Coping: Goodbye, Dear Plane

We sold our childhood Thursday.

It’s done.  Our dependable old Beechcraft is in the hands of its new owner.  Funds have settled and we are grounded.

It’s been a fun ride…and we hope you’ve enjoyed some of our pictures from our air ventures.

Was it not for my eyes not being up to it, I would still be flying.  But at 68 and with the Harrison Ford incident out at John Wayne airport (Ford’s only 74) we have decided to exercise the ultimate in good airmanship.

Three final safe landings went in the logbook Wednesday wrapping up 44 years, half a dozen trans-cons, and countless thousands of landings under nearly every conceivable condition.   

From here on out we’ll trust the young kids up front to drive.

We both learned a tremendous amount about not only flying, but about ourselves. On only a couple of occasions did I get into unintended instrument flying conditions. And those, thanks to a string of great pilots who trained me, my confidence never waivered.

So this morning a special thanks to some great men – the true Masters of the Sky who trained me to fly – and live:

Dan Skarperud, Chief Pilot and long-ago owner ofs Hanger #1 at the northeast corner of Boeing Field in Seattle deserves thanks for constantly yelling “Step on the ball!!!” when I wasn’t quite coordinated early on.

The late Commander Herb Johnson (USCG R’td.) Who didn’t yell quite as loudly. Then one day he told me to stop on the taxiway…and I was on my own.

That first flight was a panic. The first time you go out on your own and do a power-off stall, hold the break a little too long and begin to fall off into a spin…well, let’s just say that is one of the moments in flying when you either “have your shit today” or you meet gravity in a terrible way..

Damon Darly was my next instructor. He was a fairly recent flight instructor at the time; 1973. His focus was getting ready for flying turbines around Alaska, which he did for a good while, I later heard. Flying a kind of cross between the stereotypical bush pilot with a turbine engine up front.

We did lots of landings and takeoffs from the old Issaquah airport where we used to dodge skydivers before the airport was driven off by urban sprawl as Seattle grew east.

Tom Gorham gets a nod because he (and Skarp) introduced me to seaplanes. Dan gave me some instruction in a J3 Cub on floats. But it was Tom who taught me mountain flying a seaplane. One of the most memorable moments in life was flying a Lake LA-4-200 Buccaneer amphibian off High Ross Lake in the Cascade mountains.

The up-canyon winds hitting the dam face blew us several hundred feet higher as we crossed over the face of the dam.

In 1974 I was pleased to be the broadcaster voicing the Kenmore Air Harbor audio cassettes which were study guides for new seaplane pilots. I was able to speak with some authority by then on flying.

Finally, my friend Billy Brice deserves special mention. A serious life-long pilot, he’d spent his time before retirement to East Texas driving big birds, usually 767’s, down to places like Brazil.

He was also kind enough to check me out in N7912L – our old Beechcraft – when we went up to Ohio in 2011 to pick it up and fly it back to East Texas.

We had a fair bit of work done on the plane, both here and elsewhere.

Thanks to Chad Moser, formerly at Hammarhead Aeronautical in Elijay, Georgia for the heavy overhaul work. That was gear rebuilds, new engine mounts, three point strobes and $13,000 more.

Mark Whitfill in Crocket,Texas gave us fine maintenance. Very cost conscious, too.

Lately, we used Jeremy Bogan out of Jacksonville, Texas. Jeremy is doing a lot of mobile plane service, so it was just easier to have him swing by our hangar to do service than fly down to Mark’s place in Crocket. Both are excellent “wrenches” and are highly recommended.

Those who have never spent the hundred bucks to at least go out to the local airport and take a one-hour Íntroduction to Flying course (1.5 hours, or so usually – pilots love to talk. Hangar flying it’s called…) have no idea what fun they are missing.

I remember from 1973, though, going up and playing a bit in a Cessna Aerobat and then getting on my Honda 350 dirt bike to head back to the condo complex where I lived. As I turned onto Airport Way, I got all over the bike, but even with the front wheel off the ground I couldn’t shake a simple fact that roared through my head all the way home.

“This damn dirt bike is boring as hell compared with flying the Aerobat…”

That feeling never goes away.

