Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Caretakers

"You know what the first rule of flying is?  ...  Love.  ...you take a boat in the air that you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as a turn of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she ought to fall down, tells you she's hurting before she keels, makes her a home."
- Malcolm Reynolds

A strange bond exists between pilots and the aircraft they routinely fly.  Though an airplane is nothing more than an assemblage of parts held aloft by virtue of an airfoil, it may nonetheless inspire a strong connection from its human pilot.  From a rational perspective, it seems like an odd thing to become so attached to an inanimate object.  Perhaps the reason lies in the fundamental nature of aviation, the fact that flight is such an intimate partnership between machine and man.

Warrior 481 has been a part of my family for eight years as of March 11, 2012.  Though I am not superstitious by nature, I have developed a habit of patting the Warrior's fiberglass snout in gratitude after each flight.  Apparently, the thirty-four year old Spam Can has grown on me.

Reading through the Warrior's extensive airframe and powerplant logbooks, a sense of the previous owners emerges.  N21481 started her life at a Florida flight school, experiencing her first 100 hour inspection in October of 1978.  Entries made by the flight school are very businesslike, characterized by perfunctory 100 hour inspections, oil changes, and tire replacements (ah, students...).  Under the care of private owners; however, some personality begins to develop.  Private owners tend to upgrade their airplanes, adding amenities or newer equipment that a flight school might deem superfluous.

Dave in his Stearman in formation with Warrior 481 over South Haven, MI on October 9, 2004

The notion that we are caretakers of our aircraft is well-ingrained in those who fly vintage airplanes.  For example, a 70+ year old Stearman has probably outlived many of those who once flew her.  She survives into the twenty-first century solely because of past owners who invested themselves in  maintaining her: true caretakers.

Whenever I find myself flipping through Warrior 481's logs, I always take note of Walter.  N21481 was resurrected from purgatory in 1993 after several years of inactivity.  She came to Walter in central Tennessee with a freshly overhauled engine and a careful inspection.  From the logs, it is clear that Walter took very good care of her.  He added IFR avionics, installed a four place intercom, and generally oversaw a period of careful maintenance.  From the logbook entries and Form 337s (the FAA paperwork for major repair or alteration), it is clear that Walter put a lot of himself into Warrior 481 during the brief two years that he owned her.

June 14, 2004: South Haven, MI

Walter sold the Warrior in 1995 for reasons unknown to me.  I came to wonder if he would even recognize the airplane as she appears today with her 2003 paint scheme.  Conversely, I often wonder what Warrior 481 looked like in Walter's day.  These thoughts led me to contemplate contacting Walter.  In his place, I would not only be delighted to hear that my old airplane was still flying, but curious about the places she had been and changes she had undergone.

The problem is that I do not like cold-calling strangers.  I did enough internet research to verify that Walter still lived at the same address shown on the FAA paperwork in the Warrior's logbooks.  I located a phone number, but was too shy to use it.

Time passed.  On the day of my eight year anniversary with Warrior 481, I thought again of the Warrior's former caretaker and was struck by the obvious.  Why not send Walter a short letter with some pictures of the airplane enclosed?  Surely, that would be an entirely inoffensive way to make contact and, perhaps, learn more about Warrior 481's past.

Excited about this idea, I resolved to write Walter that very day.  First, I did more search engine work to verify the address.  Instead of an address, however, the first item fetched by Google was that of a 2010 obituary.


Walter had gone west while I was too shy or too busy to contact him.  I felt my throat tighten as I stared at the computer.  What a funny thing, to mourn the loss of someone I had never met.  All I know of the man came from seventeen year old entries made on his behalf in the Warrior's maintenance logs.  Yet, from those entries emerged a picture of a caretaker and kindred spirit.  Other past owners of Warrior 481 who held her for longer time failed to engender such a strong positive impression.

Good bye, Walter.  I'll try to take good care of our girl.

7 comments:

  1. I don't have much to add other than saying great post, Chris.

    We certainly all need to remind ourselves to not lost sight of the big picture from time to time.

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  2. Chris,

    Excellent post! I share youy feelings on our aircrafts history and how we treat "them" after our latest fun flight. I will admit I always pat 08Romeo on her engine cowl and thank her fot a safe flight and taking care of Mary and I. I do understand the attachment.

    I too looked up the history of my plane and all its previous owners. However, after dealing with contractors everyday a cold call is just another call to me. I figured I am offering some info, they can say not interested or thank me, either way, it was ok. All that I talked to were very receptive and even sent pictures when 08Romeo was their baby.

    I'm sure Walter now knows his baby is very well cared for. I figure we can ask those mystery of life questions to the man upstairs when we get there and I'm sure he did.

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    1. I was sure that I was not alone in that opinion (and the movie quote helped back that up).

      I'm very disappointed with myself for not making the call when I had the chance. It's a weird phone phobia that I have. The funny part is that my wife has it, too. This produces bizarre conversations at our house like, "I'll go to the Thai restaurant and pick up the food if you'll call it in." It doesn't affect me at work - if I have to pester someone to get my job done, I will.

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  3. youy? really? wish I could type!

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    1. The trick, Gary, is to never re-read your comments after you've posted them. I cringe almost every time that I do. :-)

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  4. I always thank her for taking care of me and my family as well. I apologize to her when she needs a bath and I have no time. I question her when I provide tons of maintenance and cleaning and then something else breaks! I giver her a loving pat before i depart. She is beautiful and and I tell her that too! Yup, I'm crazy, but who isn't?

    P.S. To my wife and two beautiful daughters; don't worry, y'all always come first!

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    1. See? I knew Gary and I weren't alone! :-)

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