Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My Bucket List


Start early on your list, it makes for a wonderful life


grassrootsThe other day, a student called to book some flight training, explaining that flying a Pitts has been on his bucket list. I haven’t seen the movie by the same name, but I love the concept: You make up a list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket, and little by little, you whittle it down. Naturally, when I heard that, I thought about what I’d put on my own such list. After a few minutes of thinking, however, I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad that I couldn’t come up with many items.
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grassrootsThe other day, a student called to book some flight training, explaining that flying a Pitts has been on his bucket list. I haven’t seen the movie by the same name, but I love the concept: You make up a list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket, and little by little, you whittle it down. Naturally, when I heard that, I thought about what I’d put on my own such list. After a few minutes of thinking, however, I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad that I couldn’t come up with many items.

The first few things that did come to mind weren’t actually achievable. For instance, there are only two airplanes I want to fly before I die: the F-86 and the P-40. A hundred years ago, when I was routinely shuffling from warbird to warbird, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to entrust a $20,000 Mustang or $15,000 Bearcat to another pilot, which is how I got to fly that kind of iron. But to say things have changed is an understatement. Nowadays, thanks to rising maintenance and insurance costs, you have to move mountains to get an owner to trust you with their rare airplanes. So it looks as if I’m going to kick the bucket without ever having sampled the Sabre, which practically everyone says is the “perfect airplane,” or the Warhawk, which to me exemplifies ever-evolving aviation technology and history.

There’s another airplane I’d kill to fly (not to mention own) and that’s the bizarrely wonderful Transavia Airtruk (you’re going to think I’m nuts). If you haven’t seen Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, starring Mel Gibson and Tina Turner (she can actually act), rent it just so you can see the weird supporting character who flies the equally weird Airtruk. A product of New Zealand, it was designed as the world’s oddest duster/sprayer, but one version had a crew compartment for three or four passengers, rather than a hopper. There’s only one in the States; I’ve researched the owner’s contact information, but I’m afraid to call him. What do I do if he makes me an offer I can’t refuse? As much as I’d love to own the airplane, there just isn’t room in my life for a project that big. It’s another unfulfilled bucket wish.

What about the things I might actually be able to do? For one, I’ve always wanted to take a serious dirt monkey (Arizona’s version of a bush plane—we have lots of dirt, but not many bushes) and bounce around the state’s backcountry and reservations. There are hundreds of dry washes, mesas and abandoned dirt roads just begging for fresh tire tracks to be put on them. Given the choice, I’d use a Bearhawk or a Sherpa: fat tires, plenty of horsepower and room for camping gear. I’d pack Marlene, a camera, lots of water and a satellite phone, and I’d be ready to go.

Or maybe I’d take the same airplane and land (illegally) on some of those airfield-shaped scars that dot the western landscape. So much history was made there, I’d like to leave my boot prints in the dust so the Old West would know it’s not forgotten.

Oh, wait! I forgot the Grumman Goose! I’ve never flown a Goose and I’ve always said it would be my second post-lottery-win purchase (after an SF260). With two round motors and webbed feet, it’s the ultimate combination of character and romance. One way or another, I’m definitely going to get a go at one of those before I check out. (I hope.)

One of my never-ending dreams is to be part of the salvage crew that discovers and recovers a long-lost airplane. For instance, I sometimes daydream about having been the first to walk up to Lady Be Good, a B-24D Liberator that over-flew its Mediterranean base one dark night in 1943. Its crew bailed out and, all by itself, it landed almost unscathed in the middle of the Sahara desert. When it was found 15 years later, other than having a broken back, almost all of its systems still functioned. Through some fantastic detective work worthy of a dramatic episode of CSI, investigators managed to find the mummified remains of its crew spread across the desert, where they perished while trying to accomplish the impossible task of walking to safety. To me, discovering an airplane like that would be as emotionally satisfying as finding Tutankhamun’s tomb.

I do have a few things on my to-do list that are more likely to be accomplished. For example, one day, I plan on finally taking that honeymoon to England I promised 10 years ago. Plus, Marlene and I are toying with a trip to either Egypt or Machu Picchu, to satisfy the frustrated archaeologist in me. These are big deals, but will actually happen.

Here’s something on my bucket list that will definitely happen: Finish writing my third novel, The Second City.

After I wrote the foregoing paragraphs, I took a short break and sat out on the patio to ponder the things I really want to do before I drop-kick the bucket across the universe. And my mind was blank.

With the exception of a herd of projects I already have underway, I couldn’t add a single thing to the list above. This may be because, when I’ve had daydreams, which are what usually populates a bucket list, I’ve been lucky enough that many of them have become reality. It’s as if I hit upon the bucket list concept while still a teenager and structured my life accordingly.

I guess my bucket list is so short because I’ve been living it! Is that considered cheating?

Budd Davisson is an accomplished aviation writer and photographer, CFII & CFIA, aircraft owner and builder. He has authored two books and lectured at the Smithsonian and NASA’s Langley Research Center. Check out his website at www.airbum.com.




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