The Left Seat
by Jim Slade
JS:This will be the first in a series of columns I guess I could have been writing all along, but when you run a publication like this there always seems to be something more important than your own small world. The fog was penetrated, however, when somebody wrote that they could never understand why I publish pictures and stories about everybody else's airplanes or "adventures," but none of my own. Frankly, it never occurred to me that anyone would be interested in the doings and/or thoughts of an old journalist, but since somebody asked and words are still relatively cheap, here goes..from The Left Seat:
Aunt Louise's Air Plane Ride
One of the many satisfactions of holding a pilot's license is the privilege of showing other people why we like this aviation stuff so much. It was borne home to me again the other day when my wife's 90 year old Aunt Louise came from California to visit her West Virginia relatives. By way of introduction, Aunt Louise is and always has been one of those lively people who is determined not to miss a thing that life sends her way. So..in the course of the very animated conversation that followed her arrival, I chimed in, "How'd you like to take an airplane ride while you're here?"
Without blinking twice and leaving me no room to wiggle, she chirped, "OK, when?"
"Well," I said in mild surprise, "tomorrow looks good."
She said, "AllllRIGHT!"
And that was that.
We retired to our home town, Morgantown, West Virginia, from the Washington, DC area last year, purchasing a nice old home on a mountaintop that overlooks this rapidly expanding university town. After an absence of some 45 years, we found that one of the neat things about Morgantown is how much slower and more convenient things are than in the Capitol region..we're still getting used to it. And for me especially, one of the "bennies" is I that can keep my 1946 Ercoupe 415-C (N99906) in a nice hangar at the very same Morgantown Airport (KMGW), where I started my life among aircraft and spaceships as an 11 year old airplane washer 57 years ago. Some of the older hangars at Morgantown are the same in which I toiled back then, but that's a story for another time.
Sure enough, the next morning was bright and sunny when N99906 (my wife calls it "Sweetie") rolled out to be petted by Aunt Louise, who called it variously, "Slick," "Sharp," and "Cute." It seemed to like it.
I worked my way through the pre-flight checks, explaining to the 4 foot 10 inch dynamo why I did this or that or the other thing, finally towing the airplane to its starting position so she could hop aboard.
As soon as she settled in she grabbed the yoke, wiggled it, and said, "What's this thing?" Responding .. perhaps more quickly than necessary .. I told her, "You let me take care of that!" When I told her it was the control wheel, she put her hands in her lap.
Because we fly '906 with the top down this time of year, I gave her a ball cap. I clamped a headset over it and then realized she was just tall enough to look over the windowsill, but certainly not the instrument panel. A cushion helped a little, but not much. (See photo below.)
After engine start and a final listen to the automatic weather guy, I gave her the usual routine: "Please don't talk to me during landing and takeoff, because I really have to be listening carefully. But if you see another airplane, be sure to point it out to me, just to make sure I see it." Fine. Not another word.
We did the run up, cleared ourselves with Morgantown tower, rolled onto one-eight and gave 'er the gun. Not a peep from Aunt Louise.
We accelerated quickly, got a respectable Ercoupe distance down the hard top and I eased back on the yoke.
Then, it happened. At that delectable moment when machine becomes bird I heard this tiny, little-girl voice in my ears saying quite to herself, "Oh, this is WONderful."
A sweet moment like that glows a long, long time.
Aunt Louise aboard N99906 (see hat above right windowsill),
editor trudges at left.
I promise I'll write often from The Left Seat if you'll drop by once in awhile. I'm going back to the Kennedy Space Center for the launch of the Discovery Space Shuttle soon. Maybe I'll have some words about that.
Drop a line when you can.