Book a flight for this great read

Normally, coming of age tales make me want to barf. Partly because I was born old, or so says my mother, (so I never needed to come of age), and partly because they tend to be sappy-sentimental-trash.

That’s why Rinker Buck’s Flight of Passage sat in the tower of need-to-read books by my bedside for a good half-year or more before I cracked it open. I bought the story of two brothers flying a Piper Cub coast-to-coast in the 60’s on a whim after reading that their very cub had been found and restored. I’m impulsive that way.

cover FOP

But once I finally started reading it, I found I couldn’t put it down, and I wished I hadn’t put it off so long.

Why? Well, for one thing it’s superbly well-written. And for another, it’s a great story from a great age in general aviation. The Buck boys made the 1966 flight from New Jersey to California in a Piper Cub that didn’t even have a radio. But everywhere they went there were airports, fuel, and “geezers” who gave them tips on flying the local area.

It was wonderful, but it saddened me, too, as I realized how much has changed since then. How much the vibrancy of general aviation has faded. The three airports closest to my home base are open, but empty. They don’t sell fuel. No one is around when you land. Some of them feel as eerie as ghost towns.

The book traces the weeklong adventures of pilot in command Kern Buck—age 16 at the time—and the author, his younger brother. The boys became an overnight media sensation during the trek, but then like so many aviation sensations, they disappeared from collective memory as quickly as they appeared. It wasn’t until three decades later that Rinker Buck wrote the story of the flight. I’m astounded at his ability to remember so much from so long ago. He captures a time a place lost to us while recounting how the flight created a lifetime bond between him and his older brother, and helped them both navigate their complex relationship with their demanding father—an old barnstormer who taught both boys to fly.

The book carried me aloft and along in their noisy, drafty, vibrating cub; and the story kept me engaged. Night after night I stole some solo time after dinner to read a few pages, then later selected an alternate bedtime to fly deeper into the 351-page volume. As I came towards the end of the book, a sense of sadness overcame me, I didn’t want it to end. And last night, when I closed the cover after reading the last page, a wave of depression came over me.

Now what on earth will I do with my free time?

A book that good is a rare treat indeed. So “book” a flight with Flight of Passage. You won’t regret the trip.

A Plane case of mistaken identity

Lisa sent me an email with a couple of images today. They looked like close-ups of a Bell 47—the iconic M*A*S*H chopper—on a helipad. A bizarre tinge of unjustified jealously tickled forehead and worked its way down to my stomach. Had she started hanging out at airports without me?

But when I looked closer, I was surprised to see her son Adrian sitting at the controls!

Image 1

Abandoned by Adrian, too? Was he two-timing the Plane Tales Crew with helicopter people for his scientific missions? Rather than being happy for my friends, I felt oddly put out, left out, and just basically miffed.

I grumpily scrolled down to the second helicopter picture to see a second man was in the cockpit with Adrian. He looked somehow familiar, but I couldn’t place him. I don’t know too many helicopter guys. Hmmmm…. Graying hair, beard, glasses, something about that nose… With a shock I realized it was a picture of me!

Image

What am I doing in a helicopter? Wait. That can’t be…

Checklist time:

  • Am I losing my mind?
  • Am I losing my memory?
  • Am I awake right now?

I’m pretty sure I’m not losing my mind, although they say you’re the last to know if you are. I can remember flying events pretty well, and I’m quite sure I’ve only flown a helicopter once, and that was back in 1984. So I must be dreaming.

Yes. That must be it. One of those funky dreams that seem real. A funky dream where someone sends you pictures of events that never happened. I pinched myself to prove the point.

OUCH!!

Oh. OK. So I’m awake. Ohhhhh…. I know. It’s a joke. It’s one of those Photoshop images like the one of the shark attacking the helicopter that makes its way around the internet, fooling gullible people.

I zoomed in on the second image, looking for telltale signs that my buddy had nearly pulled a fast one over on me, when I got a third shock: The rotor blades weren’t rotor blades. They were Adrian’s critter-tracking antenna. And the helicopter wasn’t a helicopter at all, it was the Plane Tales Plane! It was Tessie!

Up close and personal, from the front and a hair toward her right wing, with her cowl and wings cropped out, her windscreen and canopy look just like a chopper!

Wow! How could I not recognize the family plane?!

Time to run the Checklist again:

  • Am I losing my mind?
  • Am I losing my memory?
  • Am I awake right now?