Even with our old Porsche 930 whale tale (the sale of which funded the plane purchase) it was the lust for freedom in three axis instead of two that drove me to one last (and futile ) attempt to get flying out of my system.

It hasn’t worked. But time has.

I had to be run off by the declining eyesight.

Sure, still good enough to drive – and even fly legally and all. But the edge – the sharpness of detail…well that’s a bit less.

The time to sell an airplane is in the spring. That’s when people get serious about the industry.

The time to buy a plane is in late fall to early winter. That’s when hangar fees and work schedules take a bite out of flying.

One tip to non-pilots: Whether it is going out for your “introduction to flying” or taking off on one to those Big Birds, plan your flights as early in the day as possible. The air “lays down” overnight. As the sun comes up, and weather begins to move around, that’s when the bumps come along.

We can tell you this first hand, coming down through the thermals west of Las Vegas and going along the eastern slopes of the Rockies during past trips to the northwest.

To seasoned pilots my only admonishment is “Plan, plan, plan. Weather, weather, weather.” We never went anywhere without a complete set of current charts, paper or lately electronic. The iFly 740 GPS is a dream piece of gear and our thanks to Ed and Shane at Adventure Pilot for all the support over the years.

Live weather via the ADS-B system doesn’t end flight risk, but it sure reduces it.

I’d also like to thank the folks at Fort Worth Center who watched out for us as we picked up flight following which is better than another set of eyes in the cockpit.

A bit of a long epistle to the old bird, but sincere enough.

Eventually, gravity gets us all and we end “six foot under.”

But until it finally wins, there’s nothing like seeing the the panel and telling yourself “Airspeed’s alive…” as the engine strains to break free of the BS here on the ground.

There are pilots.

And there are mortals.

Eventually we’re all the latter. But only the luckiest of ‘em all get to be the former.

Elaine and I wish Joe and Megan as much fun as we’ve had.

And that’s one hell of a lot.

N7912L is on it’s way to the Bismarck, SD area from Stillwater, OK with the new owner under the watching eyes of a 14,000+ hour DC-9 pilot /CFI.

Safe landings…

Write when you get rich,

17 thoughts on “Coping: Goodbye, Dear Plane”

  1. I’m sorry for the loss you and Elaine are experiencing. I’m sure you have to go through a period of mourning. I give you a lot of credit for making a responsible decision.

    Do something awesome for the two of you and don’t worry about the money – celebrate!

  2. Adios One-Two Lima, may you enjoy your new home. George, I have enjoyed the vicarious thrill of your accounts of slipping the surly bonds but think you made the right decision (as I did in 1993). Your mention of the Cessna Aerobat made me grin – my favorite wingover, spin trainer!! 3496V (The Victim) – bet she’s still out there somewhere.

  3. I stopped flying 35 years ago, for financial reasons, and I still miss it. I may yet get an ultralight, when youngest is safely launched into life a few years hence. Only a few physical activities are in the same emotional league for me. Lovemaking, full contact football, and I’m running out of others. I vividly recall the last time my hands were on the yoke of a plane in flight, and the last time I (reluctantly) took off a football helmet. Fortunately, I have not retired from lovemaking. And I am making huge strides on my inner journeys, which is wise and joyful, as the warranties expire on our bodies, and we start exploring what comes next.

    Anyway, George is enduring a loss few nonpilots can understand. Easily as hard as losing a beloved pet. But, life is a long song, and all the verses eventually end. Best to be grateful, and sometimes hum the song to ourselves, while writing the new verses, or maybe sitting in an airport, waiting.

    My favorite way to think about flying is simply gratitude.

  4. Congrats Elaine and George on your last flight, “pilot in command” safe landing.

    I’m reminded of a Steve McQueen quote having been there done that…”Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting.” Respectfully, I would add an addendum to his quote … Until the next adventure in this life.

    New adventures await you … don’t wait

  5. A huge setback in personal freedom, George. I’m in sorrow for your loss of it. I’ve done a bit of flying here and there, and it was great fun. I find I like driving more. Go figure.

