HomeDriving away from Lakeland, I was so excited to go home.  I was actually giggling at 5:30 in the morning, barely awake, thinking about all the fun things I was about to do.  All the wonderful people I was about to see.  This trip was going to be my most beautiful exile ever!  Most people think exile means being kept away from their home, for me, it’s a “beautiful exile” because I get to leave it.  Lakeland isn’t my home.  I just landed in central Florida when Kermit hired me, and then I found the fabric planes I love to fly, and I never looked back.

My way home always begins at the Florida border and extends to some vague place, north and east of the Rockies.  So many states, so many trails home.   Like the path I used to walk back to my house after playing in the woods as a girl, I knew every step by heart.  I memorized all the spaces between the logs I had to hop, to not fall into the creek bed, and the different tree limbs I had to duck under, before I reached the edge of our yard.  The trip from the Florida border north, is exactly the same.

IMG_1520This morning, I was going home first to Tullahoma, Tennessee where my “village leader,” Wade, had kept the Speedmail in the Beechcraft museum for a week, while I drove back to Florida to repack for the rest of the summer tour.  He earned my title of “village leader” last week, when he waited for me all day, to get through the rain between Nashville and Tullahoma.  Just before dark he left a family dinner with his wonderful wife Dara, to come and tug my wet plane into the museum, take me to get my rental car, then sit and have a drink with me while I ate.  Thanking him again and again, for taking such good care of me, he replied sarcastically, “Oh honey, you take a village.”  I guess I do, and more and more the villagers are getting increasingly worried about me and Buddy.  I’m hearing more and more cautious words of concern, “Please fly safe,” and “ Please protect that beautiful plane,” then ever before.  How lucky I feel to have complete strangers care for us and worry about us!  I do fly safe, but I can’t NOT fly, just because something might happen.  That, to me, would be living in exile.

IMG_1587Thinking of my flying away from Tullahoma to the north, my favorite time on the trip home is always somewhere after takeoff, and far out from landing, where I can leave the GPS screen and just fly by heart.  It’s my favorite time because it’s actually no time, and I’m not exactly anywhere.  I know what the color of the sky is in no time, and that it begins at the Florida border, where the colors start to change from the naples yellow saturated light, and cools to a deeper cerulean blue.  I know on my path home that I can smell the difference between Tennessee and Illinois, and tell where I am by the color of the soil or the color of the sky.  The very best part of the trip home is all the places I get to drop in and visit with along the way.  When we get through all the wooded parts of Tennessee and passed Nashville, the terrain softens and becomes much slower and greener and you get to play with all the beautiful farms.  When we cross the river on the border of Illinois, and leave the popcorn weather patterns of the south, we can celebrate and cruise along with the river barges.  After the river with the two smoke stacks, comes the part of the path where the trees disappear completely.  Our entire world flattens into giant squares of green and gold carpets, sprouting wind turbines and farmsteads.  They’re my favorite playthings,  the wind turbines. I love flying between their blades and waving back.  When I get to Wisconsin, my heart will race, because I know I’m almost there when I can smell the cooler air, and see the wind whip across the fields and lay the tops of the corn down in waves.  Almost to Oshkosh!  The biggest family reunion for me.

Ted and Kim's airportI am going home to Brodhead, and Waukesha, and Freeport, and Lake Geneva, and Madison, and Oshkosh, and Denver, and Steamboat Springs, and Miller Field, and Tullahoma, and then to my newest home Modena, Italy.  There is family waiting for me in all those places.  In fact there is family waiting for me to land safely everywhere, and I don’t want them to worry, but I need them to understand how homesick I would be if I didn’t fly.   So along the path I’ll keep looking for a home on the ground too.  I’m not sure where that home is, but I know what it looks like.  There is deep hardwood forests and fields with wildflowers.  There is fresh water and soft grass to walk barefoot across.   The nights there are cool, and filled with the smell of wood smoke, and lit by lighting bugs.  Most importantly, there will be a grass runway 3000’ long, with a wooden hangar that has a fireplace, and plenty of room for family to fly in.  Until I find that perfect spot, I am happy to carry home with me this summer, sleeping in guest bedrooms and borrowed hangars, in my most beautiful exile ever!



