My soul is vibrating with the joy of being alive with other bright souls. Here in the birthplace of aviation, I have found myself again, and reconnected with what really fulfills me and makes my heart sing. And that is sharing and laughing with others, reveling together in this experience called life.
I hardly know where to begin, it has been so non stop since we’ve arrived with the sunset at Moraine Airfield Thursday evening. We can’t get over the fantastic, welcoming folks here. I have fallen in love with several of them, and I know Jerry and Chrissy feel the same.
Our weekend at the Ladies Taildragger fly in has consisted of going to the airport each day to spend time with other aviation enthusiasts and to fly. Everywhere, beautiful airplanes meet the eye and there is not a bad angle anywhere. Flying wires, wings, radial engines and classic paint schemes in bright colors. Andy and Susan’s hangar is the center of the fly in. Chairs and tables next to coolers full of cold pop and water offer a place in the shade for folks to visit with a perfect view of the ramp and runway. Then the grills come out and several gentlemen (I was told women don’t cook at the hangar, especially during the ladies fly in) prepare the most delicious food. Bratwurst and burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, steaks, and wonderful side dishes and desserts.
The hangar houses several Waco biplanes: two Waco RNFs a Cabin Waco, a Waco KNF, and a Waco 10, with a fuselage and several wings everywhere. There is no lack of something beautiful and interesting to look at. These people are passionate about their antique airplanes, and Wacos in particular. It’s a bit of a maze to make ones way to the restroom at the rear of the hangar through all the airplanes as one steps around wingtips, rudders, and wooden propellors. What breathtakingly beautiful machines. It was such a treat to literally be in the thick of such an assemblage of flying history. And if the airplanes aren’t enough, the hangar is chock full of interesting objects from bygone eras. An old organ, a vintage coke machine, old cans and photographs of famous aviators of the Golden era.
Several ladies flew in and the ramp boasted the WW II primary trainer Stearman biplanes, Cabin Wacos, Waco RNFs, Cessna 120 and 140’s, Cubs, and so many more. The lady pilots are incredible, and come from such diverse backgrounds, but they all have a certain, bright eyed spark to them, a zest for life and a love of flying. I am so honored to be part of such a special group. One woman in particular, Terri, and I bonded through our similar experiences as long time flight instructors and corporate pilots. She and I will be staying in touch I’m certain. And then there is Susan, dear, dear Susan. What a classy woman with such a love for flying her Waco RNF. Susan the giver of the pink shoebox full of brownies, who stayed up every night on east coast time to read her “bedtime story” as she called our blog. She is the grande dame of the hangar, as she directs a troop of young men who adore her and spring into action at her command. I enjoyed watching her rule her kingdom. “Bring that airplane in next, watch the wingtip on the fridge, it’s got a pie in it!”. Susan and her husband Andy are two of the finest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, and they couldn’t have made us feel more welcomed. She and I are convinced we are kindred spirits, and I can’t be happier to have made the acquaintance of this “sister in the sky”.
Sophia (Future Pilot), and her parents Mike and Kathie have been at the fly in every day. They are the neatest family and it’s wonderful how Mike and Kathie support Sophia’s dream to fly. Mike has been blazing away with his camera non stop when he’s not manning the grill. Friday, Sophia was my first passenger out of Moraine Airfield. I had put the front stick in, and I let her do some level turns. She did a great job and was a very apt student. Afterwards, I signed her logbook. I can confidently say that Sophia is the only 11 year old girl in the world with Student Prince time. Kathie, Sophia’s mother, delightedly related to me later that when a man asked Sophie if she got to fly an airplane, and she responded that she had flown a Student Prince, he nearly choked on his soda. I also had the great pleasure of sharing time aloft in the Prince with Judy, the always cheerful and efficient organizer of this fly in and the creator of ladieslovetaildraggers.com organization. Judy has brought many like minded female aviators together with her creation of this wonderful organization. I flew with Aaron, a young pilot and antique airplane enthusiast and oh so helpful assistant to anyone, (especially Queen Susan). My new friend Terri also experienced flying the Prince. It was also my great pleasure to take Brett, a former Port Townsend High classmate, and former student pilot of mine flying. Brett and I used to fly charters together when we worked for Port Townsend Airways. Several years later, he has become a corporate jet pilot and relocated to Ohio. Having him come out to see us in Moraine was really special. He even decided to spend the night even though he hadn’t planned on it. We left him in a hangar full of antiques, next to the Student Prince on an air mattress and in his sleeping bag. I hoped he wouldn’t have to use the bathroom at the back of the hangar in the middle of the night. It would have been challenging. I also had the great honor of flying in the Prince with Herb, a WWII P47 Thunderbolt pilot who flew 103 missions in the European theater. At the age of 92, Herb climbed into the front cockpit with the ease of a person half his age. When I turned the flight controls over to him, he immediately began a moderate descent gathering speed and seemingly aiming at a barn. When I queried him about it, he responded that it was what they did in the Thunderbolt, drew a line on a target. With that, he banked smoothly and smartly to the right and pulled up, releasing the controls back to me. It was clear that his muscle memory of his fighter pilot days was deeply ingrained and still fully present.
I had been the only plane flying initially, but as evening brought smooth air and calm winds, I found myself sharing the pattern with several other airplanes. Aeronca Champs, cabin Wacos, and Susan’s Waco RNF biplane, the setting sun bouncing off her yellow wings and orange/red fuselage.
