Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sometimes, dreams do come real.

The plot was hatched by a chance encounter with a random factoid on the web Friday night. Saturday morning, I walked carefully into a 10 year old boy's bedroom. (Not to avoid waking him; to avoid stepping on stray army men or legos.) On hearing his name, he twitched, and squeezed his eyes tighter. So I tried cajoling. "Wake up. Wanna go fly?"

Sleepy, confused, and utterly hopeful eyes snapped open as a small body half-levitated out of bed, like waving bacon under a black lab's nose. "Uh?"

"Wanna go fly?"



Now, this particular young man has absolutely fallen in love with the Memphis Belle, and can go on at length about the differences between the movie and reality (but still loves to watch the movie), as well as the lengths he's gone to in trying to build a better model of a B-17. He's plotting furiously to make a pilgrimage to the Air Force Museum as soon as the original Memphis Belle is restored. But even if it isn't a B-17, he still loves my little Taylorcraft. Heck, his view on growth spurts is "Soon I'll be able to reach the rudder pedals!"

So, his father had cracked slightly, and mentioned the night before that there was a B-17 down at Smyrna airport. I could see the glow in his eyes as I said "I haven't been into a towered airport in a while; I need to go to one today to stay in practice. So we're headed down to Smyrna." However, he didn't say a word about it. (Mostly, I think, he was terrified I'd change my mind, or that if he'd mentioned it, the weather would come down, or something.)

I am rusty on the radio - I can't write down a clearance as fast as they can speak 'em anymore. More practice is needed! Fortunately, the pattern was empty, so I wasn't competing with any sleek slick go-fast machines, and the clearance was pretty straightforward. So in we scooted. As we came down (high, as the much wider runway suckered me with a visual illusion), the Kid started chatting excitedly, forgetting the "be quiet when I'm taking off and landing" rule. My eyes scanned the taxiways, looking for any conflicting traffic, and noticed the olive green shape taxiing up to hold short, even as the radio confirmed that was their intention.

"Kid, Look Right!" I snapped, taking a hand briefly from the throttle to point, then putting all my attention to landing the plane. ASOS reported winds light and variable, and to me that means peril of a quartering tailwind coming 'round. The chatter had stopped, but I was a little busy to pay attention - only after I had bounced lightly, then settled on the ground and slowed to a very controllable pace (the light and variable was a quartering left crosswind at that moment), did I look over at the kid.

He hadn't noticed that I had snapped at him - his jaw was hanging open, and his entire body was cranked around to look back blindly through the fabric of the plane to the four-engined bomber he'd seen below and to the side, props idling as they waited for us to clear the runway. It wasn't until I'd gotten through the initial request for progressive (otherwise known as "help, I'm lost here") taxi, steered down a taxiway, across another runway, and onto a third (or fourth?) taxiway that he finally spoke. "That was a B-17!"

"Yep." Because really, he wasn't looking for an explanation about The Liberty Foundation, and the tours they do. He was just confirming that his dream bird had leapt off the TV screen and taxied up to a runway as we were landing.

If you're ever flying into Smyrna, TN, the Smyrna Air Center are an awesome bunch of folks. Despite having a ratty old taildragger with tiny tanks, they were just as gracious and helpful as if we'd stepped off a chartered 747. Don't worry about parking your plane, we'll move it for you. We'll fill it for you, do you need a courtesy car? The Kid and I hit the bathrooms, got drinks from the vending machines, shared a bag of popcorn (carbs don't count if there's flying involved), and then wandered out just in time to catch the B-17 back and doing a quick turn between rides. And that's when he saw the nose art, and realized he was face to face with the movie-prop Memphis Belle. Indeed, if you read the noseart closely, her name is "The Movie Memphis Belle."

Generally, I'm a high-strung creature, but when aviation's involved, that switches off, and a much calmer, wiser attitude takes over of "It'll take as long as it takes, and cost as much as it costs. No big deal, eh?" Would that I could keep that fleeting whiff of sanity off-airport! So I eyed the books for sale, consulted with the Kid on swag to buy, and kicked back to wait until they were done giving rides and would be parked and open for tours. The Kid has been around the airport enough to be safe, and is generally reliably polite and respectful enough to be unsupervised. Not that I didn't keep an eye on him and send him to get more drinks so we both stayed hydrated, but after the first round, I let him go up on his own to wait his turn and then respectfully pepper their mechanic with questions on the plane.