Frasca FieldI 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.”

gunfighterOn 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!”


Dayton Airshow



Never show up unannounced
Never show up unannounced

imageOn Sunday I started north with a medium-sized chance of getting to St Simons Island on the east coast of Georgia.  I was looking forward to being rained in there for the day because I remember it being beautiful, and I wanted an excuse to stop and explore the island.  That morning it was foggy until 9 am in Lakeland, so we took off late and headed northeast to fly over the Green Swamp and Kimball’s to wave goodbye.  Right past Apopka I started dodging the small rain showers dropping out of the sky while fiddling with my GPS XM weather, which was not coming on.  Zigzagging right and then left, between gray and sunlight, I passed abeam Deland and all the light to the northeast went out.  With no XM weather the only thing to do was land and rethink.  On the Skydive ramp early Sunday morning, there was no FBO, and no hangar.  I sat on the bottom rung of the ladder next to maintenance crew, while rain sprinkled on the Speedmail and I studied ForeFlight to find somewhere to go next.  It wasn’t safe for my plane there and the radar on the coast was now lit up with green and yellow.  The only place I knew he would be safe tonight was back in the hangar at Lakeland.  We waited until the rain stopped, uncovered and turned around and flew back to where we started from. Valdosta, GaThe next morning fog lifted late again and it was about 10 am by the time we left Lakeland.  Jim was waiting for us in Valdosta and while I had not met him before, he told me on the phone that morning, “We have a hangar for you Sarah, whenever you get here.”  That was all I needed to know.  We were going north, somewhere north, before the tropical storm came in and now the first stop would be Valdosta, GA.  The next stop was in Barnwell, SC because Tim was there waiting for us.  After my course line on the GPS through South Carolina became covered with storms I looked down and an airfield triangle seemed a perfect choice below me to land and rethink.  An hour later the hangar doors where opened for Buddy to be tucked in.  I was told to help myself to a bologna sandwich in the fridge, and that the van keys were there on the counter whenever I was ready to go anywhere. South CarolinaWednesday morning Dale at Camden was waiting for us to arrive. He had called me with weather updates all the previous day and had very subtly suggested,  “I was boxed in for the rest of the afternoon at Barnwell.”   Dale had been right and I stayed overnight in nearby Aiken, thankful for another night of feather pillows and good sheets.  Now the fog had mixed with the low pressure coming up from the Gulf of Mexico and Barnwell was dark and misty until about 10 am. The plan was first to Owens, then Camden, then if I saw good light ahead and the radar was clear, we would continue north.  I took off and just south of Columbia the visibility went down, and then further down.  I could just see the stadium next to Owens airport and turned towards the field happy to land.  A sweet voice on the Unicom reminded me “right downwind was preferred for Runway 13.”  Peggy and Stoney were there waiting for us at Owens Airport.  Peggy told the line crew to ready a space in the maintenance hangar, then she told me I needed to, “put that beautiful plane in right now,” five minutes before it poured.  She then handed me the crew van keys to go to the 5th Avenue Deli, to take a break and get some lunch.  When I got back there was a short window to leave.  After we rushed to pull the Speedmail out, Stoney stood on my wing to make sure my WX was up on the GPS, after showing me the course I should take north on his iPad to get through the mess of weather while I ate.  As we flew towards Virginia, Dale was leaving messages on my phone about fog still around Camden, Stoney was texting me to report how far I got, and Harvey was texting from Baltimore, MD, “where r u?” We crossed the border into Virginia and the radar cleared for the first time in three days. While the sky was still hazy, we only had to keep flying until the light or gas ran out to get to Pennsylvania.  We landed in Danville, VA to refuel and I texted Chuck I had a chance of make it to Chester County Airport before dark if Rich Palmer could be there when we landed so we could get into Jim Beasley’s hangar.  Chuck texted back, “just get there, be safe,” he would make it happen.  So I stood on top of the engine cowling and fueled the wing tank, then down to the main tank and the whoosh of fuel through the nozzle suddenly started to trickle.  The pressure was going down and down, I looked at the fuel guy and asked, “Is this truck running out of gas?”  He replied, “Yep, sorry the Ag guys used it all up today.”  A surprise to both of us, but Al Schiffer was there waiting for us at Danville with his fleet of Ag planes on the same ramp.  I forgave him for “bogarting” all the avgas for this lucky chance meeting between two Stearman friends, one flying up from Florida and one flying down from Michigan.  A happy coincidence just to get a hello, a picture, and a quick hug goodbye before we took off to fly around the ADIZ to Frederick, MD.  AOPA had been my original destination, a special stop to see Bruce Landsberg, and now it was after hours and no one would be around, so a quick fuel stop and I would be off to Coatesville, PA.  I texted I’d be out KFDK at 6:50 pm and in KMQS by 7:50 pm.  We only had a 40 minute flight ahead, but the sky had completely cleared for the first time in three days and I really needed to drop down in the fields and breathe.  Buddy and I deserved to play with our shadow on the last leg in the twilight, chasing us across the hay fields and over the tops of amish barns, so we took our time getting there. Chester CountyApproaching Chester County the Unicom hollered back to us, “Hey Speedmail,” and again, “nice landing,” after we touched down.  Rich Palmer was there waiting with the giant hangar doors open, and all the lights on in this magical Brigadoon overflowing with Jim’s collection.  Just after I shut down Chuck flew the P-51 overhead for a low show pass and pull up – the pull up makes the P-51 whistle and it makes me clap and laugh each time I hear it. Because of the rain the next few days,  it was decided my Speedmail would stay at Jim’s and Chuck and I would fly into Reading the next morning in “The Brat” to be ready for the WWII show, then drive back to get our bags.  Everything had worked out perfectly in this imperfect, impromptu flight to somewhere, anywhere north, before a tropical storm. Jimmy Beasley's HangarThat night catching up on days of emails, I read a great one from Al Marsh at AOPA.  He was walking across the parking lot of the Frederick Costco about 6:30 pm and he heard a radial engine and saw us fly overhead, by the time he got to the airport I was already departing runway 12.  Al wrote me, “I jumped out of my car and ran towards the runway yelling, Jimmie come back — it’s me your most loyal club member.  It was sad but after a bowl of ice cream at home I felt much better,”  So there had been someone at Frederick waiting for us to land that night….knowing that I felt much better too!




