May 22, 2002

My little airplane is still broken, and after a month, I am becoming disheartened. It took me two weeks to even start the job, a week and a half to get the bad cylinder shipped out and returned, and so far three more days to reinstall it. Back in the good old days of working as a mechanic, I could have done it all on a Saturday.

Working in a repair shop, everything I needed was right at my fingertips. At the end of the work day I could roll my tool chest over to the airplane and go right to work on it. All the parts would be laid out on a table, and having been at the airport all day, my mind wouldn't be cluttered with non-aeronautical junk, like "home" or "family".

I could have flown the defective cylinder down to a hill- country airport and "hammer man" could have installed a new valve guide and seated the exhaust valve while I waited. He was a fresh mechanic and his shop equipment was new when the Missouri first dropped anchor in Tokyo Bay. With only a bit of exaggeration I can say that he could do more with a few deft hammer blows than a new mechanic can do with a box of Snap- On tools.

Hammer man is gone now, and since taking a real job three years ago, I am just a shell of my former self. I stay home a lot, and have been playing around as a carpenter and cabinet maker for much of the time. I fix the cars when I can't get my son to do it, and amuse my wife with tinkery little projects. From time to time, a little voice deep within my conscience would whisper "someday the airplane will break... then what will you do?"

I never answered the little voice because I knew I would have to lie. I knew that the reality of a big repair job performed in an open hangar on a dirt floor would be too grisly to contemplate. I knew that it would be much like flying off into a winter storm or through an area of thunderstorms; it will happen again just as before, and things will all work out after a period of discomfort.

And discomfort there has been. There is too much stuff to keep track of. I keep a toolbox at the airport, but this job has required the addition of a cardboard box full of special tools from my home shop and borrowed from others. Miscellaneous parts sit in another box awaiting reinstallation, and yet another box has my stash of new and spare parts, everything from gaskets to pistons. Everything is brought out and placed on the truck's tailgate at the start of the work session and put away at the end. It also gets scattered around the perimeter of the truck when I have to drive it back to the house and get yet another tool, one that I hadn't imagined needing.

As much as it has been uncomfortable to have my engine parts strewn about my house, shop, car and hangar, it would be worse not to have a plane at all. The airplane costs money when it is sitting still, and costs even more when it isn't. It needs regular exercise, and from time to time it needs maintenance. The cost of owning the plane however, is less than the psychiatric care that I would need if I was unable to just go flyin'.

Yes I fly at work, but is all directed. I fly their schedule, to their destinations, using specified routing and altitudes. Some of us joke that we are just another kind of truck driver. If so, then flying my own plane is like riding a motorcycle through the countryside. All work and no play makes Jack a grumpy pilot.

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