A new speed record?

Booyah! I just blazed across four separate states in a minute and a half. Or maybe I should say: In ninety seconds. It’s the same time, somehow it just sounds more impressive in seconds. But either way, surely, this must be some kind of record.

What? What’s that you ask? Were they small states?

No, they were average-to-large sized Western states. Each about 300 miles across.

I can almost see those of you who do math in your heads—or are quick with a slide rule—multiplying 300 by four, dividing by 90, and again by the speed of sound and trying to figure out what on earth kind of an airplane can go Mach 62. After all, the SR-71 maxes out at Mach 3.2, Nasa’s unmanned X-43A scramjet managed Mach 9.6 (securing a Guinness World Record Certificate), and even the international space station orbits at “only” Mach 22, give or take a few hundred miles per hour.

OK. I’ll tell you. The airplane was an Ercoupe. And not even the fastest Ercoupe in the WorldTessie. No, I clocked this time in Lisa’s Warbler.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m a lying sack of manure. Or that I’m mathematically deluded. Or that maybe someone slipped some of that funny stuff into my tobacco pipe. Well, I said I crossed four states. I never said I crossed every inch of each.

That loud clunk you just heard was 200 slide rules being dropped in disgust.

Yes, this is more a record of geographical opportunity than one of brute speed. You see, out in the middle of pretty-much-nowhere in the high desert southwest is the only quadripoint in the United States. Quad-ri-what? A point on the earth that touches the borders of four distinct territories. In this case the dusty desert spot where the northeastern corner of Arizona, the southwestern corner of Colorado, the northwestern corner of New Mexico, and the southeastern corner of Utah all kiss.

Growing up in “Four Corners Country,” as it is called, I’d visited this remote site before—on the ground—my father piloting the family Vista Cruiser station wagon across isolated ribbons of concrete and down sagebrush-lined dirt roads so his three kids could play Twister in four states at once.

Fast-forward forty-five years. Returning from our Air Mail Adventure, Lisa and I’s flight plan took us near to pretty much the middle of nowhere, and I realized that a minor deviation from our course would give us the opportunity to overfly four states in one graceful turn about a point.

Twister for adults.

I was sitting right seat, so I orbited the Four Corners Monument (at a respectable height as there were many visitors below) in a clockwise steep right-hand 360, returning to my original heading ninety seconds later. Booyah! Four states in ninety seconds!

Then Lisa took over, banked left and orbited the Monument counter-clockwise, setting a pair of speed records that will stand until a faster plane happens to be flying past the middle of nowhere, and decides to deviate for some airborne fun.

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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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