March 10, 1999


What a great weekend for thinking, so long as you didn't stray too far from the woodstove. Many people, I am sure, thought of summer plans or made their annual garden resolutions. A hard January weekend is difficult to accept in March, and everybody had to do something to blunt the weather's disappointment. I thought of all the places I could fly to this year.

From everything I have seen, the engine on my little plane is all set for a good summer's run. The new piston rings seem to have seated well, giving good compression and low oil consumption. The valves, the cause of last summer's maintenance episode, are sealing perfectly. The landing gear has been aligned and a radio installed. This summer would be a good time to go touring, before its skin of dacron fabric starts to really show its age.

The plane was built on Long Island in 1946, close to where Kennedy Airport is now. Its original owner was Island Air Service, in Belfast Maine. I understand that the Maine coast is beautiful, and doesn't a "homecoming" like a good excuse to go there? Belfast is just north of the airport near Owls Head, where there is a transportation museum. Not just old planes, but old cars too, and shows every month through the summer.

This would be a test of my somewhat simplistic philosophy that it is okay for an airplane to fly slowly because flying is so enjoyable. It should be of no concern that my plane would require 6 hours including a fuel stop, when even a common Cessna 172 would take just over than 3 hours, non-stop. Moreover, the 172 would be quieter, much roomier, and allow room for baggage.

Little airplanes are a lot like motorcycles. Yes, you can drive one all the way across the country, but only if getting there by motorcycle is more important than being there. Both the motorcycle and the small airplane put man at the interface of romance and reality. Both vehicles also tend to put man at a distance from his wife, the one who is supposed to be romantic and somewhat impractical.

She, by the way, thinks that the Maine Coast is a great idea. She complimented me on such a good idea for a summer automobile trip.

I could go west. A high school friend lives near Detroit, just 4 hours away if I fly the short cut along the north shore of Lake Erie. As long as I was that far west, I could fly another two hours to Niles, Michigan where my Dad spent a summer flying. I could go another two hours to Rantoul Illinois, and meet a fellow who attended tech school there with me in 1966.

The Rantoul airport was Chanute Air Force Base then, home to thousands of trainees attending various technical schools, but home to no flyable airplanes. There were many planes on static display all over the base, though. There was even a Convair B36, with six 35,000 hp piston engines and four jet engines. At a maximum weight of 400,000 lbs, it remains as one of the biggest airplanes ever built, even though it is more than 50 years old. It stood next to the mail room, and sometimes I would sit under it while I read.

Much of the airport is also a museum, and I am curious to see what remains after 33 years.

There is also a tour of Long Island to be made. I never fully appreciated it when I flew there, and this would be a good chance. I could fly to Dansbury CT, refuel and then follow the Connecticut shore and cross over to the north fork of Long Island. In crossing from the north to south forks, a very interesting piece of land is crossed. Gardiner's Island was patented to Lion Gardiner in 1639 by King Charles I, and it has been held by the family since then. It is said to be quite an unusual sight.

I would be interested to land at Montauk Point, just for a look-see, but the next destination would be a little grass airport right in the underbelly of Islip airport. A special corridor remains below the radar area that otherwise surrounds Islip, so that little planes can come and go as they always have. I appreciate that.

It was a busy weekend of flying, indeed. I looked to the sky Sunday afternoon, hearing a flock of geese. As my ears suspected, they were riding the cold wind, two large "V" formations making great speed to the south. Maybe they were trying to tell me I should consider flying to the Sun n' Fun airshow in Florida next month??

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