The place was Meriden Markham Airport (KMMK) in central Connecticut. I was in the right seat, fulfilling my duties as a CFI. In the left was my student. The weather was warm. Not hot, but the confines of the cockpit, coupled with the workload experienced by a primary student who was really trying to get everything right, made the cockpit a bit stuffy.
The mains touched down smoothly. The nosewheel followed seconds later. As we rolled out on Runway 36, I popped open the C-172’s passenger window and rested my right arm on the sill. Instantly, a bee flew up my short shirt sleeve, pushed so forcefully by the relative wind neither the bee nor I could prevent the painful event that was about to unfold.
Trapped between skin and a cottony cocoon, the bee did what bees do when threatened. It stung me. Right in the bicep. Ouch! Man, that hurt.
Although my memory may be faulty, I believe that was my first negative experience with another being in flight. The bee certainly got the worst of it. After all, they die after using their stinger in a last-ditch effort to wreak vengeance on those who seek to do them harm. I survived. Uncomfortable as my swelling, itchy, painfully stung upper arm might be, I’m not allergic to bee stings. I was able to complete my student’s flight successfully, then do another later in the day.
All in all, it was a good day. For my students at least. It was an okay day for me. Not so good for the bee.
As we embark on our aerial adventures it’s worth remembering that humans are not designed to inhabit the ether. We enter the realm of the birds and the bees at our own peril even as we present a bit of a risk to our feathered friends and insect fliers. The risks are split equally between our species. To the degree possible, we would do well to avoid each other in flight and on the ground.
Case in point. If you were one of the many thousands who attended the 2021 SUN ‘n FUN Aerospace Expo, you may have seen my company car, N103UC on display outside the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association‘s tent. The organization has shown off a variety of airplanes over the years — generally in an attempt to show not just a whiz-bang top-of-the-line aircraft sporting a value that carries multiple zeros to the left of the decimal point, but also to illustrate that even a modest, highly affordable trainer can be a valuable asset to the lifestyle and adventure seeking soul of a pilot.
You might be surprised, but it’s not at all uncommon at events such as these for attendees to see an open cockpit door as an invitation to climb in and get comfortable. Many people do just that, treating the aircraft as if it is their own. Some act as if it is a plaything brought in especially for them to beat the beejeezus out of it if it pleases them.
After a couple, or more accurately, a couple of couples, loaded their children in the pilot and passenger seats in the hopes of getting an adorable picture of the little tykes doing all they could to break something, my peers were kind enough to put up a small but tasteful sign at each door asking people to refrain from entering the airplane unless invited to try it on for size.
I’ve always been a fan of encouraging folks I meet, both young and old, to step up into the cockpit to get a feel for the pilot’s seat. And for all the years I’ve been doing that, it has amazed me at the breadth of the spectrum of people who immediately engage in trying to stress test the knobs, switches, and various controls they’re confronted with. Anything they can pull on hard enough or bang at with sufficient fervor to damage, they do it.
Hence, it’s critical to do a careful and extensive pre-flight inspection before departing the grounds of any event where others have had access to the aircraft in which you intend to take flight.
But of course, ill-mannered humans are not the only creatures who might try to set up housekeeping in our aircraft when we’re not looking.
As the rain fell and the wind blew, I taxied N103UC to the east end of the airport where an oil change could be accomplished. The airplane sat on the ramp for a day, until the next morning when the crew at Lakeland Aircraft Maintenance would undertake the task. What they found was an excellent example of how quickly the integrity of an aircraft can be eroded by natural forces.
Literally overnight, a bird of indeterminate breed had begun to set up shop in the engine compartment of my lovely little flivver. Just one night was all it took for a feathered fellow flier to begin to pile kindling onto the face of the oil cooler, in close proximity to a cylinder head, in an effort to establish a warm, safe, weather-protected shelter for herself and her soon-to-be offspring.
With all due respect and deference to the avian community, I have no interest in storing fire-starting materials in my engine compartment. My good friend and occasional mechanical partner in crime Austin Banttari discovered the fledgling nest and removed it.
Once again, he’s saved me from experiencing more excitement than I’d care to have in my life through a careful visual inspection of the airplane. Based on that alone, I should probably upgrade his standing on my Christmas card list.
Nature is out there all around us. Whether it’s the birds, or the bees, or just a long line of curious humans, there are plenty of hazards that we simply can’t reliably prevent. So, we have to be on our guard. Take that visual inspection seriously, correct any anomalies, and maybe, just maybe, wait until the airplane has come to a crawl before opening the window on roll-out.
I’m telling you, that bee sting really hurt.