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
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.