That time of year

I’m not certain how it happened, but aviation-wise the first of the year has become a very busy time for us. This year, annuals, medicals and insurance renewals all fall in the first quarter, and this pilot/owner-operator is rather overwhelmed with paperwork, appointments and the need to juggle the household cash flow to meet all these needs.

As with most folks, it doesn’t help that the previous December brought an onslaught of holiday financial obligations, but to top it off my local county government sent us a little Christmas cheer in the form of a property tax bill due on Dec. 20. Now, that’s about as bah humbug as one can get. In an effort to appear impartial, Pickens County, where our airplanes are based, felt it was its sovereign duty to also inform us of the need to pay our fair share of the local tax burden in the form of an ad valorem tax on our airplanes. This was not unexpected and they are kinder. That bill is not due until the first of February. Not to be outdone, the city of Jasper has now declared itself eligible for such recourse and expects its share by March 1.

Every year just after Christmas, usually the first week of January, we get our notice of aircraft insurance renewal. There follows a frenzy of logbook updates and calculations. As tailwheel pilots, our “”numbers”” are very important as the premiums are based on time-in-model and hours flown the previous year. After much head scratching, pertinent information is gathered: hours flown totaled, medical and BFR dates updated, engine and airframe hours calculated. This time our renewal is returned with a hefty dose of dread as the forms were followed by a letter stating, “”In accordance with the laws of your state, we are notifying you that the renewal of the above policy may have a significant premium increase and/or change(s)…”” Wonderful.

If the month of January wasn’t stressful enough, our annuals are due. As the chief bottle washer and general flunky of Short Final Aviation, it is my duty to gather the necessary copies of the Luscombe Model 8 Annual Inspection Checklist and print the Airworthiness Directive Compliance Record for both airplanes. Luckily, Luscombes have few ADs and only one or two are currently applicable to our airplanes. Our practice is to follow a progressive maintenance program throughout the year, so there are few surprises at annual time. A thorough inspection checks for the typical wear and tear of a year’s flying, as well as focuses on those issues that are relevant to an aging aircraft.

For several weeks I am subservient to he-who-holds-the-A&P who is, in turn, respectful of he-who-is-the-IA. The chain of command is strictly adhered to and the universe maintains its cosmic balance. During this time my brain swarms with checklists, compliance records, maintenance manuals, type club newsletters and catalogs from Aircraft Spruce, Univair and Wag Aero.

The annual inspections will drift into February, the month in which both of our medicals are due. So after I’m done gathering, sorting and later filing all the annual inspection data, it’s time to compile the list of our past two years’ doctor visits. As luck would have it, I was able to make back-to-back appointments for the Old Man and me on the same day, and this medical will be easier because I used AOPA’s TurboMedical (available at to compile our data. There will be no more worried confusion that we will be carted off to the FAA jailhouse because we couldn’t remember the details of the Old Man’s bunion removal.

Christmas. Taxes. Insurance. Annuals. Medicals. By early February, pinto beans and cornbread have become the norm at our evening meals. It didn’t help that Katrina’s price gouging nearly caused me to swallow my tongue when I tallied our monthly fuel bill soon after. We adjusted, and I wonder if that means we’re sick puppies. What will I pay to fly? I don’t deny my child her needs, but I’m willing to do without those feminine frivolities like pantyhose and department store make-up. Heck, who I am fooling? I don’t even have dime store make-up.

What happened to me? Has flying changed me so fundamentally? In all truthfulness, I believe it has. I’m not just a pilot. I like to think I’m what the old timers called a flyer, an aviator. When Lester’s wheels leave the ground, something cosmically, spiritually, or molecularly changes. The hand of God seems to lift my soul. Perhaps it’s an expression of my utmost faith. Perhaps, it’s an expression of my utmost fears. Perhaps, it just is.

Taxes. Insurance. Annuals. Medicals. One day, I’ll fly toward that old mountain, but I’ll not have the FAA’s blessing or the city of Jasper’s. I’ll have my Lord’s. Lester and I will wing through a brilliant sky. We’ll dip our wing to the hawk, we’ll dip our wing to the sparrow and then we’ll fly toward the stars, a place we’ve never been before.

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