It was such a treat to take folks flying in the Prince and to share the experience with them. I must have earned some good karma, because I got to ride in a 1930 Waco CRG. The only one in existence and what a machine! It belongs to Pete, who is Andy’s brother. It used to belong to their father. I had watched Pete taking lucky passengers for rides in it while I flew and when I shut the Prince down and Andy gestured for me to get in the front cockpit while Pete idled the engine, I literally ran. I clambered into the huge front seat, fastened a substantial lap belt and felt my mouth go dry. I could feel the heat from the huge 240 horsepower Wright radial engine in front of my knees, and it was deafening even at idle. When Pete advanced the throttle on takeoff, I was pushed back into the seat. That airplane pulled like a raging beast and continued to do so during the climb turning Moraine airfield into a diminutive rectangle in a matter of seconds. Between screaming, I managed to take a few pictures. My favorite is of Pete, who has flown the airplane for more than a quarter century. In the photo he is ecstatic, a man so clearly enjoying himself to the fullest. Pete turned on his smoke, and we laid a trail a few feet over the runway on a low pass. He did a few nice wingovers and I was just hoping like mad that he would let me have a hand at the controls. And he did. I took hold of the control stick, gave it a shove and nothing happened. For a brief second I wondered if the controls were stuck. I used both hands and put some muscle into it. What a heavy airplane. I did a couple of two handed wingovers and gratefully handed the controls back to him. After that, Pete became a flying Popeye in my book. Designed for one purpose, to win transcontinental races, the Waco CRG is built for straight and level speed, not for ladylike, easy control loads. Pete told me later that his father had said to he and Andy years ago,”Boys, you want to pick your day when you fly that airplane.” As for me, I nearly fell off the wing walk after Pete had shut down, my knees were so weak from excitement, my eyes were huge, and my hair was wild. To the delight of onlookers, I collapsed on the grass and kissed the ground. I had just experienced something I will never forget. Later, Andy took Chrissy and I for a ride in his 1930 Cabin Waco. Unlike its cousin, the CRG, this airplane was a machine of luxury and refinement. A plush interior, crank down windows and lots of room, the Cabin Waco was the corporate airplane of its day. It even had an ashtray. I told Andy that I felt like I should be be drinking a martini, reading the Wall Street Journal, and enjoying a cigarette. He said yes, and that I should also be wearing a fedora. The Cabin Waco flew like a dream, beautifully balanced, and light (thank goodness!) controls. Chrissy in the backseat looked like a little girl on a nearly too exciting carnival ride as we did a low pass down the runway in formation with another Cabin Waco. We giggled like kids when we landed.
Yesterday, it started to sink in that we will soon be saying goodbye to our new friends and that this will soon be ending. I found myself misty eyed several times throughout the day, especially when I removed the panel from the biplane that has “Lady Summer” written on it. I asked Sophia to pass it around throughout the day. My new friends, and Chrissy and Jerry signed the back of it with a black sharpie, inscribing endearing messages. I refastened it onto the Prince with a heart full to bursting with the love represented on both sides of that panel. During the hangar steak dinner, Judy stood and gave such a sincere acknowledgment to us for making the trip and how special it was to them all. I was too choked with emotion to respond, and Chrissy squeezed my hand as her eyes wells up too.
Today we bid farewell to all of pilots who flew in. There is something so poetic and sweetly sad about watching your friends wing away. Those of us who remained decided to fly about 20 miles northwest to Pete and Kelli’s home on their private grass runway. But before we left the hangar in Moraine, Brad made sure we all had plenty of “ammo”, as he handed me a roll of toilet paper with a gleam in his eye. Queen Susan led the way in her Waco, Chrissy and I followed in the Prince, Terri in her Cessna 140, Brad and Patrick in the Champ with Andy and Aaron in the Citabria. We gaggled along in loose formation until I saw Susan make a low pass down a gorgeous, long, wide grass runway surrounded by bean fields, and Andy following suit. That’s when I set up for my bombing mission. Climbing up so I’d be well above the other planes, I flew over Pete’s hangar and tossed the roll of toilet paper overboard. At first it just fell, and then it unfurled. I swooped down on it a couple of times, cutting it and making some confetti, but the majority of the streamer remained intact while Chrissy and I watched in delighted astonishment as the streamer landed perfectly in a tree next to Pete’s hangar. I was laughing so hard I wondered if I would be capable of landing. It couldn’t have been better placed. Pete and Kelli met us at the hangar, laughing too. Kelli introduced us to her beautiful horses and Chrissy and I got a horse fix. Terri said farewll and took off in her trusty little Cessna for her home airport and the rest of us back to Moraine. Pete came along too, flying in his yellow Cub. It was a blissful day, full of friends, flying, horses and laughter.
Tomorrow our focus will be on preparing for the return leg to home. Laundry, buying batteries for the GPS, intercom, and handheld radio, oil changes for both airplanes, adjusting the valves on the Prince, greasing the rockers and torquing the propellor. I will also be clearing the eastbound tracks from the flight tracking device in preparation for the homebound leg.
Conflicting emotions will be present for us all when we take off on tuesday morning. Sadness at leaving our new sky brothers and sisters, and anticipation to see our home and loved ones. I prepared Chrissy when we crossed the Cascades headed east at the beginning of our adventure. I told her that she won’t be the same person when we return home. None of us will be. Because when one has stretched themselves beyond what they have imagined is possible, refusing to let fear limit them and instead choosing to lead with their heart and let the journey unfold, one can then experience what it is to be truly alive. And the soul will sing.