Flying back to Florida on Airtran last week after meeting with my artist’s for the comic, a women and her daughter sat in the seats in front of me.  I heard from their conversation that this was her daughter’s first airplane flight.  Her mother repeated twice, “You ready, we’re going to go really high and really fast above the clouds.  Get ready.”  The flight attendant stood next to the bulkhead during boarding and explained what model of airplane she would be flying to the girl, and that it was very full.  “Not a seat empty, and that there are even more people than seats, because we have seven babies onboard too.”  A curious fact to share I thought.

As we taxied to the runway I overheard the mother and daughter’s conversation.

Mother: “Ok, are you ready?  We’re going to the runway now.  Do you want to hold my hand?”

Daughter: “No.”

Mother:  “Are you afraid?”

Daughter; “No.”

Mother: “Are you sure you don’t want to hold my hand, we’re about to go really fast and its going to be kinda scary at first.  Are you ok?”

Daughter: “Yes Mommy.”

Mother:  “Ok honey here we go…hold on.”

As the Boeing rotated the three children seated near me all simultaneously rang chorus’s of, “Cool!” and “Wow!”

Daughter:  “Mommy look, there’s our house!”

Mother: “Silly that’s not our house, we don’t live near the airport.”

Daughter: “Mommy look that cloud looks like a dog.  That one’s a tree.  Look!  That one looks like Steve!”

Mother: laughing, “Steve?  Clouds can’t look like Steve baby.”

Two chimes on the PA from the cockpit sounded on our climb out as I watch the flight attendant pick-up the intercom and speak to the pilots.  She then made a PA telling us the Captain said,  “we’re about to be going through some weather, please remain seated with your seat belts securely fastened.”  As our plane start’s to pick through the towering cumulonimbus clouds we hit the first downdraft, “bump.”

