SHORT FINAL by DEBORAH McFARLAND
I left three loads of laundry on the kitchen table, ready to be folded and put away. Grass needed cutting; tomatoes needed canning. The dog begged to go, but for him, a ride in the truck would have to wait until another day.
Like me, my green Dodge Ram has seen better days. The right front blinker assembly is held together with Gorilla tape, courtesy of a local deer. The back bumper sags a little, a confirmation that the tractor is a stouter piece of machinery. The air conditioner died last year, the passenger door lock refuses to work, but the tires are good, and the engine is maintained. For years, with its fuel tank and pump, it was our fuel truck for the airplanes, but ethanol ended that duty. Now it fuels lawnmowers, weed eaters and chainsaws.
And it does a darned good job getting me to the airport.
I turn right out of my driveway when I’m headed for the airport. I travel about a mile before I come to the rural state highway that takes me east to the four-lane road that eventually turns me north. The state highway is a nice road. Relatively smooth, it gently turns and rolls through some beautiful hill country. I pass cows and chickens, homes and farms, old families and new ones, but mostly what I see is green: green grass, green trees, green crops.
It’s 12 miles to the airport from my house. Six of those miles are on the Appalachian Development Highway 515 that runs through the heart of northern Georgia. A handy route for me, this road brings me to the grocery store, the hardware/home improvement store, the gas station and the airport, all within ½ mile of each other.
This particular morning is cool for a northern Georgia summer. With the windows down and Mick Jagger crooning on the radio, I feel the stresses and obligations of the grounded world fall away. The closer my old Dodge gets me to the hangar, the lighter I feel.
I turn off Camp Road onto the gravel drive that takes me to a place that is as comfortable and endearing as my home. I pull the truck alongside the hangar, parking smartly between the building and Lucy’s wing. We have only one hangar, and at any given time, one of our Luscombes is parked outside. I won the recent coin toss, and Lester is inside, a luxury he seldom experiences. Opening the hangar doors is a ritual that begins the experience that brings me here. Three panels slide to the left and one to the right.
A homemade tailwheel dragger and a mighty push get the airplane rolling. Lester rolls into the new morning sunshine, and while my head knows it can’t be true, my heart swears he’s already straining toward the sky.
We both practice patience.
My walk-around not only prepares my airplane for the upcoming flight, it clears my head of excess gunk that clogs the mind. When I open the right cowling door, the process begins. It’s just the airplane and me. Oil, mags, spark plugs, exhaust, engine mount. Check. Prop, air box. Check. Left cowling door: fuel drain, mags, spark plugs, exhaust, engine mount. Check. Around the airplane I go, checking, touching, confirming: nuts, bolts, screws, and hinges.
Tailwheel looks good. Nothing feels loose. Wings, struts, inspection plates. Controls are free and clear. Let’s go fly.
Start-up is simple for a C-85. Lester likes a little prime, even on warm days. I always hope my battery has ample charge for cranking. My little generator was considered reliable in its day, but with new gadgets installed (radio, transponder), the battery often has to work double duty, especially at lower rpms.
Clear prop! Mags on both, push to start, and the throaty sound of a C-85/O-200 with straight pipes fills the air. In response, I do believe the blood hums in my body. When I fasten my seatbelt, Lester and I become one.
We taxi down the runway keeping an eye on traffic while maintaining the centerline with delicate movements of rudder that have become as natural as breathing to me. At the run-up area, there are few items to check in a Luscombe: mags, carb heat, oil pressure and temp, ammeter, voltmeter. Good to go.
We taxi onto the runway. In front of us lay interesting possibilities. Applying throttle in a smooth seamless motion, Lester responds with power. The roll begins, and I gently pull back on the stick. When gravity is finally overcome, the last remnants of the grounded world are left behind.
The little silver airplane and the housewife who flies him share a moment of contentment, and then fly on to meet those possibilities.
Deb McFarland is the proud owner of “Lester,” a 1948 Luscombe 8E and part of the “Front Porch Gang” at Pickens County Airport in Georgia. She can be reached at ShortFinal@generalaviationnews.com.