November 17, 1999

I don't think that an idyllic day can be planned. A delightfully pleasant day spent free of worry, responsibility, and stress excludes the concept of planning. Plans have beginning points, end points, and a variety of midpoints, and they involve expectations. Planning, and the execution of plans, is something that is not compatible with complete relaxation. Pretty much, idyllic days just happen.

Last Saturday I made my best attempt ever at non- planning. The concept of the day was "a flight down the river".The only goal was to visit an airport just northwest of Wilkes- Barre, and the route of flight was to follow the valleys from here to there. Altitude would be legal, but low enough to feel like I was sitting on my front porch, watching the world pass by.

This was a pretty loose plan, less planning than the same trip by auto, and less than a hiker might have for a trip through the woods, but following a river as big as the Susquehanna is pretty simple. I have made a couple of pleasure flights down that river over the years, and I fly over this same area in the morning darkness five times a week. My destination, Seaman's Airport, lays directly under my nightly route, and has intrigued me because it is such little airport but it keeps its runway lights on all night long. Its rotating green and white beacon light flashes out a "hello" across miles of darkness. I wanted to stop by and return their greeting.

I left Dundee and headed south, making a dogleg over my house in Montour to say "hello, I'm leaving now" and turned towards Odessa. Cayuta Creek joins the valley just east of Odessa, and flows through a narrow valley to Van Etten, where it turns south and runs through another small valley to join the Susquehanna at Waverly. In previous years I spent a lot of time driving through this area, but seldom flew over it. I watched the familiar landmarks in the valley and continually looked to see where all the side roads went. As always, it was interesting to see what is on the tops of the hills that I had seen so many times from the valley.

The wooded hills and hollows gave way to civilization as I crossed Waverly and Sayre. Once over the Susquehanna valley, the scenery changed to the farmlands of the broad flat valley. Past Towanda, the river starts to meander, and time after time I had to marvel at the undisturbed farms that occupy isolated bends in the river. A dozen times I cris- crossed farmsteads that seem to be a world apart from life on the 4- lane.

I turned left at Tunkhannock, where the river wiggles through a ridgeline, and followed a small creek and its valley to the airport, landing after a quick sightseeing tour of the old DL&W tunnel and viaduct at Nicholson. I found a very nicely maintained and popular little airport, its 2500 foot paved runway occupying the entire width of a hilltop.

Naturally enough, there is a story attached to the lights that burn all night. One dark night many years ago, a very young Mr. Seaman became lost while flying, and with no radio equipment, had no means of finding himself. Almost out of gasoline, he spotted the lights of an airport and landed uneventfully. At that time, he vowed that if he ever had a say in such a matter, "his" airport would leave its lights on too.

Mr. Seaman lived a long and successful life as an airline captain, and his little airport was also his home. It has been built and maintained as though it is merely an extension of his front yard, even though 40 airplanes and a respectable repair shop also call it "home" today.

On a calm and warm Saturday in November there is certain to be plenty of people at an airport like Seaman's. Everyone at a small airport shares a common passion for aviation, and an easy sense of hospitality is extended even to total strangers. An odd- duck airplane such as my Commonwealth usually saves me the problem of finding people; they come to me to ask about the airplane.

It is a two way street; they satisfy their curiosity about the airplane, and I get to find out about their airport. Every place I fly has a hundred stories, and just one or two makes a trip worthwhile. Just after I landed, two brothers arrived at the airport to work on a plane that one of them had built. They saw my plane and walked over, even before opening their hangar. We exchanged hellos and stories, and since their story was so much better than mine, we walked over to their hangar.

Some people who build their own planes hire out a lot of the labor, others buy many prefabricated components. Some build from scratch. This fellow is at the pinnacle of individual energy, determination, and ambition, and has built not just the airplane but its engine and its propeller too. This airplane is housed in a unique and economical hangar, sturdy yet portable... which he designed and built. This fellow is living proof of the inverse relationship that exists between disposable income and applied creativity.

I left Seaman's with still a hundred stories untold, but the sun was getting low. Rather than flying back along the river, I set a course that would take me directly over Sayre. This is the same course that I fly "at work", and in fact had flown just before that morning's dawn. I took off, climbed briefly and set my course.

With no autopilot and only two flight instruments, the plane flew as straight and level as the plane at work does, with all its gadgetry. The surprise to it all was that even though I had to wiggle a foot from time to time to keep the plane on course, it was easier than doing it at work. I think it reflects the obligation to accuracy inherent in an instrument flight.

Serious flying is done through the middle and bottom lenses of the trifocals. A flight in the Commonwealth is done through the top lens. Close enough is good enough, because especially at the lowest altitudes, nobody cares! Follow the basic rules of see- and- be- seen, and let your fancy do the flying. Much like riding a motorcycle, getting there is only secondary to the trip itself; the things you see and the people you meet are the trip's important features. Such pleasant thoughts and reflections are the things that make the memory of an idyllic day.

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