Nowadays, when there is considerable cost involved just getting to the airport, folks often ask me how we survive financially as a flying family.
I have to be creative to keep those flying dollars liberated, and as the price of automotive and aviation fuels rise — affecting our household budget across the board — I have to prioritize to keep us in the sky.
I drive a truck that costs about the same as my Luscombe, Lester, to fill up (27.5 gallons). If I keep my trips to a minimum and combine them on the same day, I can stretch a tank of gas for two weeks. Now, that means I can’t trot the 12 miles to the airport every day just to get the latest gossip or to pet Lester, but saving one tank of gas in my truck allows me to enjoy about three hours of flying in my 8E and even more in Henry’s 8A.
Another way we keep multiple pilots and airplanes in the sky is by driving old cars. The farm truck is now 12 years old, and the Old Man’s Honda is eight. They were paid for long ago. Because they are well used, our insurance rates are low, allowing us to use those extra dollars for taildragger insurance instead. I can fly or I can have a luxury SUV. That choice is a no-brainer.
Groceries are another budget item that seems to take a hit every time the price of crude oil rises. I like to eat and it shows. I like to cook. The Old Man and Keely like to eat my cooking, but playing Rachael Ray often can be rough on the pocketbook. Until recently, I sashayed to the grocery store several times a week. Now I limit my trips. I don’t go there hungry. If a meat package says tenderloin, I put it back except for special occasions. I shop specials and I limit the purchase of junk, which is better for our health anyway. Pinto beans and cornbread have found their way back onto our menu, and because of that, I can buy a couple of sectionals or a few quarts of oil.
Perhaps the most noticeable change to our wallet and to our health (both can affect our flying) has been the “”development”" of Jasper, Ga., home of our base, Pickens County Airport. Local entrepreneurs have surrounded the airport with fast food restaurants. I can nearly pay at the drive-through window at Wendy’s when on final for runway 16. For years, if I spent a day at the airport, I packed a lunch, usually sandwiches, because there were few eating options nearby. But now, within walking distance, there are numerous ways to increase your blood pressure, cholesterol and girth while lightening your wallet. For the price of three #1s, the Old Man can fly his 8A for an hour. That makes peanut butter and jelly look good.
I try to keep the reins on the power bill by hanging out the laundry on a clothesline made of stout aircraft cable, but perhaps the hardest drain on my flying fund is my feminine side. It seldom shows itself, but occasionally I can’t contain it. I don’t buy make-up or beauty products. My jewelry collection is limited. Heck, I was offered either a diamond ring or a new engine for my 20th wedding anniversary. I’ve put 500 hours on that engine since then.
But sometimes, I see a beautiful pair of shoes that calls my name, or a purse that I can’t live without, and Lester fades from my mind for a short time as the smell of fine leather envelops my senses. Once, in a fit of pique, I spent $155 on highlights for my hair. The Old Man really annoyed me that day, and I felt spending his money was a fine retribution. Yes, I was able to preen and strut for awhile with my lovely new hair. Yes, the Old Man did grimace when presented with the bill. But later I realized the joy was short-lived and the act was shortsighted. I should have ordered a premium set of headsets instead or a fancy new GPS. Highlights fade but avionics last for years.
Maybe our priorities seem a little strange to some folks. But on a cool, still evening as the sun is casting her last bit of glory before night comes, and I’m flying my little Luscombe through that sweet smooth air, I don’t think luxury SUVs, filet mignon or diamonds can compare.
Deb McFarland is the proud owner of a 1948 Luscombe 8E and part of the “”Front Porch Gang”" at Pickens County Airport in Georgia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.