Daughter: laughing “WHEW!”

Mother: “Sit back honey, hold my hand.”

Second downdraft.

Daughter:  “Cooool! I floated Mommy”

Mother: “I mean it, sit back. Let me tighten your seatbelt.”

Mozart condemnedThe little girl didn’t say a word after that.  She pressed her face against the window and watched silently as dogs, and trees, and Steve moved through her vision.  All growing and dissolving through sun and shadows until we rose above the sheared off cloud tops into the cerulean sky.

Towards the end of the flight I went to stand next to the galley bulkhead and flipped through my iPhone pictures.  Finding a beautiful picture of the little girl I spoke to her mother and said, “I was really happy to have been sitting behind you, to be part of your daughter’s first flight.”  I showed the mother her daughter’s picture, and offered to email it to her, or text it, if she would give me her contact.  She looked at me cautiously, her face thinking aloud if I was trustworthy to give out her cell number to, and guardedly replied, “oh, ok.”  Two more chimes, then the PA announced, “The Captain asks that you return to your seats and fasten your seat belts in preparation for landing.”

The mother left without asking for the pictures, or even looking one row back at me standing right next to her left shoulder.

Walking to the parking garage I thought of  St Exupery on the train in Wind, Sand, and Stars, and that “this little Mozart is condemned.”  This “miracle of delight and grace” in the seat in front of me, was systematically being taught to be afraid of everything and everyone by her mother, and perhaps her father too.  I wondered how long it would be until she started to believe that clouds could not possibly look like Steve, and that storms were something to buckle yourself up against, instead of delighting in their wonder and power.  My consolation was when her mother stood up to get their bag from the overhead I leaned forward and said to the face in the window, “I thought that cloud looked like Steve too!”  The little girl pivoted in her seat surprised and just smiled, her nose wrinkling up.  She got up when called by her mother and peeked at me between the seats, and smiled again. This time it was a really great big smile.  Remembering that smile, while trying to remember which parking level I was on in Orlando, I thought maybe not Mozart murdered St Ex…maybe not this one.



Milestones, benchmarks, birthdays – measurements of where we are in our lives.  Since 2007 I have driven an hour and a half to Zellwood, Florida to visit my plane at Kimball’s restoration shop at least once a month.   The first few years my plane was just parts stuffed in a shed, and a frame hanging from the rafters.   But slowly, gradually, the parts came onto the shop floor and into each other and became Sarah’s project.  On my forty-ninth birthday I drove once again to visit my project.  I was hoping to see it with the propellor on and my project looking almost like a plane, and almost ready for me to fly.   As I turned the corner at the edge of Kimball’s runway I stopped the car.  I saw my beautiful Speedmail parked on the grass, out of the hangar, and covered in sunlight.  That day, my project become a plane.  I stayed at the end of the runway in my car for minutes, looking and saying over and over, “I cant believe this…I’ve never seen my plane out of the hangar, my plane is out of the hangar.”  I hadn’t expected that surprise or even let myself prepare for it, or dream of what it would feel like when the years of restoration were over, and it was finally my plane.  Mine to start, and mine to fly, and mine to keep – finally.  When I pulled up next to the hangar I just left the car running and the door open and I stood there on the edge of the ramp, afraid to walk up or get too close.  Everyone was silent and watching me.  Watching me stare at my beautiful Speedmail, tears rolling down from behind my sunglasses.  Kevin came over and stood next to me, then bumped my shoulder with his and said, “Happy Birthday, do you want to start your plane?”

I couldn’t move, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to stop crying.  The thing I had waited years to have, spent every last dollar on and sacrificed my security to build, was now DONE and waiting on me to operate it from this moment on with a level of skill and grace I wasn’t sure that I possessed.  The plane was much more than just a plane.  I knew there was a reason why this plane had found me and everyone at Kimball’s knew it too.  So I climbed in my Speedmail, hands shaking, and started my engine for the first time.  That day, August 17th, the start of my fiftieth year began with an engine, a biplane, and a pilot, all coming to life.

