Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 24, 2013

One Trip, 85 Suitcases

The logistics that go into a big GA flight might leave you wondering where you left your car

St. Louis is one of my favorite places because I was born there when my dad was a pilot based at Scott Air Force Base. We left for California in a big Buick without seatbelts when I was six weeks old, but that doesn't make me any less fond of my birthplace. Flying the Fair Saint Louis is sort of a love-or-hate situation for air show pilots. Love it because of the magnificence of the Arch shimmering in the afternoon sun, the literal and symbolic gateway to the West. Hate it because the box is over the big Muddy—the fast and furious Mississippi River, where our little airplanes twist and turn over the water in between bridges and wires, with no option for a emergency landing.

After the air show, Bryan Regan of the Aeroshell Team and I flew west in formation to Creve Coeur, 1H0, to drop off our airplanes until the next show. "One-H-Zero" is a terrific airport, GA at its finest! It's all about EAA, vintage, akro and home of the Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum. Hangar doors are always open with beautiful restorations—fun little Pitts and one-of-a-kind biplanes—and BBQ grills pulled out ready for a hangar party.

I hated to leave and wanted to stay and visit with old friends, but I had to go to the hotel to face my next dreaded mission—repacking. Again with "stuff" strewn about, I started organizing for a new direction—a trip to Alaska. It's usually chilly in July, so I had plenty of warm stuff, fleeces and a jacket, jeans and boots. Taking the red eye, I landed in the bustle of Anchorage International Airport at 2 a.m. It could have been 2 p.m. for all the activity, but the snow on the Chugach Mountains highlighted the Maxfield Parrish-kind-of-blue sky you only see on an Arctic-summer night. It was good to be home again. Every place has its own personality, but Alaska is the most unique. Where I live in St. Augustine, the highest compliment you can pay a person is to call them an artist. In Alaska, where individuality is prized above all else, the highest compliment is to call someone an iconoclast, a free spirit, a perimeter man.

Debbie Gary, friend, air show pilot and writer, and I had been invited to the Anchorage Aviation Museum's annual Salmon Bake. Debbie and I have both flown extensively in Alaska and arrived early enough to spend time with old friends, have an evening with the Alaska Chapter of the 99s, visit friends at Talkeetna Air Taxi and, of course, to seek out the best fresh salmon in town. The hospitality of the Alaska Aviation Museum staff was wonderful! I lived in Anchorage when the Museum started with a couple of restoration projects and a cold and drafty hangar. I couldn't have predicted what a first-class facility it has become with excellent exhibits and several one-of-a-kind airplanes, including a 1931 Fairchild Pilgrim recently refurbished and flying after a 10-year restoration program. This airplane is so rare that it's only one of four aircraft that are listed in the National Historic Register.

So much for my well-thought-out packing. The weather was unusually warm and sunny, and we wore shorts and sandals! The Museum sits right on Lake Hood, the world's busiest seaplane base, and the annual fundraiser Salmon Bake was fun, warm, well-attended and laid-back. We sat under the wing of the PBY of Dago Lake and watched airplanes of each of the commercial operators of Lake Hood fly by to everyone cheering and clapping. Why not think about a visit to Anchorage for this event next year? Alaska is the premier aviation nation!


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