Unfortunately, by the time they were done and we'd gotten the tour (and I had a hyper-exited boy who had passed so far beyond excitement into something almost simulating calm), a line of convective cells had cut me off from our home airport. What's a gal to do? Kick back, chat with the mechanic, the pilot and copilot, and very respectfully listen to a gentleman who'd been a belly gunner in one during the war. The Kid was too excited to stay in one spot, so I pointed out that if he waited in line, he could go through the tour again. And again. Nobody was stopping him from doing it more than once.

At one point, as the belly gunner had stopped for questions after talking about the cold at altitude, a small tow head dashed up to my elbow. "I went through six times!"
Several sets of bemused and amused eyes met mine, and looked at him. The old gentleman leaned forward. "Are you ready to fly her yet?"
"Oh, no!"
"Well, what do you want, then?" He smiled.
"I... want to go through her again!"
"Then why don't you?" I replied, bemused at how well he'd expanded on my original permission.
"Can I?" He looked up with an incandescent grin.
"They won't mind?"
"I think they understand young men who really love airplanes." I grinned at the back of his head, as he was already gone back to the now-shorter line.

Some time later, I checked the weather again, shrugged, and called the Kid's father, mentioning if the weather didn't clear, we'd need a ride. Smyrna Air Center, by the way, will pull you into the hangar for weather, and won't charge, even for an overnighter caused by weather. Color me impressed! His dad and sister came down (Sadly, they didn't wake up a napping Calmer Half), and we went out to dinner. Sometime between the nachos coming out and the carne asada being polished off, the weather cleared up, and I took his sister for a fifteen minute hop back to the hangar, while the Kid had some alone-with-dad time to gush about the airplane.

Because I'm me, and it was that sort of day, I had the fairly freshly-licensed teen drive me home, giving her experience in a different vehicle, a little night driving, and a little reinforcement that not all adults thump their feet on the imaginary brake pedal every time they second-guess her mentally, nor will everyone over thirty criticize her every hesitation or mistake. Giving them all a little room to stretch their wings, eh?


  1. Great story, and thanks for doing that! Hell, I'd have gone through that bird too! :-)

  2. What a grin on his face, holding that 50.

    Sounds like an all-around great day.

  3. You certainly made his week. And yeah, I love that grin.

  4. He'll remember that day as long as he lives. You did a very good thing.

  5. A VERY good thing - and my dream is to go through a B-17, too. I don't even care which one. :)

  6. Will you be my mom?

    Lucky kid!!

  7. You do very well with children and I suspect you'll be a part of that boy's life as long as the good Lord allow's. I hope to be able to meet you and the good husband one of these day's.

  8. What a great story!
    I was about twelve when I got my first of many rides in a Mooney Mark 20A. After that I was hooked!
    General aviation needs more folks like you to inspire our younger folks. My guess is that this young fellow will always remember his B-17 day.

  9. He will carry a memory of that day for the rest of his days. You did a great thing by giving him memories of his own.

  10. I was a member of the Military Book Club when I was 10. The B17 is the most beautiful aircraft I've ever seen. Read everything I could about it. Have him read about Rosie Rosenthal. Probably the best B17 pilot ever. His exploits are amazing.

    I've never gotten over my love for war birds. Plus, you've given me the bug to get my license and buy a small plane to finish out my dream list. Thanks Miss D.

  11. I was just 7 years old when an Uncle took me to a field to see some aeroplanes, I'm 62 now, and still have'nt recovered, (and have no intention of doing so).
    I know exactly how the young lad feels, all things aeronautical have been the cornerstone of my entire life, have been responsible for all that enabled my family and I our travels around this little blue planet.
    You can only wonder at what you have contributed to, fabulous, wonderfully fabulous!. What a fine journey you have helped to guide him on.
    Stu Garfath.
    Sydney, Australia.

  12. Most excellent. Sounds like a boy's dream day come true.

  13. That was a real dream come true I went through 8 times I will never forget that day!