Flying is the most fun you can have with your clothes on, although I confess I’ve never tried flying naked, so it might just be the most fun you can have, period. Still, I was about to discover the next-best thing.
Rio and I arrived at Cutter before dawn to redeploy the newly scrubbed and immaculately clean Tessie from the Sunport, where she was cleaned and detailed; to Double Eagle II, the site of the airshow, a short thirteen-mile hop across Albuquerque. The moon was just setting over the jumbo jets as we fired up our little ride and contacted Clearance Delivery. Much to our surprise we were cleared to the big 13,793 foot long, 150 foot wide Runway 08, taking off between an American airliner and a United jet. Sometimes I think Ercoupes are so rare that controllers don’t really know what we are and don’t want to embarrass themselves by asking.
Across the sleeping city we went, dreading a swarm of gnats that, luckily, were apparently still asleep. I think we picked up only one bug getting to the show. We landed as sparkly as we left. Check out this image shot by Larry Bell, a self-described plane-loving daydreamer (and aspiring photographer):
Photo by Larry Bell
After a brief tiff with the lineman (Yeah, everyone one thinks they’re a static display. No really, we ARE.), we quickly set up shop and put up our signs. We shared the ramp in front of the exhibit hall hangar with a classic Boeing Stearman, a modern Carbon Cub, an aerobatic Pitts Special biplane, a Cessna L19 Bird Dog in Army green with faux missiles, a bright yellow T-34, and the single-seat SubSonex U-Build-It private jet. Not bad company.
Within minutes we were chatting with people who’d come to see the show. Again and again we heard pilots and plane lovers say how beautiful the Plane Tales Plane was. How great her paint looked. How clean she was. “Immaculate,” said one man. “Simply beautiful,” said another. “Perfect,” said a third, running his hand lovingly over her side.
One man, who’d been reading our sign, turned at stared at Tessie for a long time, saying nothing. Finally he turned to me and said, “Your plane and I are the same age, and I’m afraid I’m not as in good’a shape!”
The crowd ebbed and flowed, but never stopped. We chatted with a man who took his first plane ride with his father in an Ercoupe in the 1940s. Another told me that his father owned the first Ercoupe sold in the state. We boosted children up on the wings and helped them into the cockpit, while their parents snapped pictures with their iPhones.
A tall, thin, gangly teenager lurked around the edge of the crowd, avoiding eye contact. He’d stare longingly at the plane, then disappear, only to show up half an hour later. On his fourth or fifth orbit I finally caught his eye. I nodded towards the cockpit. “Go ahead, get in.” He sprang to the wing and slid with liquid grace into the cockpit. He sat—barely moving—for a long fifteen minutes, absorbing the sights and the feel of the cockpit, slowly taking in the instruments, and occasionally stroking the yoke. His eyes were distant and I think he and Tess were off on a private imaginary flight, high above the crowd.
A woman with a baby told me she couldn’t imagine being in a small plane as she was afraid of heights. I told her being in a small plane doesn’t feel high so she had nothing to fear. Another woman asked me to explain vertical airspeed to her. A third woman told me she’d not flown for years and wasn’t sure she could learn again. I assured her I’d been a rusty pilot myself and told her how easy it was to get back in the saddle again.
Speaking of lady pilots, swarms of children competing in an aeronautical scavenger hunt descended on Grandma Jean, hoping she was a female pilot. I in turn disappointed many by not being a helicopter pilot (I’ve one hour of instruction in a helicopter, but that doesn’t make one a helicopter pilot), but I was able to redeem myself by pointing out the “tail dragger” next door or signing off as a person who could fly more than one type of airplane. My logbook shows twenty-two types.
Photo by Joyce Woods
I skipped out in the middle of the morning to teach a WINGs seminar, leaving Rio, Debs, Mom, and Lisa to collectively or alternately man the display; but after that, I spent the rest of the day cooling my feet in the shadow of Tessie’s wings and answering questions about Ercoupes. Largely about the fact that, no, they don’t have rudder pedals. And yes they fly just fine. And I’ll be happy to take on anyone in a crosswind-landing contest.
Several people told me that they’d come to the show just to see the Plane Tales Plane. The rest of the crew said they also heard the same thing from a handful of different people. Most had read about us in the local newspaper, some in the State aviation newsletter, and still others in Flying Magazine. One man told me he’d come just to meet me. That didn’t hurt my ego any.
I’m told that 1,600 people attended this year, up from only 800 the previous year. I doubt we can single-handedly take credit for doubling the turnout, but it’s fun to pretend so.
The entire experience was awesome. Heady. Fun. I wish I could do it every weekend. Of course the odds of us being invited to be a static display again are remote, but I think airshows are going to be part of our mission profile going forward. In fact, I was so excited that when I got home I ordered some customized wheel chocks from Sporty’s Pilot Shop.
That way we’ll have the perfect look for the next airshow we’re invited to. Whenever that may be. After all, fame is fleeting. Like planes, it soon flies away.
Unless I can think of some other famous thing to do to keep our girl in the limelight…