Scattered throughout my home, my hangar, and my memory are snapshots of people and moments that mean something to me.
Often those memories are happy and deserve to be preserved — at the very least for my enjoyment. Perhaps more importantly, as a record of my life and work and friends. If properly labeled, my kids and grandkids may get a kick out of the images I leave behind.
One of the events that ignites a series of memorable moments each year is SUN ‘n FUN. This year was a banner outing. The official event threw open its doors on Tuesday, April 2. But the excitement began for me on Sunday, March 30. That was the day General Aviation News’ publisher, Ben Sclair, rolled into the parking lot at Winter Haven Regional Airport to join me in an exploration of the local area by air.
Ben and I have never flown together. That’s understandable. We live a couple thousand miles apart and both truly love the dirt under our feet when we’re home. But we’ve known each other since the beginning of time, more or less, so we both agreed a short hop in a really cool airplane was way overdue.
We slipped the bonds of earth in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Sweepstakes Super Cub on the pretext that I needed to get a little more flight time in it before dropping it off at the show. We flew north to the Green Swamp. Ben was on the controls while I spent my time sightseeing and chatting up a storm. It was good. Very good.
There’s no photographic proof of this flight. In fact, aside from a notation in our logbooks and some wonderful memories, there’s no evidence it took place at all. Until I told you. Now it’s part of the public record.
There are other occurrences that were recorded for posterity, however. Interesting little happy accidents that make life worthwhile.
While roaming the grounds one morning with my friend and coworker, Amber Kite, we came across the Air Cam my dad built. I flew that particular machine for a year and truly enjoyed it. Finding it on display at the Lockwood Aviation booth made enough of an impression on me to take a picture and send a copy to my mom. She got a vicarious kick out of the experience, too.
And on we went.
Out on the warbird ramp I ran into Tom Reilly and his latest restoration, the amazing XP-82 twin Mustang. Two decades ago I worked for Tom on a previous restoration, the Liberty Belle, a B-17 that went on to an unpleasant end in a wet, grassy field near Chicago. She was a beast while I was with her, though, and I’ll forever be thankful to Tom for giving me the opportunity to put my A&P ticket to use in his shop for a time.
He looks as good as ever, smiling and upbeat after an 11 year-long restoration project that would have stomped many of us flat and left us begging for relief. Tom’s tougher than most. He and his crews do pretty remarkable work, too.
I was particularly impressed by the number of young female aviators I bumped into this year. There were quite a few, and many of them were already working in the field.
My old pal Genesah Duffy, ICON Aircaft’s Chief East Coast Pilot, wandered through my world with Aaron Poidevin, who is at this moment prepping to move on to greener pastures at Cirrus in Knoxville, Tennessee. Karissa Strickland accompanied them. She works in airport administration in St. Petersburg, Florida. The fourth in their party was my own daughter, Nikki, who has found a renewed interest in earning her pilot certificate.
Consider me encouraged. But that young woman may be a bit of a handful if she succeeds.
Nikki has already flown in a Curtis Pusher, a P-51, a Waco UPF-7, and who knows what else? With a pilot certificate in her purse, she’s going to outclass me in every way.
Somewhere in there I stumbled onto Jolie Lucas, too. Jolie is a powerhouse of a woman. An active pilot and public speaker, she’s deeply involved with the California Pilots Association as well as the Mooney Girls. Like Ben and me, Jolie and I are located on opposite side of the continent most of the time, yet whenever we see each other it’s old home week right off the bat. She’s just a sweetheart, and a darned serious advocate for aviation.
Speaking of west coast connections, the ever-exuberant Joe Borzelleri stopped by to say hello while he was in the area. I met Joe about six years ago when I was in San Luis Obispo to speak to a gathering of the California Pilots Association. We hit it off, perhaps because we both love Cubs so deeply. Or maybe it’s just because he’s a truly enjoyable guy to chat with. Who knows?
Perhaps my most precious memory of this SUN ‘n FUN week came just moments before landing back home. While turning downwind for Runway 23, I found myself momentarily flying in formation with a bald eagle that nests nearby. It was riding a thermal just off my left wing, gracefully closing the distance between us in level flight before slowly arcing away. Although our aerial dance was brief, it was remarkable. I’ll treasure that memory as much as I do any of the others, and there were many more than I could possibly fit here.
May your snapshots be memorable and numerous, too. Whether in your memory, on your computer screen, or in a shoe box under the bed, the memories of friends and shared experiences are a big part of what life is all about. May yours be chock full of awesomeness.