For years I wanted an airplane of my own. Not as a status symbol. I’m far to cheap to buy anything that would be impressive to others in that sense. No, I simply wanted an airplane that I could go out and fly without having to make prior arrangements. When the sky is clear and the sun is low and the evening is inviting – I want to go fly. And so I wanted an airplane.
This goal went unfulfilled for more than twenty years, until I found this little beauty. It’s a 1963 Cessna 150C, a two seat trainer and recreational aircraft that is inexpensive to buy, inexpensive to own, and a lot of fun to fly. It’s slow by aviation standards, cruising along at only 90 knots or so (103 mph). But the view is fantastic, the simplicity is appealing, and the longevity of the airplane has been well proven. So I bought it. I was happy. A bit nervous perhaps, since this is the first airplane I’ve actually owned. But happy.
Two days later a friend introduced me to this amazing machine. It’s a 1977 Cessna 172N. Fourteen years newer than the airplane I’d just bought, it seats four, has more horsepower under the hood, and flies a bit faster. It also has the enviable benefit of being equipped to fly in weather that would ground the little Cessna 150.
As fate would have it the owner of the airplane was hoping to sell his pride and joy. The airplane had been in his family for something approaching two decades. His wife flew it mostly. Both his son and daughter had learned to fly in this airplane. Clearly, he had an attachment to it. But when I asked him how many dollars it would take to get him to part with this glorious machine, he quoted a number low enough to send me to the end of the driveway with my phone for a quick call to, She Who Must be Consulted Prior to Any Major Purchase.
“Hey, Honey. How ya’ doin,” I said.
“Okay, what’s up?” she replied.
“Well…I’m over at Andy’s house. Next door to Andy’s house, actually. And…well…I know I just bought an airplane two days ago, but this guy’s got a really nice 172 for sale for a really good price…would you mind if I bought this one…too?”
The pause was short. I’m not sure it was even a pause. She might have been consulting her iPad to see what the Angry Birds were up to. “Yeah, go ahead,” she consented.
And this is how it came to be that I own two airplanes. A small fleet, you might say.
What’s not obvious perhaps is the trust that comes with purchasing an older aircraft. I now have the joy of flying these machines, and of letting others fly them, too. Believe me, sharing the ability to fly with others is as intoxicating as flying itself. There is also the responsibility to maintain and preserve these machines. They’re an embodiment of our own history, in a way. The Beatles had yet to land in America when my first airplane rolled off the assembly line. I was a brand new high school graduate when the second took to the air for the first time. Now, while I am a man well on the back side of middle age who can hope for nothing more elegant than a long, slow downward spiral, both airplanes are still flying. Both are as viable and trustworthy as they were on their first day with their first owner.
It is my turn to care for them now. A responsibility I relish, frankly. Because there are adventures to be had in these machines. There are young men and women out there in the world who have no idea as of yet that these two airplanes will be the exact machines that get them airborne for the first time. Lives will be enriched. Discoveries will be made. There may even be some sweaty palms and racing hearts along the way. But N1927Z and N737EV live on and hopefully will continue to live on well after I’m gone.
I’m a caretaker more than anything else. And I think I like it. Believe me, I’m as surprised as anyone else. Yet here I am, writing, and flying, and sharing both with anyone who wants to come along for the ride.
Life is interesting. There are surprises out there laying in wait for us. Here’s hoping you have as much fun discovering yours as I’ve had encountering mine.