Twelve days later I climbed in my Speedmail again and flew the test flight on August 29th.  Then, barely a month after my birthday, I walked into my hangar at 7 am and said to my plane, “Hey Buddy, we need to leave now.  I’ll take good care of you but you know its time for me to go, you ready?”  His name became Buddy that morning.  I left Florida to teach myself to fly my plane with skill and grace and to move somewhere, anywhere forward but we only had eleven hours of Model 4 time on both of us.   He was big, and fast, and blind, and unfamiliar.  But my need to go fly across the country wasn’t reckless, it was hopeful.  That take-off was a blind leap into somewhere better that I knew was ahead of me, I just couldn’t see it, but I knew it was there.

We flew together for five weeks across fifteen states and sought out every safe hangar and summer barnstormer friend as if we were coming home to family.  These people, vintage airplane lovers, scattered all across the country, are family to me.  They open their hangars and their homes and share their lives so generously, it made me realize how much I missed them and missed flying cross-country these past two years.  So I stayed in guest bedrooms and wore dirty socks, and we moved when we felt like it for the first time ever.  No absolute deadlines, just places I eventually needed to get to.  How and when we got there was totally up to me. I chose airports based on who was there waiting for me to arrive, not because of the money I would make giving rides, or the most direct route.

When we returned to Florida in the end of October, we had flown 50.2 hours.  I believe that number holds great meaning for the start of my fiftieth year and was not a mere coincidence.  I have always used planes to escape.  I am easily numbed by the distraction and constant attention flying demands, especially tailwheel flying, especially Stearman flying.  Like Saint-Exupéry, “I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things.”  I have been guilty of using my plane to travel to nowhere and escape from everywhere.   This trip in the Speedmail was different because this year is different.  This is my fiftieth year and I will use this plane to find my next life and begin on a great new adventure, wherever it may take me.





I took off my watch when I left Florida in June, I knew I wouldn’t need it that summer.  My days would be measured in hours of daylight, gallons of fuel remaining, and the number of thirty minute flights I could do before the light or the gas ran out.  Time is redefined when Barnstorming.  Late for work just means your loader has to juggle the schedule or placate the passenger until you get back on track.  Early for work means you get to finish your second cup of coffee before your first flight arrives; characteristically early as enthusiastic passengers always do.  Weekends become workdays, Mondays become weekends, and even those days are filled with some kind of work. Oil changes, maintenance, cleaning, ferrying to the next stop.  Yet none of it feel like work, its just what you  do.  I am proud of what I do.

We set off to New York from Miller Field in eastern Indiana, the big green New Standard and the Stearman.  Both biplanes and the pilots loaded up with fuel for the long trip ahead.  The New Standard carries two pilots but you can only see one this morning because the front cockpit is piled high with tents, banners, bins, and all the stuff necessary for us to hop rides.  Scooter, the owner, knows he flies the “family station wagon” and is willing to be permanently stuck carrying everyones extra baggage.  Somewhere in the forward cockpit another pilot, Pops, is wedged in between all our must have’s, should have’s, and just in case things.  You can barely see his head over the left side of the cowling.  We fly low above the open fields of Indiana into western Ohio and I watch the New Standard sashaying left and right behind my wing.  Dropping down to look at a house or landmark, then popping back up near me. I keep checking over my shoulder to see if  they are in trail.  Scooter doesn’t have a radio, its against his “barnstormers creed” to put one in, so I cant talk to him.  I don’t mind checking on him, I actually like looking at the New Standard.  Other biplanes are prettier or more sleek, but the New Standard  was built for a single purpose – to give rides, and because of that it is particularly beautiful to me.  It’s doing what it was built to do, work, just like my Stearman.  I like planes that have a job.  So the six of us, four pilots and two planes went off to work like an arial carney caravan across the fields to Geneseo, NY.

