Ree and I popped over to Tucumcari today to visit a pilot friend and take her to brunch. The morning was lovely, and we set out for SXU just as the sun was beginning to paint the sky a riot of pinks, reds, and oranges. A distant straggler from the previous night’s line of thunderstorms was retreating to the east, dragging a trail of virga over the mesa tops. High wispy cirrus clouds topped the dome of the sky.
We lifted off smooth as an elevator and turned due East… Straight into the sun.
Memo to self: Avoid early morning flights due East.
25 minutes of squinting and sunburn later, we finally caught up to the the straggler storm and stole some much-needed shade from it. Just shy of our destination we rolled off course and dropped down to the tree tops to search out a probable airmail beacon site, but came up dry. Based on our past finds (I don’t think I got around to blogging it yet, but farther west Rio and I found two more sites a few weeks ago), we knew the folks that built the beacon towers had a fondness for the high ground. Anyway, looking at the marked location of our current target on the old charts, and studying the terrain on our GPS, I was absolutely positive I could find this site in two seconds. The GPS showed a lone butte of the type the beacon service was fond of.
But when we got there, there was no lone butte. The land below our wings was a virtual village of buttes, cerittios, hills and hillocks. The damn thing is down there somewhere, but finding it would have to wait until we had more time. We had a brunch date. We peeled off and pointed our nose to Tucumcari, airport ID TCC.
I love TCC. It’s kinda long in the tooth now (like many New Mexico airports), but at one time it was a happenin’ place. They have two good runways, a large terminal, a lovely old-school beacon tower with the big rotating light, dozens of old hangars, shops, and hail sheds–mostly empty–and, my favorite feature, a fueling island.
Back in the day, at busy airports, islands like this one made it possible to fill up a lot of planes quickly and easily. The pump is in the middle and a long hose can reach any point on the island. You don’t have to wait in line for the previous guy to leave before you get your plane filled up. Today, Tess was the only visitor, and the lineman was good natured about putting a gallon and a half in each wing. Hey, it wasn’t much, but we always try to support any airport we land at.
Over brunch our pal, whom I’ll call “Betty,” filled us in on her adventures at the big EAA fly-in at Oshkosh, and then we started talking about planes. She’s into both Ultralights and Light Sports and has built, five, I think. I asked her how she got into airplanes. “Oh, I started with RC planes,” she told me. For those of you who don’t know, RC stands for Radio Controlled, and while some folks might regard these as toys, nothing could be farther from the truth. RC planes are miniature planes that do everything their larger people-carrying cousins can do. Including crash. Trust me, I know about this, having four times crashed Rio’s RC helicopter
“I still have some, would you like to pop by my place on the way back to the airport and see them?” Betty asked.
I glanced at my watch and glanced at Rio, who bobbed his head up and down. OK, we got time and the boy wants to see the planes. Why not?
So we went. OMG, what a collection! Betty had nearly 50 RC planes hanging from the ceilings of every room of her house. Some were HUGE. All were beautiful. The detail was immaculate. She had a twin-engine Cessna 310 that must have a had a wing span of four feet. There was a Pitts. A Cub. A F4 Phantom. Float planes. An anphib. High wings. Low wings. Bi wings. Even a frickin’ airliner for crying out loud!
She built every one of them herself. Some from kits, some from plans, some from scratch. I was stunned. But my favorite was an amazing shiny silver Ercoupe, flying upside down from her living room ceiling (above a large HO scale electric train set that took up nearly every square foot of the room). At the controls was Barbie. Buggs bunny was the co-pilot.
Betty saw me gazing lovingly at the silver ‘Coupe. “That was the first plane I ever built,” she told me with pride. “I built it from scratch. No plans. No kit. It flies good too.” I was absolutely floored. Trust me on this, I spend a lot of time looking at Ercoupes. And Betty got every detail, every curve, every contour, every detail exactly perfect, right down the the spark plug covers. Her Ercoupe was a masterpiece.
That’s what’s great about the aviation world. It’s full of unexpected connections. Her first “plane” was an Ercoupe.
So was mine.