    But… you pursued it, made the most of it while you could, and have passed that along to others. There’s got to be some satisfaction to all that. Work through the low times, then set your sights on the next adventure.

  6. I too commend you for acting on your wise decision. Acknowledging the aging process is difficult, but I keep reminding myself that this has been an astonishing life with many more diverse ones to come. How do I know this? Because I have the benefit of remembering some others before this one.

    I admire your ability to live life to the fullest. May you and Elaine have many more wondrous adventures.

  7. Damn Mr. Ure, I am tearing up. This motivates me even more to pursue aviation and to live in the sky. I am sorry that you had to do this. I understand 100% why you did. I want to say sorry and I hope you find another way to experience the freedom. Awesome thing is you got to experience ultimate freedom. I have a lot of respect for doing what you did but damn, it still hurts reading another aviator putting his wings down. Still, you are an awesome person! Thank you so much George for sharing your experience!

  8. George,
    we know your pain and commend you on a good choice, we have had to eliminate some things as well, water and snow skiing, I gave up flying many years ago do to cost and pursued other adventures and although they were good, i still miss the flying.

  9. I’m sure the new owners will love the level of maintenance on your dear aircraft. I bought aircraft with a fresh annual and sold when the cost of maintenance got too high. Generally, you need to fly lots of hours to justify owning, though you get to make choices that are precluded when you rent(off airport landings, long XC at night for vacations, etc. in particular).

    Thanks for the memories of my first solo(what a relief to get that guy out of the right seat), and first solo full stall(with an early Piper Tomahawk, for those who know). The Lake LA-4-180 was underpowered and a maintenance nightmare, but more fun than anyone deserved, and a split gear condition was definitely a challenge of the highest order.

    With the coming changes in the economic climate, a cheap and maintainable aircraft may come your way again, and at a lower price point. Either way, maintaining currency is a virtue.

  10. I know how you feel, George. I used to collect classic cars, Studebakers, including a 55 Speedster, 57 Silver Hawk, and the cream of the bunch, a 57 Golden Hawk with the factory McCullough Supercharger. All of them sold to new collectors.
    You’ll get over losing your Beechbird, but you’ll never forget the fun you & Elaine had. And you did the right thing, IMO.

  11. I rode my dirtbike out to the airport to learn to fly in 1978. Had the same feeling coming home. An actual engine failure… fouled plugs… only 6 hours into my training brought us to within 50 feet of landing in a bean field. I was cooler than my instructor and ready for it. We got it restarted. He was good, though. Put me thru spin training in a C-152 when it was no longer required. I never finished my private ticket, instead choosing to move to Hawaii when the opportunity presented itself. But the feeling never goes away in a lifetime as George attests.

  12. “Beech 12L, radar service terminated, frequency change approved. Have a good one”

    Sorry to hear when anyone stops flying. You’ve been a safe and responsible pilot, and newbies to flying could learn many things from your long experience.

    “Don’t be a show-off. Never be too proud to turn back. There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots”.

    — E. Hamilton ‘Ham’ Lee
    Instructor pilot during World War I, flew the airmail for United Air Services, later United Airlines. The “old pilots, bold pilots” statement was made on his retirement from United Air Lines in 1949. ‘Ham’ Lee did indeed become an old pilot. On his 100th birthday he fly a restored United Airlines DC-3.

  13. Flying was in an earlier phase of life, quit for financial reasons in’78. Had a ‘standard’ class C motor home when the kids were little, 140,000 miles.
    Then in 1989, we got a Road Trek, Canadian mod Dodge van.(190 Popular model) Perfect for 2, stove, fridge, a.c, furnace, flushing toilet, water heater, full length bed and drove like a van, not an rv. 11 years, 120,000 miles,toured most of the US. Wish we had one again.

  14. Was thinking you could get a wooden sign carved with the dates you started and ended flying, and the tail number and shadow carving of the plane to put over the top of your door with your favorite saying carved in their, too. Something to see and remember, not that you are going to forget, but something to remind and treasure about those years. Over my door as I head out each day, I have a sign and it says, May the road you walk through life be paved with happiness. A friend gave it to me over 25 years ago.

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