Tuesday, September 30, 2008

brief interlude

The day had started out grey and gloomy, but by lunch the clouds had broken overhead, and the banks of cloud hiding the mountains had been pushed back by winds and rising weather to mere strips of fog, clinging to the valleys and leeward side of ridges. JB had emailed me, sounding full of delight - let's go flying! I called him back, this stranger off the internet made friend by our shared ownership of Taylorcraft, and we made plans for after work.

By the time I got off at six, the weather was coming back down, drizzling rain by the mountain making a warning haze. It wasn't raining yet at Lake Hood, but the wind was full of the scents of rain and snow on the mountains. I knew when the clouds lifted, the snow line would be a little lower, winter creeping toward the sea. I parked by the plane, a yellow F-19 on floats, rising high above its neighbors by height of trailer and floats. she is a beautiful yellow and black bird, looking very much in the fuselage like my own - but her wings are on, spreading wide over thirty feet. JB greeted me enthusiastically, and I didn't have to work to smile back.

Due to the accident, I was barely able to walk after trying to work a full shift, so I stood by as he trailered the plane to water and put her in. Taylorcraft are light planes, and graceful - and standing there in hip waders, he was guiding her around, moving her with little effort. They're also blessed with doors on both sides, unlike Supercubs and related ilk, made more gracefully for getting into. With one crushed knee and one unhappy knee, it was still a challenge, but I have enough upper body strength and ingenuity to grab and haul myself in. It gave me a new respect, though, for those folks at Able Flight who manage their whole training and flying by hauling themselves out of their wheelchairs and into their planes. As JB put the truck and trailer away, I sat quietly, looking around, touching and comparing his bird to mine.

We taxied to the end of the lake, completing all the runup on the go (there are no brakes when you're on floats), and when tower cleared us, turning and taking off. Grey sky above, grey water below, nipping wet day... can do nothing to diminish the joy of slipping gravity and soaring up as the world seems to fall away. A flock of Canadian geese rose off the lake, disturbed by our bigger bird roaring toward them. I tensed as they wheeled up into the sky in a cloud, but they broke right, diving again back to food and rest as they readied for a long migration south. Given two people, lots of fuel, and the massive drag of floats, we did not climb quickly - nor did we need to, for the sea below held far less fear than it would for a wheel plane. If the engine quit, we'd be... just fine.

My legs wouldn't work well enough to use the rudders, but once on the other side of the Knik Arm of the sea, north of the power lines running from Beluga to feed Anchorage, he turned the yoke over to me to carefully try holding her steady, climbing and turning, feeling out what kind of personality his lady had. She's not snappy-quick and agile like a Grumman Yankee, but neither is she slow, lumbering, and requiring lead-handed controls with lots of lead-in and lead-out like a Cessna 172. She flies more like the Piper PA-12, Super Cruiser, roomier sister to the Supercub. She'll climb plenty fine - mine with just me and light fuel will make like a homesick angel, but she'll also trim for a steady cruise and treat me gently if I respect her. We talked of her handing characteristics, her habits, the fact that his heater was a lot nicer than I'd been led to believe, the insulation he'd put up on the inside, the custom fishing-rod holder he'd put in.

Alas, it was not a day for straying far from the airport - the curtains of rain were reaching out from the bad weather against the mountains, and more than half the city was now under acceptable visibility with only the glow of streetlights and headlights showing dimly through. We turned and came back across the ocean, not pouring power on but certainly not dawdling, and headed in. Somewhere behind us a Cessna 180 was reporting a hair's-breadth after us, and we added a little more power so the faster plane would not have to swing quite so wide with spacing maneuvers. Over the ballpark, setting up for a long landing, listening to a tower frequency busy with people trying to come in before the rains hid the lake.

Touching down long led to a fairly short taxi back to the public ramp, and I very carefully, stiffly slid out onto a float and staggered back to shore, wishing I could move well enough to help as he again gracefully moved the plane back onto the trailer, winched her down, and pulled her out. Back we went to his parking spot, tying down the plane, and I thanked him sincerely. It was wonderful - not only to see what another plane was like, and what mine will do when she's restored, but also simply to fly. We parted ways, and no matter the pain, the smile still quirked and tugged at my lips as I drove home into the rain.