Lisa taxied up, shut down her engine, pulled off her headset, and stuck her head out the window. “Wanna fly today?” she called out.
I started toward Warbler’s right wing, but Lisa unbuckled her seat belt, and slid over to the right hand side, making elaborate gestures that I should fly from the left. I reversed course around Warbie’s twin tails, mounted the left wing and stepped down into the cockpit.
I’ve now got enough time in Warbler that I’m starting to feel at home in his spartan cabin.
I buckled in, adjusted my oil-stained Hat in the Ring Society baseball cap, slid my headset over my ears, and pulled the engine-start checklist out from the side pocket. Warbler’s procedures are so simple that a checklist is hardly necessary—there are only a few items on it—but it’s important to maintain good habits, and to set a good example.
I reach under the instrument panel and open the main fuel valve. Then I reach back over the seat to turn on the master switch, which is in the luggage compartment. I push the throttle in a quarter of an inch. Push the mixture and carb heat knobs all the way forward. Switch the ignition to both, shout “Clear!”, and give a healthy pull on the starter.
Warbler rumbles to life, through my headset his engine sounding midway between a lawn mower and a Harley Davidson.
“It’s starting to get bumpy,” Lisa warns me. And sure enough, ten minutes later, 100 feet off the runway, Warbler hits the first pothole.Thump! The seatbelt digs into my gut. Then his left wing wallows downward, followed by unexpected lift on the tail. The sky gremlins were toying with us as a bored cat with a trapped mouse. It’s hardly alligator-wresting turbulence, but it’s bumpy enough to make one second guess a pleasure flight. It’s not like we needed to get the plague serum to Nome or anything.
I briefly debate returning to the field and getting started on a gin and tonic, but instead, I head an unusual direction. To avoid crossing the town, Lisa normally practices her maneuvers south and east of SXU. My race practice course is north and east. For some reason, today I decide to overfly the city and head out to the southwest, in the general direction of Vaughn, the next community over, about 40 miles away. It has an un-maned airport—N17—with no services, not even a bathroom; but if you’re hungry and land there, you can call Penny’s Diner and they’ll send a busboy or hostess over to pick you up, and will return you to your plane later.
As we wing over the flatter terrain outside of town the turbulence settles down, then subsides. Santa Rosa sits snuggled down in a rift carved by the Pecos River. Wind racing across the arid land tumbles down into the rift then belches upwards again in the general vicinity of the airport. The disturbed flow reaches far beyond the town to the east on most days, and I had just come to accept it as the cost of doing businesses around here. I was amazed at how still the sky upwind of the city was.
We fly writers overuse the literary device “smooth as glass,” but that’s what it was.
Below me, a wide ranch road, a ribbon of white across the landscape, beckoning. I cross the road, bank left, turning a full 180 degrees to re-cross the road, then bank right to reverse the maneuver, then bank left again, then right. Like a quilter sewing two pieces of patchwork together, I stich up the two sides of the road from the sky.
Now the road below angles right, then left, then farther left. My S-turns bend and twist to match the snaking road below—my 180’s sometimes 240s and other times 120s. Warbler’s nose stays glued to the horizon as I bank his wings first right, then left, then right again. The maneuver is smooth. Unbroken. Graceful. Fluid. Joyful.
I’m no longer flying Warbler. He and I are flying as a unit. One organism.