Sunday, March 06, 2005

Man's Quest for Wings

When the skies turned up clear and blue Saturday morning, Gail and I knew we were going flying. But where to, today? I had been telling her about the places that small-plane pilots congregate; airports with good restaurants! One of my favorite stops in past seasons had been the "Wild Wings Cafe" at the airport in Reading, Pennsylvania. They had over a dozen varieties of chicken wings, and offered a five-way sampler... mmm! Reading is a nice short jaunt, around eighty miles from here; about a 45-minute flight.

So after chipping the plane out of the hangar (another big snowfall had blanketed Cherry Ridge) we were soon aloft and turning southwest. Gail filmed my takeoffs and landings; I can't sweep it under the rug if I bounce one now, she's got evidence! The day was perfect for flying, the air was calm and far warmer than our last trip to upstate New York.

Cleared to land at Reading, and as it turned out I didn't bounce this one. Rather good, actually. As we slowed and rolled out towards the taxiway, the tower controller called and said "Nice paint job, zero-two papa. Looks good." The sunny day was showing the garish colors of my plane to good effect; I enjoy it, it's fun to have something other than white-with-a-stripe. But then he called again with bad news - the Cafe had closed last fall, what were our intentions? Drat. Well, not a total loss; I turned around on the taxiway (try that in a Learjet!) and obtained clearance to cross the runway to the north end of the field. There, in the airport's older hangars, is the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum. They have a nice collection of vintage aircraft, including a few WWII birds and some classic airliners from the 1950s. We parked 02P on the vast ramp, tied her down and wandered over to the static displays.

The ramp was almost deserted, although the airport was fairly busy with transient traffic. But as we approached a museum guide came out with a small tour group; an Amish family, of all things. A husband and wife and a bunch of kids, all dressed in the characteristic style of the Pennsylvania Dutch. (Since one of the tenets of their way of life is a rejection of the modern world and its technology, it was rather incongruous to encounter them here -- boggling curiously at sleek silver airliners!) We gave in to curiosity too, presumably with less shame, and began exploring the old birds mellowing in the sun.

She's macro, I'm candid
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
Airplanes are real expressions of engineering, and an opportunity to examine them closely reveals many interesting details. The materials and structures, and the shapes of things dictated by flowing air; and the added visual excitement of the weathering and age on these old machines, and the colorful paint schemes both military and civilian. So Gail and I both started photographing in earnest, tucking away the sights in the memory cards of our cameras.

Eventually we toured the inside of the big main hangar, for a nominal fee, and looked at the work progressing in the restoration shop. They are restoring a very rare WWII aircraft, a P-61 "Black Widow"; the first radar-equipped night fighter, which was built in small numbers near the end of the war. It's an enormous plane for a fighter, twin-engined and the size of a medium bomber. Their job really amounts to remanufacturing, since all they had to start with was a weathered wreck; but when complete it will be the only flying example in the world. The rest of the hangar houses some smaller static displays and the other flying aircraft of the collection, including the same B-25 "Mitchell" bomber that I got a ride in when I was 14.

We maintained our tradition of getting kicked out of museums at closing time, and wandered over to the stage set for the WWII reenactment that takes place every June. It's a clever plywood replica of a bombed-out French village, complete with tacked-on German signs and many other details. Gail found unique perspectives all over the ville faux, especially where the sun and weather had worked on the various surfaces. And while we were outside we saw a unique sight - hundreds, likely thousands, of geese were migrating overhead! In long, undulating lines and vees they were crossing from south to north, heading back to their Canadian summer homes. Apparently the Reading airport is right on their migratory route, something I filed away for the flight back home. I managed a few interesting views with my powerful zoom lens, and Gail caught some nice formations.

Eventually, in hunger, I had to pull Gail away and back to the plane; I decided that the best course would be to fly back home by nightfall and have dinner back north. The flight back was slightly longer, with a light headwind, but we were treated to a handsome sunset just five minutes from home. I actually watched the last sliver of sun disappear over the mountains and wink out.

Driving back home, we stopped at an Irish pub and restaurant: "Molly Maguires" tucked away in the timelost hamlet of Olyphant, PA. (If you ever get the urge to shoot a period film set in a mid-1960s small town, this is your place. Call me for directions.) The menu there is long, pages and pages, and includes many traditional Irish dishes. We finally got our chicken wings, and lots of other things combining potatoes, onions, butter, sausage and beer in various combinations; we ate until we were sated, and well beyond. (*burp*)