Plane & Pilot
Monday, August 1, 2005

The Derelicts

Are airplanes ever so far gone that they’re truly dead?

The next day, I taxied my bird over to the wash rack and had to laugh when I found the oxidized old C-150, which I know for a fact hadn’t turned a wheel in at least 13 years, sitting in the bay surrounded by people who appeared to know what they were doing. The tiny woman with an AARP card in her wallet fluttering around the airplane was a real trip and was emphatic that it was her airplane, not her late husband’s. She had bought the airplane in 1978 to get her pilot’s license before ever meeting him. Nearly 30 years later, however, she still hadn’t realized that goal and decided to do something about it. Even though the airplane had been sitting in that spot on the ramp since 1980, she and her gang of mechanics were determined to breathe life back into it. To my amazement, they actually fueled it up and taxied back to their tiedown spot. Obviously, Arizona is easier on comatose airplanes than other states.

In the past, I had stopped and given both airplanes a good once-over because there’s something about derelict airplanes that most of us find irresistible. No matter how bad the airplane looks, we see past the oxidized paint and dinged sheet metal and, in my case, I visualize them sitting in my shop, wings off, while I lovingly clean and straighten, rivet and paint. I have this perennial image of myself hunched over a workbench while I perform some sort of magic that, over a dimensionless period of time (daydreams aren’t measured in hours or days), results in one of those eye-catching restorations we’d all love to own.

The rational side of my brain recognizes such thoughts as nothing more than wasted neurons. I know I’ll never do a corroded-to-shining-airplane transformation. I’m close to lots of restorations, so I know we’re talking years here, and I’m not about to invest years in anything. It’s not that I don’t want to or don’t know how to do aerial CPR. It’s just that one really irritating aspect of maturity is that reality finally becomes part of our decision-making processes. When we’re young, we have an amazing ability to turn our heads and ignore reality, and the mental fire that comes with starting a new project propels us over huge obstacles. Now, reality tells me that the time just isn’t available to allow me to inject yet another project into my life. Bummer! Like a new love, there are few things better than the rush of starting a new project. Walk through my shop, and you’ll see that I’ve felt that rush entirely too often.

As I watched the roaches being transformed into weary-looking butterflies, I found it heartening that there are those who, regardless of age, still have the ability to turn their heads and ignore common sense while going for their dreams. It’s because of those kinds of people that some airplanes will be immortal.

Budd Davisson is an accomplished aviation writer and photographer, CFII & A, 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


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