ever seen under one roof. Sure, there were charts, and headsets, and flight bags, and training materials. But so too, there were whiskey glasses with aircraft instruments printed on them, and teddy bears with flight jackets, and jewelry, and art, and T-shirts, and metal signs, and hundreds of aviation-themed refrigerator magnets.

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And beyond this mouth-watering inventory, the shop was just plane beautiful. Oh. Sorry, I meant to say plain beautiful. Well, it’s both. The lighting is perfect. The merchandise is arranged creatively and attractively, and the floor is so clean you could probably perform surgery on it.

It’s aviation Nirvana. Valhalla. Heaven. Take your pick.

Now, you probably didn’t know this, but in addition to being a certified pilot and ground instructor, I’m also a certified aviation shopaholic. Yes, I’ve logged thousands of hours collecting cool aviation stuff from eBay, Amazon, Sporty’s, the Wright Collection, and more. If it exists, I probably own it. Or if I don’t own it, I either didn’t like it, or more likely, I couldn’t afford it. I only confess to this so you’ll have perspective when I tell you that I didn’t see anything new in the Aviator’s Attic. But I saw everything that’s worth seeing from in any aviation catalog or website on the planet. It’s a remarkable collection, and of course even the slickest website or catalog is a poor substitute for holding an object of desire in your hands. Feeling the heft, turning it over and over to view it from every angle.

Although there really wasn’t anything in the shop I needed, I picked up some more adult beverage glasses for the Plane Tales Hangar, and I bought a few gifts for pilot friends and family—on the theory that it’s important to support any business that’s trying so hard, and succeeding so brilliantly.

The Aviator’s Attic is so infused with a love of aviation that I assumed it was run by a pilot. Not so. The shop is run by non-pilot Heather Cochran, who somehow has tapped into the pulse of pilots, and is clearly a woman of imbecilically good taste and marketing savvy. And I was sure glad she was open late.

It would have been a shame to leave nose prints on her store’s windows.

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Maximum bummer

I was raised in a baseball family. I think we were St. Louis Cardinals fans. I’m not sure why; we lived in southwestern Colorado. Actually, now that I think back on it, it was more than just baseball. We went to college basketball games each week, never missed a minute of the Super Bowl, and always took in the Kentucky Derby. Growing up, I only heard my father swear twice: Once when he cut through a live wire with his Swiss Army knife trying to fix a lamp (he was a college professor, and as a general rule college professors shouldn’t be allowed access to sharp objects), and the second time when he shocked me at a hockey game by standing up and shouting at the referee, “Dust off your $%&#@ glass eye, ref!”

Mom still follows baseball, which leads to many baffling conversations between the two of us. When she starts talking about blue jays and orioles, I think she’s giving me the rundown of the action at the bird feeder in her front yard. Imagine my shock when suddenly a diamondback shows up. Then a tiger. Followed by a draft dodger, some pirates, a giant, and a bunch of Indians. About the time I think I need to check mom’s pill box to ensure that she’s not doubling down on her meds, I realize that we’re not talking about the bird feeder. We’re talking about the World Series.

You see, unlike the rest of my family, I didn’t get the sports gene. It plum skipped over me. I got my mom’s blue eyes, my dad’s beard, but that whole sports thing? Nope. Now, my sisters did  get the sports gene, proof that the love of sports has no connection to gender, but no sport ever held even a flicker of interest to me.

No sport, that is, until I got exposed to the Red Bull Air Race World Championship.

And even that wasn’t love at first sight. The first time I took in a Red Bull, it was in person. And I didn’t even go for the race. I went for the pre-race party. But as I was there anyway, I decided to watch the race. It was OK, I guess. But it didn’t strike me as much of a race. I mean, seriously, the planes flew one at a time? What kind of race is that?

Now for perspective, I gotta tell you about the timing of this. I had already decided to try my own hand at air racing for reasons I can no longer recall, and I had joined SARL, but I had yet to fly my first race. So I was completely innocent of, and ignorant about, my hidden competitive nature. Inheriting my mother’s sports-fan gene: Nope. Inheriting my mother’s highly competitive nature: Oh yes.