Picture 081As we pass south of Cleveland the sky gets lower and the morning’s warmth disappears with the sunlight.   Even-though we are all bundled in leather jackets and gloves everyone is cold.  The playing and swaying between the two planes stops and goal becomes getting there as quickly as possible.  Short fuel stops, coffee and cookies, no lunch, 3 hours spent skirting rain and rising terrain.   We break out of the low overcast and drizzle just west of the Geneseo Valley into rolling green hills sprouting giant white stalks of windmills. The smells of wet grass and hay rise with the sunlight as thick, humid air floods into to my cockpit and I smile as I signal to the New Standard I am going lower.  I love windmill farms.  I consider them my personal playmates  and always greet them the same way by dropping down to their level to meet them.  I weave my way through forty or so white whirling blades, picking just the right solum course to let me stay near them as long as possible before I have to head back.  Scooter drops down after I clear their trunks and joins up on my wing for a slow parade up Silver Lake announcing the barnstormers are in town.  Its hard to imagine the anticipation you feel upon arriving at each new town.  Will they come out to fly?  Will it rain all weekend?  Will people pay for rides this summer when the economy is so bad?

We land on the thick grass runway and taxi through a path in the hayfields to the museum.  The first priority is always the planes.   Where will they be safe tonight?  Once we verify there is hangar space, we turn our attention to other business; getting passengers.  Banners go up on roadside fence posts and signs are staked in the ground at each intersection announcing “Biplane Flights at the Airport”.  Before dusk we hop back in the planes to circle the town and lake to complete our advertising campaign.   Tomorrow I need the first ride to pay for the hotel, second ride will buy me a tank of fuel, third ride meals and drinks, forth ride I start making money.  The challenge of coaxing the lookers and drawing fliers to your plane is addicting, and each airport holds unlimited potential.  Now we will wait and see what the morning brings.

Rain. Thick and steady bands all morning, so Chuck and I sit, and we clean.  Around 11 am cars start arriving down the long gravel road from the highway.  Pick-ups and older american models packed with family members start to trickle in, in the rain.  Curious, they pull up next to the hangar and roll down their window, just enough to not get wet and ask, “Are there biplane rides today?”   “Sure if you don’t mind waiting with us here in the hanger until we get a break in the rain,” I reply.  Everyone chooses to wait, so in between showers and Stearman flights we  entertain them by telling the history of the biplanes and barnstorming stories; loading them in and out of the cockpits for photos.  It works and by the end of the day I have six flights, all cash. Friday’s slow for the Stearman and I start to worry that these folks might not have the money to afford the “expensive” flight.  After all $200.00 dollars for a 30 minute ‘hands-on’ flight is a great deal, especially this year.  Saturday the sun shines brighter and both planes start to get busy.  Sunday, really busy, and I only leave the cockpit to fuel and  run to the bathroom.  The rhythm of the job begins. Greet, load, fly, land, unload, photo, hand-shake, sign logbook, repeat.  The two biplanes and four crew work in perfect sync and economy of movement.  Take-off with a tailwind from the edge of the hayfield, land into the wind by the windsock to make the taxiway turn off.  No waste of energy or time.  Sunscreen and engine oil burn my eyes and my left hand is covered with the names of the days passengers, as it is impossible to remember them all.  Around 7 p.m. the people stop coming and we sit alone in the field to tally up the weekends receipts, both planes and pilots tired and happy for the good work, and for a  job worth doing.

Picture 697_2The same scenario repeated itself again and again that summer, barnstorming in small towns like Freeport, Wausau, and DeKalb.  Each airport held unlimited potential and also the fear that no one would have the money to fly in a year being dubbed ‘The Second Depression.’   But you see they did come out to fly.   At each town farmers, factory workers, and families arrived with cash in bank envelopes, happy to spend it all just to fly a biplane.  None of them looked affluent, but they never complained that today’s flight might mean a sacrifice for them later that month.  They wanted the thrill of attempting something new, and to perhaps be a little bit daring in a time when everyone was telling them to be conservative.  Most of the Stearman fliers weren’t pilots, but they had always wondered what it would feel like to be one. What I offered them was of great value;  a chance to trade places with whom they wished they could be, to actually become it.   A perfect escape, suspending them above their world for a brief time, where the only things they could think about were the smell of the wind, the rumble of the engine, and the joy they felt when seeing their town from the air in an open-cockpit biplane.