Thursday, August 10, 2017


      Ed and I were on the first leg of a round trip jet flight from Boston to Denver, Colorado.  It was kind of him to invite me to look at the new airplane he’s planning to buy from Jim Morton, but my thoughts were with our Twin Comanche.     The stewardess brought our lunch, and with a resigned sigh, I asked Ed to tell me about the turbocharged twin he wanted to buy.  The old axiom on how to fascinate a man (question him about his favorite hobby) remained true—for the rest of the flight I held Ed spellbound while he described the airplane’s radar, built-in oxygen system, boots, prop de-icing, and above all, her fantastic speed.
     On the afternoon of our last flight in N7050 Yankee, I gave Plane Deelightful a sentimental farewell embrace.   Whatever had possessed Ed to part with a friend who had served us so well?          
      I'll admit to being reactionary about new planes.  If I had been the decision maker in the family, we’d still be flying the Tri-Pacer Ed bought in 1963.  But when we finally graduated from a single-engine Comanche to a twin, hadn’t he vowed that this was all the airplane a man could want? Finally concluded I’d better quit my beefing and shape up, or Great White Eagle might start shopping around for a new co-pilot, too.
      Jim met us at the terminal and drove us to Combs Aircraft.  We walked into a hangar filled with enormous planes, one of which dwarfed all the others.
      “There she is, Ed,” Mr. Morton said.
      At first I thought he was joshing.  Okay, I said, he’d shown us what a Supersonic Transport looks like, where was this twin my husband had been talking about.
      “This is it,” Ed said.  “Boy, she’s a beauty, Jim!”
      “Honey, it’s too much airplane for me!” I wailed.  “I could never learn to fly anything that big!”
      “You said the same thing about the Comanche,” Ed reminded me.
      Mr. Morton was looking thoughtful.  “I want you both to be satisfied.  Let me show you a few others.”
     The last plane we looked at was a Twin Skyknight 320 with turbo-charged engines.  Another giant.
      “Do you have a Tri-Pacer around?” I asked.
      In the Combs Aircraft waiting room, Ed gave my shoulder a squeeze before he went upstairs to talk business.  “Stop worrying,” he said.  “I’m not going to buy an airplane you can’t fly.”
      Two hours later the jangling of a telephone woke me.  I sat up, dazed with sleep, and wondered where I was.  Then I remembered and looked at my watch—we had 20 minutes to catch our flight back to Boston.  Taking the stairs two at a time, I found the office where Jim and Ed, having completed their transaction an hour earlier, were swapping lies.
     “What time is it?  Five o’clock?  Ohmigosh, we’ll never make that plane!” Ed said, grabbing our camera and some official looking papers.
      “I’ll get you there,” Jim promised, and the three of us raced to his car.  A couple of times I could swear we are airborne, but our pilot did get us there.  Soon we were on our way back to Boston, the thoroughly mortgaged owners of a Cessna Skyknight.
      As the weeks went by, my husband’s phone calls to Denver increased in number and degree of irritation.  When would our new plane be arriving?  He’d had to charter a Cherokee twice this week, for crying out loud.
      It was the automatic pilot, Jim Morton explained  It  ha a way of functioning perfectly for 20 minutes or so, then making an abrupt 180 degree turn.
     “Maybe it senses when there’s bad weather ahead,” I suggested to the pacing figure in our living room.  
      He was not amused.
      At last the instrument was cured of its tendency to make decisions on its own; one cold Friday afternoon in mid-January, we received word that the Skyknight had landed at Norwood Airport.  Ten little green men couldn’t have caused more commotion in eastern Massachusetts.  Ed dropped everything he was doing in the office; I did likewise at home.  Half an hour later I found him with a tall, personable young man who had flown the Skyknight straight from Denver.  Knowing my husband rather well after 30 years, I could see he was in a dither of excitement.  He turned to his companion and said, “Sorry, I’m terrible about names—you’re Paul . . . ?”
      “Pete Rueck.”
      “And my name is . . . “ I prodded Ed, doubtful he’d remember.
      “Oh yes, this is—uh—Barbara.  Mrs. Malley.  My wife.”
      The introductions accomplished smoothly, we hastened through the gate, slipping and skidding on patches of ice in our eagerness to inspect Triple One November Tango.  The NT stood for North Terminal, Ed’s small manufacturing plant, which would own the plane, pay the bills, and do everything but fly her.  The latter privilege would be reserved for him and, he had promised, his wife.
      “Here’s your airplane,” Pete said, pointing to a blue and white aircraft.  “How do you like her?”
     Her color scheme was similar to Plane Deelightful’s, but there the resemblance ended.  Clearly Ed’s tales to his friends about the Baby Airliner he was expecting had been exaggerated:  this baby was fully two stories tall!  Did Ed seriously believe that he  . . and I??? . . . were going to fly this gargantuan machine?
     “Come on, Barb, let’s take a look at the panel,” Ed said, climbing the steps to the wing. I followed him, thinking I’d feel safer if six firemen with a net were standing below.
      As we looked at the panel, Ed whistled and I tried to keep from fainting. When my spell of vertigo passed, I opened my eyes. They were still there: switches, buttons, knobs, levers, dials, gauges, and navigational instruments not by the dozen but by the gross. Maybe Ed thought they were cheaper that way. The communication switches alone were enough to make one’s head swim—a bristling row of buttons that looked like barracuda teeth. All a pilot had to do was figure out which ones to push in what direction to operate which radio in order to communicate with ground facilities, make an ADF or Omni approach, and utilize such aids as the Marker Beacon, DME and Electric Horizon. It was too much. It would take me at least 50 years to call HELP on 121.5, and by then it will surely be too late.
     Pete took us for a short introductory flight and arranged to give Ed a real lesson the next day, before his return to Denver.   I decided I might as well put my pilot’s license in a scrapbook and resign myself to the heavy looking on, convinced that this would be my role from now on. 
     “What’s the kid’s name again?” Ed asked distractedly the next morning.  “George?  Harry?  Frank?”
     “Pete.  Pete Rueck.”
      As eager as he was for that first lesson, Ed couldn’t push the hands of the clock ahead, so he read to me from the Skyknight’s manual and got generally underfoot while I made beds and stacked the breakfast dishes.
     “It’s just like the Comanche,” he tells his skeptical audience of one.  “Everything’s a little different, that’s all.”          
      “Everything’s a lot different,” I complain, more confused than ever by the manual’s gobbledygook.  Why 
had he taken away my beloved, familiar Comanche?

