Friday, October 28, 2005

The Saga of 02P, Part I

I'm back in chemotherapy, with a fresh dose in me this Tuesday; and tomorrow I will start a new set of radiation treatments, too. I can already feel the side effects setting in, so I won't likely be getting out much for the next few days. My fingers have healed, though, and Gail has suggested that I do some writing - so I thought I might start recapping some old flying stories, from my pre-blog days. What follows is the first installment in the saga of how I came to own a little 50-year-old airplane.

'Way back in the year 2000, freshly divorced, I began getting a serious itch to have a plane of my own. I had been flying since 1995, and for those who are truly addicted, renting planes eventually loses its lustre. Renting is far more practical, to be sure, for the occasional flyer - there is a lot of overhead in owning and maintaining any airplane, and if you don't fly much, the hourly costs add up fast. But I was flying a lot, and besides... try finding a plane for rent on short notice, on a sunny Saturday morning! It's a great luxury to have your own plane, flown only by you, whenever you like; to be able to travel, without worrying about having to return if the weather turns sour; and heck, just pride of ownership, and a love of old airplanes.

Having composed this careful set of rationalizations, I began the happy pastime of looking at airplanes for sale. In the pages of Trade-A-Plane, at local airports, and on the internet, I began looking for my first airplane.

The first plane I investigated was a 1940 Aeronca Chief, a tiny orange 2-seater. It had 85 horsepower, and like many planes of that vintage, no electrical system; so it had to be started by hand, pulling on the the handsome (but dangerous!) varnished wooden propeller. The seller accomplished this and took me for a test flight, and I enjoyed flying the little Chief for a while. But I noted that the cruise speed was only around 75 m.p.h. - fine for short hops near home, but very limiting if you actually want to GO somewhere. That, along with a desire for a radio (and a fear of hand-propping!) sent me back to look for something slightly more modern.

The next candidate was a Cessna 172, the most common 4-seat airplane in the world; like many pilots, I had logged the majority of my flight time in this model. Out of the hundreds available, I settled on one for sale out in Kankakee, Illinois - a 1958 model, one of the oldest, but seemingly in fine condition. After a few discussions with the seller, I got my financing paperwork in order and booked a flight out to Chicago. This plane was truly beautiful; it had been impeccably maintained, and still sported the 1950s finish of green and white stripes over polished aluminum. It was late in the day, but the seller and I took the plane out for a test flight to a nearby airport, where there was a little restaurant with live music and great barbecue.

Afterwards, the sun was setting, and the weather was lowering; light rain was already falling, and the temperatures were not much above freezing. But the seller seemed unconcerned; he seemed to know his local weather, and the flight would only take about 30 minutes. Against my better judgement, we took off. We barely had the legal 1,000 feet between the ground and the clouds; fortunately, the terrain around Kankakee is predominantly flat. As we made our way along, I kept shining my little flashlight on the leading edge of the wing - we were definitely picking up ice from the freezing rain, and I counted the minutes to our destination. Luckily, the air just below us was slightly warmer, and the ice began to melt off as soon as we descended.

I agonized over the purchase; the plane was in great shape, and the price was fair. But in the end, I looked at the costs and at the mortgage on the farmhouse, and grudgingly decided to let this one go. I went back home, resolved to sell my house first - something I should have done much sooner.

To be continued...