Thursday, July 10, 2008

When passion dies

I see this view far too often. I saw it again tonight.

A line of storms moved through the Twin Cities, clearing out the heat and humidity and leaving a (mostly) clear sky with some cumulonimbus clouds well off in the distance for effect, and a breeze so fresh it makes you regret that the design of homo sapiens requires us to exhale at all.

The orange windsock at the end of this row, hung limp. Off by the baseball diamond just beyond the departure end of the runway, the sound of the softball game and -- next door -- the kids' baseball games were underway. A few folks tended their gardens in the "victory garden" just under the flight path. A train blew its whistle as it began its long trip from St. Paul to Kansas City or Chicago.

And silence reigned at the airport and, in particular, Charlie Lane.

Don't get me wrong. South St. Paul's Fleming Field is a fairly busy place, mostly because Wipaire, the largest amphibian float maker in the world, is on the field, and a steady supply of planes -- mostly destined for Dubai and the rich kingdoms from what I hear -- is on the field. So is Ballistic Recovery Systems, the people who make the parachutes for Cirrus. And the Confederate Commemorative Air Force keeps its B-25 here. The next row of hangars over has a couple of warbirds that make regular runs.

But more often than not, I'm the biggest noisemaker on Charlie Lane, and all I'm doing right now is sanding fiberglass tips for the RV-7 horizontal stabilizer.

Every now and again, I'll see someone taxi by with an airplane. And more often than not, it's Bryan Flood and his RV-8. Bryan moved up to the Twin Cities from Iowa and picked Fleming Field for no particular reason. He has to drive all the way over from Minneapolis.

Next door to me is Mike Cleary. He owns a pretty new Piper Warrior. And down the lane is a guy who just recently learned to fly, and has a gleaming new Cessna. Other than that, it might as well be a cemetery.

I hear the person in the hangar next door is building a Bearcat, but I've never seen him. The hangars across the lane are always closed -- always. I saw one open up once, and a stock car of some sort was inside. No airplane.

So the only two hangar doors whose motors get a regular workout house RV experimental airplanes. Why? My new theory is that homebuilders simply love their planes more. There's a connection with them that production aircraft owners can never have. If you're a father and you're honest with yourself, you know that mothers are more important and the smartest thing we do when we're young parents, is recognize that fact without taking it personally. I suppose this is the part where I point out that homebuilders are real mothers, but I guess I won't.

Out on the field, there are a small handful of planes that are tied down. They never seem to move either. One of them has been stipped and last weekend a gust of wind ripped the rudder off. The others? Well, I don't care how much money you save, it's a damned poor way to treat a good airplane. All of the ones out there are production airplanes.

David Maib and his wife, Mary, are building an RV-10 across the field and they told me a few months ago that they, too, thought there'd be a more social feeling here at Fleming than there is. You can't have a social feel if you don't come to the airport, though.

A few months ago I attended a meeting of the airport association. After the usual talk about big government and after the Republican legislator-pilot, spent way too much time talking about the big-government Democrats, the talk turned to convincing the City Council to lower the rents.

I don't talk politics at the airport. That's a bigger waste than tying down a perfectly good airplane outside, and about as productive.

These people with their closed hangars and their meetings to talk politics, at one time they simply must have had a dream. Flying whenever they could must have been a goal. They too, at one time, must've felt the sadness of a closed hangar.

Fuel is $5.08 a gallon on the field and it'd be easier to blame that. It'd be easier to blame insurance, the Democrats, the Republicans, and the City Council. I blame the pilots for not loving their planes enough. When avgas was $1.50 cheaper, those hangar doors on Charlie Lane were still closed.

That won't ever happen at 217 Charlie Lane.

The city is about to start building some more hangars, I'm told. I don't know why. This airport doesn't need more hangars, it needs more homebuilders.


  1. Before you publish, the Confederate Air Force has a new name: The Commemorative Air Force, I think.

    Hotel 5 is bordered by two twin engine owners. One, a Baron, I haven't seen in months. The other, an aging Aztec, flies only enough to blow and and dead bugs into my hangar when he taxis back in and uses the left engine to make a turn.

    Across from me there is a Kitfox. I see him fly quite a bit. Next to him is a CJ-6 (I think) which I also see flown. Both are of the "get to the airport, get out the plane, fly it, put it back in" variety - they don't just hang around much.

    At different end points, there is a NetJets G-5 flight attendent with a Warrior, and a guy with an old Cessna 175 that also happens to be building an RV-6. Those guys come out and hang around quite a bit.

    It's a pretty nice airport, really, but it's a mix between the "love to fly" and "fly to get places" crowd. My neighbor (at home, not at the airport) has a Cirrus SR-22 that he uses in the latter category, but makes up for it by also having a racing glider. The only problem with that is that he hangs out at a different airport.

    Oh, and we have the same collection of tired, sun-damaged airplanes out at the tie-downs. I don't know why people even keep them if that's the way they're going to treat them, but I've seen that before with regards to dogs. I've never understood it.

  2. Terry F. RV7A BuildingJuly 11, 2008 at 10:50 PM

    Been to a marina? Same syndrome. It must be part of being human. Easier to let lay than to let go. Hangar E/D row at KHND (Henderson, NV) is an exception that I cherish. Only two experimentals, but 3 certified's feel the love too. Stop by anytime. Enjoy it while you can...

  3. I was going to post a well-articulated and witty comment but the truth is I'm late for a session of airplane building at the airport.

  4. In 1981 I tried to buy an inert C140 that hadn't flown in 10 years. I was trying to earn my PPL. The owner wouldn't sell it but allowed me to revitalize it and use it for free. Soon, I was often competing with him for the airplane since he got interested again.
    If more inert owners were so generous with their airplanes they might get the bug back.