      Ed parked next to the hangar and waved cheerily to young Mr. Rueck.
      ‘You say his name’s Pete?” he asked.
      He said it.  Don’t go by me,” I replied grouchily.  I lagged behind as he hastened eagerly toward his new airplane.  It had grown both taller and broader during the night, I noticed, and was glaring at me balefully in the winter sunshine.
     “I don’t like you either,” I muttered, climbing into the back seat.  As far as I was concerned, she could put herself on automatic pilot and fly right back to Colorado.
     “Now, easy with those throttles, Ed,” Pete says as we roll down the runway.  “Don’t want to over-boost, just ease them in until you get your 32 inches of manifold pressure.  Okay, start raising the nose-wheel . . . rotate . . . that’s fine.”  Ed takes her around the pattern, and as he turns final, Pete emphasizes the advisability of a power-on landing. 
      “Remember, this baby’s a lot heavier than the Comanche, so she glides like a rock.  Everything’s looking good . . . keep that power on . . . okay, we’re on the runway, now cut the throttles.”
      Ed made another landing Pete’s way, but the third time reverted out of habit or absent-mindedness to the technique that was so successful in the Comanche.  Crossing the barrier, he chopped the power and dialed in plenty of nose-up trim.  R-r-r-umph!  It was a splendid demonstration of a short-field landing if you didn’t mind crashing on a dime.
      “See what I mean?” Pete said.  “I knew we wouldn’t hit hard enough to hurt the plane, so I thought I’d let you find out yourself what would happen.”
      Ed made the next landing Pete’s way.  “I’ve got the idea now,” he said.  “Another couple of hours with Charlie, and I’ll have the old girl mastered.
      Which reminded him.  “How about you, Barb?”
      “Yes, master?” I said, as if I didn’t know what was coming.
      “Don’t you want to give it a try?  Come on, it’s fun—nothing to it!”
      My dislike of the Skyknight was temporarily overcome by curiosity.  I slid into the pilot’s seat, and 
because my memory span is good for at least half an hour, managed not to over-boost the engines on 
takeoff and succeeded in mimicking one of Ed’s better landings.  Pete, of course, talked me all the way down, while I, of course, talked back.
      “That’s fine, Mrs. Malley, everything’s looking good.”
      “Aren’t we too low?  Shouldn’t I raise the nose?  Don’t we need more power?”
     “No, don’t touch a thing, everything’s perfect.”
     And that was the only word for my landing.  Unfortunately, I was not able to make another one like 
it for six months.
      Hours later I lay staring at the ceiling (visibility zero) and talking to myself like a Flemish aunt.  As much as I regretted it, our Twin Comanche was gone, and gone for good.  There was no way Ed could wrap up the Skyknight in brown paper and send it back to the store, so why didn’t I face reality and make the adjustment gracefully?  Gratefully, even.  A husband generous enough to share his hobby should be appreciated, not hen-pecked.  From now on, I promised myself, I would stop complaining.

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