As the Luscombe turns

Photo by Steve Russell

Photo by Steve Russell

The past several weeks have brought some great flying weather to northern Georgia, but unfortunately we haven’t been able to take advantage of those precious flying days. Henry’s mom or “Granny,” as she is known in our house, has taken a turn for the worse. It’s gardening season, and I know the last place she wishes to be is in a hospital with tubes and needles stuck in tender places.

As a result, quiet moments at home have become rare, and invigorating moments at the airport are nonexistent, but when circumstances have allowed I have found comfort and escape reading the online group affectionately known as the Luscombe List.

Our list is a prolific one, and thanks to some Internet-savvy founders, an old one. We discuss various topics of aviation importance: Imperial valves, Goodyear brake parts availability and the ever-trendy sagging Oleo spring saga. But we also share our lives, and like the soap operas of old, we are a family.

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Ode to our days in the sun


As Sun ‘n Fun 2010 prepares to kick, our Short Final columnist Deb McFarland reminisces about past fly-ins:

If I were feeling perky, I would quip that the sun is shining, the air is warming and spring is finally here. It’s kind of hard to be perky after this past winter with its days of dreary cold and persistent wind. Instead, I feel more like demanding, “Spring, what the heck took you so long?”

Perhaps I’m a tad more curmudgeon than I thought.

My annoyance aside, April is here and the beginning of fly-in season is upon us. During our years as empty nesters, this meant flying down to Sun ’n Fun in Lakeland for the annual aviation rite of spring. For many of us at JZP, we’d spend weeks preparing our airplanes and our bodies for a week of sun and airplanes in lovely central Florida.

Since Keely came along, however, I can’t seem to convince our local board of education that the county’s spring break should correspond with this event. In fact, they don’t seem to mind that their scheduled breaks don’t correspond with any of the fly-ins that the McFarland clan enjoys, including Oshkosh, the big daddy of them all.

They don’t consider these type of events educational field trips, either. There are no excused absences for flying, only illness of the child or death in the immediate family. One can only kill off parents and siblings once before suspicions are raised, and Keely has already suffered the plague, malaria, typhoid and H1N1. We don’t dare push our luck.


So while there is no Sun ’n Fun in our immediate future, we are still traveling down to the Panhandle for a few days of beach bumming and a stop at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. We even hope to catch the Blue Angels practicing their air show on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning while we’re there.

All this reflection of Sun ’n Funs past got me thinking about the years the Old Man and I flew there with friends, camped under our wing, savored the sounds of hundreds of airplanes and enjoyed the perpetual Florida breeze. There were the occasional wildfires, a storm or two and sometimes the temps would dip precariously low, but we survived and, come the next January, we were ready to start planning our next grand Lakeland adventure.

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Lean and powerful



I thought retirement would be different. I envisioned lunch dates on sunny days at small cafes. I could see the Old Man and I snuggled together on the couch on rainy or cold days, reading or just talking while sipping hot tea or coffee. I imagined romantic interludes. Not.

If there were any interludes in the two months since he told his professional world goodbye, they have been working ones. I thought all this working business would be over and done. I was so very wrong.

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A time to mourn and a time to dance

Harley McGatha


I am blessed that my aviation experiences have been nurtured in a strong community of good-hearted souls who share and foster the passion of flying. There is nothing finer than to plop down in a northern Alabama grass field on a warm Saturday and enjoy the camaraderie of friends and loved ones.

The Scotts Champ

The Scotts Champ

It’s a comforting feeling to gather at such times and see the same faces and the same airplanes. This sense of continuity and community is a joyous thing, but we are living creatures and know that “to every thing there is a season…a time to be born, and a time to die. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

It’s a good thing to mourn that which has passed away. In our close-knit community, it means something or someone has touched us deeply and that part of him or her will remain with us long after they have gone away. In my community, 2009 has been a year for many passings, a sign, unfortunately, that we are all subject to nature and, frankly, that the pilot population is getting old.

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My man and his other love



Today, the man I married nearly 30 years ago, the man who suffered through my flight training and later patiently taught me to fly his Luscombe 8A, retired. After 35 years of service to the federal government, my best friend has come home to stay.

ShortFinalIt’s not a coincidence that a young Henry McFarland learned to fly the same year he became an engineering trainee. His boss and mentor with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Felton Flournoy, flew Stearmans in World War II. He never advanced to more complex aircraft since the war ended, and he didn’t carry his new skills into civilian life.

