An Awesome Saturday
Last Saturday, I headed out mid-morning to stop in at two aviation events. Little did I know how awesome the day would turn out. The first stop was at a monthly BBQ at Orlando-Apopka (X04) hosted by First Landings Aviation, the flight school where I’m taking sport pilot lessons. The idea behind the BBQ is not only to generate new business but also to foster camaraderie among its students and alumni. (BTW: It seems to work, FLA just completed a 200-hour month and is one of the busiest sport pilot schools in the south.) The school’s two LSAs were on hand for discovery flights — a Remos and a Piper Sport. More than a couple dozen people showed up. They included a family curious about sport pilot lessons; a pilot based at X04 who takes time most Saturdays to mentor a 16-year-old fellow in all things aviation; a recent FLA sport pilot alumni who had originally planned on flying the Ercoupe he purchased a month ago to the BBQ from a nearby airport, where he had new radios installed (no thanks to a gusty crosswind, he — and everyone else — ended up driving in); a father, who was looking to resume his flying lessons, and his son, who hopes to follow in his dad’s footsteps. Folks mingled, talking about what stage they were at with their lessons, their dreams/hopes to learn to fly and their new airplanes. Several even took turns sitting in the Piper Sport and imagined (unfortunately, the wind remained a strong, direct crosswind so discovery flights were arranged for another day). The enthusiasm among the gathering was new and palpable.
Around 12:30, it was time to head to the next event, the annual fly-in at Bob White Field (X61), just a few minutes up the road. Apparently, the fly-in has been held on the last Saturday in October for many years. I had been anticipating just exactly what it was going to be like to visit the place that had been such a huge part of my younger life and then suddenly no part of my life. It was 18 years or so ago that my mother sold the airport after my dad was killed in an airplane crash — and as many since I’d set foot on it. I had been waiting for the right time to make this pilgrimage and wondered if this was it. As I pulled onto the dirt road leading to the airport, the sound of airplanes could not be missed. By the time I parked, I was in quiet awe at the number of people, cars and, of course, airplanes! This was definitely the right time.
Luckily, here, the wind was straight down Runway 09. On this day, the 3,300-foot-long grass strip accommodated everything from a Sonex and Air Cam to Bonanzas, 210s, Cubs, Champs, Pitts and even a Staggerwing, Fairchild and cabin Waco. Though on a smaller scale and absent of tents pitched under wings, seeing the gathering of people and airplanes threw me back in time to the many weekend-long fly-ins my dad hosted here as part of EAA and the no-longer AAA (Antique Aircraft Association). Pete, the current airport manager and owner, later told me about 100 airplanes had attended.
As I made my way to the main hangar where lunch was being served, snippets of conversations floated my way. They ranged from opinions on airspace to proper airspeeds, updates on pilot friends who couldn’t make it to the BBQ and who was building what airplane. And before I knew it, I found myself taking part in my own conversations — with friends of my father (photo above). At first with one, then a couple others, and then more. It had been 19 years since I had seen many of them but it was like yesterday. The re-connection to something significant was powerful (and a blog for another day). One of them, whom I’ve become reacquainted with over the last six months, even took me up for a “discovery” flight in his beautifully restored J-3 Cub that he keeps at Bob White. A CFI, he’s generously offered to endorse me for the taildragger certification in his Cub once I get my sport pilot license. I accepted (of course!) and the discovery flight logged.
Driving home late that afternoon, I ruminated on the day. It struck me that no matter where I went that day it was all about aviation and camaraderie. In a word, community. At one airport, it was just the beginning and at the other, it had been happening for decades with no end in sight. Once again I noticed a pattern: It seemed that when one got hooked on aviation, one stayed hooked. And that means one inevitably becomes part of a community that likely will last a lifetime. It was happening at X04 and at X61 and at many other airports around the country, maybe in that very same moment. That is some kind awesome.