I get to fly the “cool stuff.” The “cool stuff” is a term my friend Rob Lock uses to describe the rare, old planes we love. It’s a subjective list we mentally share between us, without ever having made an actual list. I suppose spending so many years at Kermit’s place, you get introduced to a lot of “cool stuff,” and eventually develop a pretty sophisticated palate. But even a novice airplane lover knows of at least three hangars or barns full of “cool stuff” airplanes or parts, unfortunately, they are usually rotting from neglect. Near me in Lakeland, Florida is a legendary Green Swamp Aerodrome Yeti, a mythical vintage plane hoarder, who let an irreplaceable collection of propellers and rare aircraft parts rot in his barn, even after the roof collapsed and the metal rusted into the dirt floor. This type of waste and neglect makes me sick. I’ve never met this Yeti, or even seen him, but if I ever do I am dying to ask him, “How could you be so selfish?” Even though I expect I know his answer. “Because its mine.”
In Cincinnati and Smyrna an unusual pattern developed when I was repeatedly thanked for being at the airport in the exact same way, from six unrelated people, in two different cities. Each person said verbatim, “Thank you for restoring your plane and sharing it with me.” That phrase is an intimate and rare combination of words — unusual repetition always gets my attention. My first thought was to say, “What else would I do, lock it in my hangar?” Of course I didn’t, but I still had no idea why all these people were saying this exact phrase to me again and again, until the 4th of July. On that Wednesday it poured at Smyrna Airport all day, so I drove the two-lane roads to explore Tennessee, heading towards the pretty little town of Franklin. On the drive, I passed a large southern colonial house close to the road that had a small fenced pen on one side, with an elaborate doghouse. Inside the doghouse I saw a brown dog, his big head laying on his big paws, staring out of his puppy prison cell, all alone. A few miles down, along a rich man’s five board fence, there was a corral with a single horse standing out in the rain, no barn to escape the cold in, and no companions in sight – standing all alone in an overgrazed field. Seeing pack animal’s isolated pisses me off because I feel it is a particularly cruel form of hoarding. I always want to shake the owners and ask why they keep animals they ignore, neglect, and carelessly discard, only to force them to live and die in loneliness? How can they be so cruel? I expect I know their answer, “Because their mine.”
On the 5th of July it was still raining and the PT Stearman, the P-51 Gunfighter, and the Speedmail were all parked in the hangar at noon. We were having fun climbing in and out of each others cockpit’s, and bringing visitors in the hangar to see our planes in the rain. I told Larry and Jeff, Gunfighters pilots to, “Go ahead, climb in it.” I watched how carefully they stepped, treating the Speedmail’s backseat like a throne and I smiled. I knew they understood the importance of, “Thank you for restoring your plane and sharing it with me,” as well. I secretly interview pilots I find to be generous, to try to find the one I will sell my Speedmail NC665K project to, and eventually my Speedmail Buddy as well. I’ve refused offers in the past to sell NC665K, because I knew they didn’t have the money or the skill to build it, and it would end up rotting in a hangar somewhere, unfinished and alone.
So why do people hoard things, and animals, and more importantly, other people? My husband, my family, my friend, my wife, my kid, my partner, these are the most beautiful combination of words. What gives anyone the right to possess something then let it rot from neglect? If you own it… pet it, fly it, touch it, ride it, build it, praise it, hold it, play with it, spend time with it, share it with others, and love it… but don’t just keep it ”because its mine!”