So while he and Henry traveled the roads of rural Georgia servicing the farming community, they talked. They talked about the job. They talked about their lives and the world in general, but after a while, they exhausted their knowledge of noteworthy topics and decided to spice up their days of roaming the roads in the country. They decided to take flight lessons.

The challenge was on. Since Flournoy had already flown, he soloed in seven hours in the Cessna 150 that the flight school at the Perry-Houston County Airport used in 1975. Henry wasn’t far behind him. He soloed in nine, and since his brain matter was still young and pliable, he aced the written as well.

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No. 41: A father passes on his passion for flying — and his license number

ShortFinal copy 2


ShortFinal copy 2Pickens County Airport in Jasper, Georgia, is a nice airport, but it’s not particularly known as a hub of aeronautical excitement. However, every now and then we have a visitor who attracts notice. Such was the introduction of pilot and veteran, Jesse William Lankford Jr., who recently attended our annual Christmas dinner.

Lankford was born in France in 1918 while his father was based there during World War I. As one of the new veteran pilots, the elder Lankford returned to the United States to work for the Bureau of Standards under the Department of Commerce. In this capacity, he assisted in establishing the requirements for the private pilot license. His own history and training in World War I earned him license number 41. When he retired some years later, he was the safety bureau director of the Civil Aeronautics Board.

It is not surprising that the father’s love of aviation was passed on to the son. [Read more…]

A great excuse to call in sick

fall 2


It’s 5:30 a.m. and I have supper cooked. Soup beans, corn on the cob and cornbread. Directly, I will wake my young sleeping beauty, who has a vacation day from school. She will be shocked that there are towels waiting to be folded, a dishwasher that needs unloading and clothes that need to be hung out on the line. Such is life.

fall 2I will type out this column as quickly as I can because a wonderful phenomenon waits outside my doors to be explored. It is the seasonal occurrence called fall, and it has finally arrived in northern Georgia.

I have been cooped up my house for weeks. I have barely been in the sky, and the polish on my Lester is less than brilliant. Finally, the recent rains have subsided, and the weather folks promise at least of week of beautiful clear blue skies. I can hardly contain my joy!

Fall is my favorite time of year. The humidity drops. The haze of summer fades, and the light takes on a golden quality that makes even the dullest of objects glow. Fall is a good time to fly and a good time to polish. This week, I hope to do a little of both.

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The Spirit of Thomasville



The forecasters were wrong. I don’t generally pay attention to forecasts until a day or two before my flight because, frankly, here in the South, weather predictions bob up and down nearly as bad as the float on my old fishing pole when cast in a pond of bored fish.

However, the weather in northern Georgia during the month of September set a precedent. Rain. Lots of it. Stuff that settled in for days and days with low ceilings and enough water falling from the sky to strangle a frog.

So when the forecasters on TV and on Internet weather sites predicted heavy rain during the 42nd Annual Thomasville Fly-In, I took the warning seriously. Friday, Oct. 9, came and low ceilings plagued our area, so we decided to drive, not knowing that if we had only waited until after lunch, we could have flown.

Flying a small vintage airplane VFR is as much as an art form as it is a science. Sometimes, you have to go with your gut. My gut was saying, yeah, you might get there fine, but what about the east wind that’s predicted for Sunday? An east wind at my airport usually means low overcast. My gut decided not to fly as well. My gut was wrong, too.

The weather for this year’s Thomasville Fly-In boasted vivid blue sky, snow-white fluffys, a scattered shower or two and temps so hot I thought my poor brain would fry. It didn’t matter — fly or drive, rain or shine, hot or cold, the spirit of Thomasville prevailed. It was a dang good show.

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A new heart for an old girl



As I write this, my own Lester is buzzing over my head. While I’ve always thought his throaty C-85/O-200 made a sweet sound, today I find the noise annoying but, in hearing it, I know that my place in heaven is assured.

Any woman who lets her husband borrow her airplane is kindhearted. Any woman who calmly pecks out her column on the family computer while her husband buzzes overhead, burns her gas and violates her airspace, is downright saintly.

While not often, Henry and I do fly each other’s airplanes, usually when one or the other is down for maintenance. I don’t have anything against his airplane, but flying another person’s bird is like wearing their well-worn shoes. It’s strange and most times the fit is wrong.

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Making magic happen


Every now and then magic happens. It can happen in a certain time, at a certain place or with certain people.

Mine came on a Saturday with a group of pilots from a friendly country airport called Jackson County in northeast Georgia. This particular day and time, these folks shared with me a wonderful place called Hudson River Landing. This little slice of aviation heaven is the home of Gene Linville, a couple of airplanes and 2,000 feet of sweet Georgia grass.

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