Well, she’s gone.
My airplane is sold.
The hangar is empty.
The final logbook entry has been made.
And there’s a bit of a hole in my heart.
It’s not sadness per se. More like an empty spot reserved for an old friend who’s gone away. A thankfulness for all the good times, all the flights over water, desert, and rough terrain where she took care of me.
You know, they say you should never really trust your airplane; always expect an engine failure or other emergency. Be ready for the day your steed betrays you. That’s pilot training, and when you’re flying a bird with a single engine, it’s good policy. But the reality of the situation is that you have to trust your airplane, because if you didn’t you’d never leave the ground. Believe me, I’ve flown planes that I had no faith in, and it’s Not a Good Thing.
Nine-Four Mike took me from one side of the country to the other. Through rain, snow, and ice. In blinding dust storms, thick smoke, and to places where the heat was so intense it actually melted the tires on other aircraft. I loaded it to gross weight (and over, truth be told) and vaulted over huge mountains, slogging upward at Vy in 120 degree heat with nary a complaint from the powerplant. Hell, I once took off with the cowl plugs installed. Dumbest thing I ever did in an aircraft. But she just soldiered on.
She brought countless sick people to medical treatment for Angel Flight and then took them home again. She introduced many people to the wonders of general aviation. Took infants on their first flights and retired pilots on their last. Scattered the remains of fellow aviators. Appeared on a magazine cover. Shepherded me through several ratings. Nine-Four Mike even did the impossible: made my landings look good.
It wasn’t a one-sided relationship. I gave her new exhaust system, heat shields, fuel cells, fuel lines, insulation, improved fuel drains, two prop overhauls, mag overhauls, avionics overhauls, countless oil changes, inspections, nearly 11,000 gallons of fuel, a hangar, and the most important thing you can give an airplane: frequent flight time. Above all that, I was ready to pay for a major engine overhaul should it have been necessary. That’s a $20-30,000 expense. Yes, there was commitment there.
After owning that Skylane for the better part of five years, you’d think I would have seen it from every angle, know every inch of it. But last Saturday as I watched her taxi out for takeoff, I realized I was in for something new. The last first: I had never seen the airplane fly. Oh, I’d been at the controls for 900 hours. But to actually see the airplane in flight? Not until that moment.
It was a bittersweet thing to hear the dragster-like sound of that O-470 from the ground. I watched until the plane was only a speck in the sky, until you couldn’t look away because if you did you’d never find it against the expansive blue canvas. Eventually Bill walked up and broke my concentration with a question. And like that, she was gone.
I’m sure that in the years to come I’ll see 94M around Southern California. Aviation is a small world, after all, and a paint scheme that distinctive tends to stick out. Even so, it’s a foregone conclusion that I’ll be looking for her wherever I am. That’s just how it is. Once you own a plane, it’s “yours” no matter whose name is on the registration certificate. No, it wasn’t heartbreaking to see the plane fly away. If I ever find out she ended up in a ball at the end of some runway, that will be the crusher.
I think it will take a long time before I get used to not owning 94M. So much of my identity was wrapped up in that plane. When you own, it sucks up all your money, all your time, and just about all of your attention. But that’s what’s so great about it: it’s hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be special. If it was easy, there would be no sense of pride and accomplishment at defying the law of gravity that has kept man earthbound for a million years.
And so it goes. For nearly five years I was the steward and caretaker of a very fine aircraft. I hope I did right by her. I think I did.
So long, 94M. I’ll miss you…