Will work for AvGas

I glared over the rim of my decaf, eyes not focused on the restaurant, but in my mind’s eye on the empty hangar we just left. “This,” I said definitively, “is why rich people have two airplanes.”

Mom and Lisa exchanged glances. They had been talking about the Silver Moon’s deep-fried cheesecake. It took their brains a second to shift gears back to aviation, which mine had never left. Lisa got there first. “So you have one to fly while the other one is in the shop?” she asked.

“Exactly,” I replied, setting the cup down with a bit more force than I’d intended to, slopping some of the dark liquid over the side. We’d come to SXU to pick up our airshow posters, a few of our trophies, and our rubber chickens. More on that in a minute. As the season is changing, with freezing nights ahead, we also drained the filter pods on the plane washing machine, unplugged and emptied out the hangar fridge, and—basically—winterized the place.

As there was just a splat of post-flight wine left in the fridge, we hung out when we were done and polished it off. Our hangar is really the ultimate pilot cave, walls covered with Ercoupe ads, articles, artifacts, and art. It has a relaxed come-and-hang-out vibe. Only one thing was missing.

An airplane.

Instead, right smack in the middle of the hangar was a huge chunk of nothing. When the plane dominates the space, there is a comfy margin around her for worktables and lounging chairs, but it’s cozy. With the plane absent, the space is awkward. Everything is crowded against the walls for no apparent reason. Out of years of habit, none of us even walked though the empty space that dominated the center of the hangar while we moved our cargo to Lisa’s 4Runner. Instead we walked around the void’s perimeter as if the center were sacred ground that could not be walked through on pain of death.

What’s up with the rubber chickens, you ask? Math. We’ve been asked to create a display at the fifth New Mexico Aviation Aerospace STEM Expo, the largest in the nation. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEM programs help prepare young people for the tech jobs of tomorrow, and to introduce them to the fields these jobs will dominate.

Actually, the Expo people originally asked if Race 53 could be displayed, but she’s sitting engineless in Santa Fe with bags of Quickrete holding her tail off the ground.

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So with the first choice unavailable, I, as second runner up (why is it I’m always coming in second?) was asked if I’d be willing to talk to the three thousand plus middle and high school students who are expected to attend this year. I agreed and asked the director if he wanted me to talk about the World Record, Air Racing, or aviation writing.

He said, “yes.”

But then I realized that nothing I do has a thing to do with STEM. I reviewed the info on the event. The executive summary read: “Attendees will directly interact with hands-on displays…” Not having a plane to display, I knew we had to come up with some good hands-on alternatives. Of course we have some dead instruments, a model of the plane, some maps and tools of the trade, but it’s our rubber chicken adventure that deployed the greatest use of STEM in our household. I figured we could talk about how we used math and the scientific method to jettison rubber chicken in flight and accurately hit a ground-based target.

STEM in action.

Actually, the chickens, like our trophies and the rest of “stuff,” are just along to attract attention. Once the students are engaged, I plan to point out that while record setting and racing aren’t good career paths, there are many good careers available in aviation that, while not actually earning a living flying a plane, would give a young person a good enough income to own and fly a plane of his or her own just for the joy of it. Just for the joy of setting records, racing, or throwing out rubber chickens. And what kinds of jobs would those be? Mechanics, avionics people, air traffic controllers, engineers, and maybe even people who write about aviation for a living.

But what I won’t tell them is that they need a job good enough to support two airplanes.

That can wait until they’re a little older.

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