I have survived five checkrides in my 18-year flying history, and I dreaded every one. Only one, my private pilot checkride, felt good from the start, perhaps because I had no idea what to expect or didn't understand the consequences of a pink slip.
I thought I was doing fine flying loops and rolls, even a hammerhead, in the brand-new Pitts S2C with only 36 hours on the tachometer. A half-hour earlier, Sean D. Tucker (yes, world-famous airshow performer Sean D. Tucker) had said jokingly, “Now don’t lose your lunch in my new airplane, Laurel.” But, the flat spin did me in.
Flying across two-thirds of the U.S. in an old airplane can seem like crossing the Great Plains in a wagon train if the weather goes bad. It's forever from home. However, the country can just as easily shrink to the size of the local park after landing in a strange place and meeting someone who feels like a good friend.
Some friends called it “The Love Flight.” It was our 25th silver anniversary gift to each other, a month-long trip in our polished 1946 Cessna 140 to the site of our honeymoon on the other side of the country. My husband Tom and I were eager to take off into carefree skies with little to concern us except an occasional call to the home office. Wrapping up business, paying bills, and packing to be gone for at least a month is stressful, but I knew the moment we lifted off the ground in Truckee, Calif., it would be worth it.
It was clear and still, a beautiful day to fly. After three weeks, we were pointed toward home, and I couldn't have been more ready. The Black Hills looked green and peaceful, and we decided that Newcastle, Wyoming, on the west side, where dense forests are replaced by high desert, was a good choice for a fuel stop.
It looked like a fair morning to depart Oshkosh on the final day of EAA's AirVenture. We entered Hangar B for a short meeting-just long enough to find a gray sky with threatening clouds waiting for us when we emerged. The 1948 Cessna 170 was packed tight with all our camping gear, and, after eight days using port-a-potties, my husband Tom and I agreed all we really needed was to fly far enough to find a real bed and bathroom.
Flying cross-country in an old, slow airplane guarantees adventure. We have learned to be flexible, and, when weather or mechanical problems change our plans, to relax and appreciate where we are. Many flying stories are worth sharing, and our favorites affirm our motto: Fly often, stay open, allow fate to redesign the trip, and welcome any opportunity to improve on the original plan.