As I write this, we are living in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has swept through the world and is picking up momentum in the United States. It has not only changed how we travel and fly, but how we live our every day lives.
As the majority of us attempt to isolate ourselves, some with their stockpile of TP and hand sanitizer, there is another form of social distancing that I recently found particularly soothing. I head to the airport. With cross-country travel out of the question, my business travel bird must stay in its nest. However, inside one of our other hangars is our family’s jewel, a Cessna 172M that my mother purchased new in 1975. She lost her medical a few years back and my husband and I bought it from her. It is the airplane I attained my pilot’s certificate nearly 30 years ago, as well as my daughter, who’s now flying for the Navy. With a little over 1,200 total hours on the aircraft, you could say this airplane was mostly driven by a little lady to church and back on Sundays. Treated gently, flown sparingly.
With a bucket, soap, microfiber wand and a hose, I go to work. I’m quickly humbled by how much surface area is on an airplane – even a 172. But, scrubbing the flecks of bug debris from every leading edge is therapeutic. Watching winter’s layer of dust trickle off the trailing edge of the wing is cleansing for the soul. After carefully drying and polishing the paint until it sparkles, it’s satisfying to stand back and take in the fruits of my labor. She looks stunning, although I’m fairly biased.
Since it’s a beautiful spring day with uncharacteristic calm winds, why not fire her up and take her for a flight, I think. My home airport is situated at the southern edge of the Kansas City metro area. Within minutes from takeoff, I’m over farmland and widely scattered homes. Racing (relatively) along at 1,000 feet AGL, I can see the beginnings of new life in the fields and trees. Recent rains have resulted in an explosion of green. The spring time change has stretched our late afternoon daylight and the sun is still far above the horizon.
As I fly along in my little Skyhawk with no particular destination in mind, the lyrics from Rush’s “Red Barchetta” pop into my head:
Wind in my hair
Shifting and drifting
Hot metal and oil
The scented country air
Sunlight on chrome
The blur of the landscape
Every nerve aware.
I have no illusions that my little 172 is a fair comparison to an antique Ferrari race car, but the feeling of freedom and solitude amidst the beautiful countryside below and blue skies above is much the same. The hum of the O-320 is soothing. This is flying!
After a few touch-and-goes at an uncontrolled field 20 miles southwest, I make a circuitous path back toward my home airport, taking time for a few s-turns. Following the chirp of the main gear on the pavement, I wistfully taxi back to the hangar and pull the mixture. I sit for a while, enjoying the satisfying sound of the little Lycoming as it cools, along with the gyros as they slowly wind down. I reflect that I’m one lucky gal to call this sweet little plane my own.
If there’s something good that comes out of our national quarantine, it’s allowed me to slow down and enjoy things I normally wouldn’t take time to appreciate nearly as much. In our rush-rush, compressed lives, we don’t spend enough time puttering around the hangar, staring into the satisfying gleam of clean paint, flying low and slow over the countryside and listening to the metallic popping of a piston engine as it cools. During these trying times, this plane, this time alone, these moments have become my meditation. And my sanity in a world that seems to have gone mad.
From the Twin & Turbine family, stay safe and healthy. Hope to see you on the other side, perhaps at AirVenture Oshkosh this summer.