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.
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.
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.
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.
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.