Sunday, the day we weren’t flying in a 75-plane chain to Oshkosh, we got to the airport late. After all, we only had a twenty-minute flight down to West Bend, so there was no need to get an early start. But we found Sheboygan abuzz with activity. People were running back and forth. Engines roared. Planes jockeyed for position.
It had the vibe of a combat airfield, and immediately I had a pang of regret, followed by an uneasy feeling that I was a traitor.
Small groups of planes were doing close-order take offs. A flight of six. Then a flight of four. A glorious flight of ten roared off, one after another, lifting off into the morning light. I avoided my peers and preflighted the Plane Tales Plane.
Syd Cohen jogged by, “Are you with my flight?”
Uhh… no. We’re moving the plane down to West Bend, I admitted sheepishly. He gave me a funny look and hurried on about his business. I couldn’t look Rio in the eye.
Between squadrons of Ercoupes, we taxied the Plane Tales Plane out by herself, and without fanfare, took off solo. A flight of one. Instead of heading West towards Fond Du Lac, then north to Oshkosh, we flew east to Lake Michigan, and then south along the shore. I handed the plane off to Rio and he guided her down the coast. I couldn’t shake the feeling I’d made a bad call, but I kept running though the “logic” of my decision and could find no fault with it.
We had a pleasant flight, met our ground crew, in the person of Grandma Jean, who had two week’s luggage crammed into her Jeep Trailhawk, at the West Bend Airport, and hangered the plane.
The next morning we went to Airventure. By car.
After half an hour in a proper city bumper-to-bumper traffic jam, we were finally guided into a parking place and set off to the airfield on foot. We spent the morning poking around the massive grounds, looking at airplanes, talking to people, and taking pictures. Rio and I took a ride in an old Ford Tri-Motor, and sat in a sexy South African Sling light sport plane, which I confess I might have actually drooled on. It was a great day.
We slowly worked our way southwards along the field, ending up eventually at the “Vintage Red Barn,” the on-field HQ for the Vintage Aircraft Association, of which we are members. Here the various vintage aircraft owner’s groups had booths set up, and this is where we bumped into Larry Snyder, President of our own Ercoupe Owners Club, who was delighted to see me.
At least for two minutes.
He said something like: Oh, thank God, there you are! I don’t have anybody’s contact info and I’ve been trying to get ahold of you. At the last minute they told us they want a flight of Ercoupes in the airshow the mark the anniversary. I’ve got four pilots and planes lined up, and I want you to be the fifth.
My heart sank. The best pilots in the world compete for the honor of flying at Airventure. It’s an opportunity I never expected to have. It would have been something to be proud of until my dying day.
My plane is in West Bend, I said. There was no time to try to drive back, fetch her, and bring her up to Oshkosh.
“Well, what on earth is it doing down there?” demanded Larry.
I gave him my lame explanation. I think he called me an eff’in traitor. Or maybe he said it served me right for being an eff’in traitor. Something like that. Well-deserved salt in the wound.
My decision to not fly-in to Oshkosh cost me the opportunity to be part of this:
OK. It didn’t really look like that. It looked like this.
But my heart sank to its lowest level ever as I stood on the sidelines and watched the other four Ercoupes fly by to the applause of the crowd, and the cheers for our “little airplanes.”
As they peeled off one-by-one after their fly-bys, I knew that I had missed the opportunity of a lifetime. Probably the one and only chance I’ll ever have to brag I’d flown in an airshow at Oshkosh.
Or… maybe not. After all, the 100th Anniversary of the Ercoupe is only 24 years, eleven months, and 29 days away. And Rio has promised to take me, “If you’re still well enough.”
I’ll be 77 years-old.
In the coming weeks: Airventure Adventures. Tales from an epic father-son trip. Plus Tessie (and Grandma Jean!) win trophies.