I’m about to lose a long-time friend and, in its own inane way, it’s kind of sad: My old denim flying jacket has gone past TBO, and I don’t think it can be saved. It’s been with me for over 2,000 hours, and it’s not going to feel right flying in anything else.
There is something about a well-worn pair of jeans, a ratty jacket and a old comfy pair of good boots that just feels “right.” They’ve molded themselves to you in such a way that you feel better about life.
My old jacket, which has the image of my airplane embroidered on the back, is showing the distinct marks of a flying veteran. The seams on top of both shoulders are threadbare. The sleeves have lines worn almost completely through about six inches up. The bottom of the right sleeve is also showing threads where my arm habitually rests on my right leg while I’m finger-tipping the control stick, waiting for the movement that tells me that my student is about to bring us into an attitude that will dig us into a very dark corner.
When I had that jacket embroidered, I made a spare, knowing I’d eventually wear it out. Lately, I’ve worn the new one a couple of times. But it just doesn’t feel right. So, I keep going back to the old one, hoping that I can still squeeze in a few more flights with my old friend. And that’s what it is, an old friend.
I get goofy about stuff that accompanies me through every step of my life. I’ve been wearing the same old U.S. Cavalry belt buckle for 34 years, and while I won’t say that I believe in good-luck charms, I never fly without it.
I designate specific pairs of cowboy boots for flying and go through a pair about every five years, wearing them down to the absolute nubbin before giving up on them. The rudder cables wear almost through them on both sides, but more damaging are the screws in the floor pan, just under the rudder pedals. Since I only wear boots with riding heels, the backs of the boots ride on the foot trays, and those screws have cut clean through three pairs of boots, opening them up with a crude, autopsy-like incision.
In the process of dying, those boots have rubbed and polished those screws until they’re now as smooth as emeralds. It has allowed my current boots to come up to the five-year mark with none of the mechanical surgery scars that the others have shown. I have boots that I have worn for non-flying duties for well over 30 years, but this pair looks as if it may set a record in the flying category.
My boots and belts have been with me longer than just about anything or anyone. On the day my son was born, I was wearing the boots that I’m wearing right now, and he’s already given me two grandchildren. The belt buckle was there, too. Ditto for that terrible early morning a long time ago when I got the call telling me that my brother had died.
The belt buckle was around a much slimmer waist the first time I strapped into my own Pitts Special over three decades ago. In 1874, that buckle was issued to some unknown cavalry trooper. I wish it could talk and tell me where it has been and what it has seen. I wonder how that trooper would feel if he knew that the buckle that rode so many trails with him now flies on a regular basis.
I know that it’s silly to think of things like boots and belts as living entities, but when something is such an integral part of a life for so long, who is to say that some measure of our experiences don’t seep into their pores and become part of their soul? Fortunately, my kids know the part that these artifacts have played in my life and, hopefully, they will be passed on to my grandkids.
All of this is well and good, but no matter how much they’re cherished, some things can’t last forever and, right now, I’m at that difficult transition point between saying goodbye to an old friend and saying hello to a new one, in between stages of an old jacket and one that, although seemingly identical, doesn’t have the karma of the original. But just like with flying skills, airplane karma only comes through one process—the continual exposure to flight. So sooner or later, the new one will soften its threads and begin to become part of me and the life that I lead. In the meantime, I’ll be missing my old trustworthy companion.
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 www.airbum.com.