My point here is that I had yet to be swept up in air racing. But sometime after I was racing myself, I stumbled on a televised Red Bull Air Race, and found it to be a hell of a good show. The problem was that it was on an obscure third-tier sports channel, in the middle of the night, with no seeming connection to the actual race—in terms of schedule—so finding it was hit and miss. I’d watch it if I found it, but I didn’t really follow it. Not, that is, until we got a DVR. Now, like Captain Kirk talking to the Enterprise’s computer, I could simply speak into my TV remote (crazy, huh?) and say, “Record Red Bull Air Race,” and damn if it wouldn’t do it.

After that, it didn’t take long for the whole family to get hooked on the Red Bull. After all, it’s a highly digestible sport. Unlike the National Championship Air Races in Reno—which is an excellent spectator sport—with Red Bull,  there’s a limited number of racers to keep track of, and they are all pretty interesting. Plus, rather than being a single packed week once a year, the Red Bull is a series, about once a month or so for a good part of the year, like other types of league sports. The photography is awesome, the venues are amazing, the rules are clearly explained and easy to grasp, and, of course, it has airplanes with smoke systems. And inflatable pylons that burst when hit. What’s not to love?

And with the DVR, we could plan a day to watch it when we could all gather together. And planning ahead, we could, Super Bowl-style, plan parties around the races. Parties with hot wings, deep fried mozzarella sticks with marinara dipping sauce, pinwheel sandwiches, pigs in a blanket, potato skins, potato chips with sour cream and onion dip, corn chips with fiery queso dip, guacamole, veggie platters, crustless baloney sandwiches, fortune cookies, and for liquid refreshment, taking a page from Reno, we drank Basque Specials: 50% red wine, 50% diet coke.

And that was just the menu for our first Red Bull Air Race party. Granted, it was over-kill for five people.

But like any other sports fans, we got better, and we learned to create a more reasonable pile of food to sustain ourselves as we shouted and cheered from the edge of the couch as the race planes roared around the pylons. We got so swept up in the series that we even took up drinking Red Bull energy drinks.

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Photo: Lisa F. Bentson

That was last season. At the start of this season we decided for our party to serve foods from the host country of each race. As race day for the season launch closed in, however, my Captain Kirk computer wasn’t working. “No results found,” said the DVR, day after day.

I finally emailed my media contacts at Red Bull, and was told that the only way for people in the USA to watch the races was on the internet. Bummer.

After kicking around our options, we decided to attempt to stream the race on my mom’s big screen TV. We cooked up an Emirates feast (thank you, Google) for the season kick-off at Abu Dhabi, re-arranged her living room furniture, mixed up our Basque Specials, and sat back to enjoy our favorite sport.

Five seconds into the opening credits, the streaming video froze. Then it pixilated into electronic chaos. Our rural internet was not up the to the challenge. We dejectedly ate our saffron-infused Kabsa and drank waaaaay more red wine and coke than usual, mom’s blank big screen TV dominating the sad little gathering. Little did I know at the time that no amount of red wine and coke would drown my sorrows over the next chapter in the Red Bull Air Race, because, as you probably know by now, Red Bull has kicked their Air Race to the curb.

On May 29, forever in my book to be known as Black Wednesday, the headline at GA News read, “Red Bull calls it quits for its air races.” I was stunned. Then it got worse: Not only did Red Bull back out, they slashed the season to a mere three more races, and canceled the American race altogether. Later that same day, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, who had been pestering me daily to buy tickets, announced it would be issuing refunds.

So now I’m a newly discovered sports fan without a sport to watch. And with my own Race 53 sidelined for a second season, I’m also a competitor with no competition to compete in.

Now what?

I guess I’ll have to watch a baseball game. Or maybe not. That little dirt mound in the middle can’t compete in my mind with a swaying 82-foot orange and white pylon.

And after all, I didn’t get the sports gene.