Saturday, July 18, 2009

'Gun on!" "Shoot!"

With a few exceptions, building my RV airplane has been a solo affair. I've written before, you may recall, that when I started this project, I thought it would be a family affair. But I learned the hard way that just because I have a particular interest, the rest of my family isn't required to have the same interest at the expense of their own.

Both of my kids are so different, yet so similar. On those occasions when we've worked on the plane together, I've admired their attention to detail and their willingness to stick to a project to its proper conclusion and not rush it through.

That's significant to me because they learned that at a young age somehow. I only learned it a few years ago... when I started building an RV-7A airplane. Side story: I was back East this spring and my mother has an old rickety cart that she rolls out to the side of the road each spring to display the nursery flowers she'll sell to anyone who stops.

So I decided to fix it up a bit to make it easier on her; replacing the old go-cart wheels that we used as kids for something else, with some nice swiveling casters, and reinforcing some elements of the cart. As with my plane, I was working on this project in the barn when my sister stopped by to monitor the project. I was measuring, making sure things were lined up properly, and then drilling -- stopping to measure again -- and finally adding an extra bit of reinforcement to the structure, when she said, "Geez, Bob, you're not building an airplane here."

I don't know if I've ever heard more beautiful words. I was known as the "Scotch Tape kid" by this same sister while growing up, for my penchant to take shortcuts and quick fixes.

But back to our story...

I needed to rivet on the far aft top skin and asked my youngest son to help. So last evening he stopped by the hangar. He, too, had helped with some difficult riveting of the wings and he'd gotten good at being the "shooter." We developed a good rhythm and a good system back then. He'd yell "gun on," and when I was ready, I'd yell back, "Shoot!" (Here's a tip. You don't want "go" to be the word that tells the shooter to go ahead and fire.) Blrrrpppp, and then I'd check with the rivet gauge while he set up the next hole.

Like most teens and kids in their early 20s, my son has been through a lot -- good and bad -- since those days years ago when we built the wings. He found his passion during high school when he decided he wanted to be an EMT, became one, got a job, lost it when he got a speeding ticket on a motorcycle, thought the world would end, joined the Navy, then unjoined the Navy, decided to complete his training to be a paramedic, got robbed at gunpoint while I was watching Jeff Dunham at Oshkosh last year, and now is faced with trying to find a job in the most difficult environment since the Great Depression, which I'm pretty sure worries me far more than him.

Sometime in the last few months, he told his paramedic instructor (he's aced his classes and is known, I guess, as the best paramedic student at the school) up at the college that he'd like to become a nurse practitioner. "Why stop there?" his instructor said. "Why don't you become a doctor? You're not going to like handing over your patients on a gurney to someone else."

He thought about that question and responded, "Nobody ever told me I could." (Parents don't count).

I hadn't heard much about that until he called yesterday afternoon to find out what time to meet me at the hangar, when he said he'd spent the afternoon "finalizing his plans." He said he'd been working with the University of Minnesota to finalize plans to go to the college of biological sciences (I think that was it; I'm probably wrong).

He's going to try to become a doctor.

As he told me that, I thought back to first or second grade, when he came home crying because he was getting some extra help reading. "I'm not stupid," he cried over and over. Fortunately, the first Harry Potter book came out shortly thereafter and he realized that this reading stuff is pretty cool.

Being a professional worrier, I worry about all the challenges he now faces. As I crawled back into the tail, trying not to bend the elevator pushrod, and trying not to let the vertigo that Meniere's Disease provides whenever you're flat on your back get me, I was still thinking in the back of my mind about the years ahead for him. And, of course, worrying.

And then we started shooting rivets. About two rivets in, we found the rhythm we'd had years before.

"Gun on!"



I had said we only needed to do a few rivets in tough locations because I didn't want to tie up his time on a Friday night. But there we were going down one side, and coming back up the other.

"I'm not going anywhere," he said. He was focused on the task at hand.

And as I sat in the coal mine that is the enclosed tail of an RV-7A project, I knew then that someday he'd be a doctor.

(Photo: When someone helps me on the plane, I always have them autograph the part.)

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