Saturday, January 31, 2009

The visitors

There are several stages to building an RV. There's the empennage kit, the wings kit, the fuselage kit, the finishing kit, and the when-the-hell-are-you-going-to-get-this-finished kit.

That last kit is usually delivered anytime you leave your hangar door open, and it's the part of the kit that I think I enjoy the most. An open hangar door is an invitation to visitors and, apparently, a lot of the RV-building community doesn't like visitors because I see the mostly-closed doors all the time, and people have told me that they can't get any work done if people are always popping in to see what you're doing.

Fair enough. But if I were a heartier soul, I'd open my hangar door in the dead of winter; I enjoy people stopping by that much. As I've written before -- perhaps ad nauseam -- building your own airplane is fun, but meeting the people along the way is much more entertaining.

Over the summer, I'd just laid down some fiberglass cloth on a bed of resin and the clock was running when something blocked the sun. It was a gentleman from Arizona who used to live in these parts, and was out flying the RV-4 he built, that his daughter now owns in the hangar across the way. I couldn't shake his hand, and I couldn't even look at him, but we had a nice visit nonethless.

The greatest Oshkosh week ever (for me) was 2007. My building pal, Warren Starkebaum, was camping with me, we had a terrific (if final) RV Builder's BBQ, guys like Darwin Barrie, Glenn Brasch, Brad Oliver, and Chuck Jensen were around (I know, I left a lot of you off that list. See?), and John Porter and Chuck Stone were camping across the way.

You may remember John from a previous posting.

Earlier this month, John and I were communicating by e-mail when I realized he's a pilot for Delta. Delta recently took over the hometown airline in Flyover Country, Northwest Airlines, and it occurred to me that perhaps he's flying into the area now.

He checked his list of upcoming flights and, sure enough, he was. Yahtzee! He was going to swap the trip out for one to the Caribbean, but an RV visit in the dead of winter is better than fruity drinks in the warmth of the beach. We made arrangements to get together for dinner on Tuesday the 20th.

On his flight up from Atlanta, he mentioned to his first officer that he was going to be visiting a guy building an RV and the F.O. mentioned that he had never seen an experimental project before. When John called upon landing, I suggested we head over to ye olde hangar and look at the project, and then have dinner and, sure, bring Jim along.

As is custom in Flyover Country, it was about 5 degrees (as I write this the temperature has just risen above freezing for the first time since December), perfect weather for a guy who lives in Georgia!

We headed to the hangar and I fired up the propane heater which serves no other purpose than to keep a minimal amount of circulation in frozen toes until the ambulance crew arrives and they can be amputated correctly.

I peeled back the tarp and gave John and Jim a good look at the plane, showed off the various subkits, and opened the crate with the spiffy Mattituck IO-360, making sure in particular that Jim, who did not pack for a visit to an ice-cold, unheated hangar, stayed in the (literally) line of fire to keep warm.

John, bless his heart, said all the right things, including that the project looks great. And I think Jim had a good time, too. I'm always concerned when I start gassing on about the project, that I've strayed into the Class B (for boring) airspace.

After the visit, we headed back to downtown St. Paul, and had an enjoyable dinner at a local brew-pub. John brought along a CD he made of a cross-country tour in his RV-8 he made with his father-in-law. I'd give anything to get a copy of it because I think it'd make a fabulous presentation or the RV Builder's Hotline). I had my laptop with me and after dinner, there we sat in the quiet restaurant (the Minnesota Wild pre-game crowd had headed for the arena by then), watching the CD, telling flying stories and having a great old time. By the way, as it turns out, Jim is from Marlboro, Mass., not far from where I'm from, and home of the first radio job I ever had.

I had to be up in Ely, Minnesota by 9 the next morning (it's a four-hour drive) and Jim and John had an early wake-up call for their return flight to Atlanta. It was a most enjoyable visit. John wrote yesterday that on the flight back, Jim said, "I've never had more fun on a layover." We've created a future RVer, I'm sure.

John will, no doubt, be back from time to time in the warmer weather, and perhaps we can entice a first officer that there's no better fun to be had during a layover than hanging an engine.

You folks with the closed hangar doors don't know what you're missing.

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