|LOADED WITH CHARACTER. These beloved Justins began life as dress boots; now, after years of daily flying duty, they’re not long for this world.|
I’m not sure what it means, but this morning I glanced down at the Tail-Dragger Dragger dolly that I use to push/pull my bird from its nest, and I realized that the tires are wearing out. Bald, as it were. I was a little surprised and asked myself, “Exactly how much mileage should we expect from the accessories we surround ourselves with while flying?”
When looking down at the two fugitives-from-a-coaster-wagon tires, I tried to remember how long ago my first act of each day became pushing an airplane out with this particular apparatus. Five years? Eight? That would be around 2,500 hours, which equates to 2,500 flights, and that’s 5,000 trips to and from the hangar. If you figure 65 feet per trip, then these two 10-inch tires have logged 61 miles while carrying an airplane. I suppose I shouldn’t complain.
Then I glanced at the boots I was wearing. They look even worse than the tow-bar tires do. At one time in their lives, they had been high-end, pointy-toed Justins; fine of line, they had done their duty as dress boots. Then they worked their way down to everyday boot duty, and then they became those that tap dance on rudder bar and brake, earning their keep as my flying partners—this last stage has cost them dearly.
Spending their lives buried in the bowels of my airplane thrashing away at rudder and brakes means the boots are slowly being worn away, giving of themselves to protect my feet: the rudder cables at the ends of the pedals have practically worn through the leather, and the screws in the foot trays have sliced them open above the heels like gutted carp. They’re loaded with character, but they’re not long for this world. They, like my trusty tow-bar tires, are due for replacement.
The airplane is also eating the belt I wear 100% of the time. Or, more properly, the environment the airplane promotes (i.e., sweaty) is eating my belt. This isn’t to say that the airplane is so intense that it squeezes bodily fluids out of my students and me…oh, wait, sorry…that’s exactly what it does. When it’s 105 degrees, and your brain is going 100 miles an hour trying to keep up while your body is being asked to react in thoroughly unnatural ways, you’d have to be made of granite not to sweat profusely. This includes soaking my favorite belt day after day. It’s gone through the soaked/dry cycle so many times that the surface of the leather is beginning to look like Keith Richards’ face. I doubt that it will last another year. This I find surprising because I put new leather on the belt barely 10 years ago. Geez!
Denim jackets are the same deal: 2,000 hours seems to be about the limit before the parachute and seat/shoulder straps eat their way through them. The first 1,000 hours per jacket are the break-in period, the next 800 are to be enjoyed, while, in the last 200, I watch my favorite jackets die. It’s more than a little sad.
Even windshields seem to be life-limited. I treat my windshields as if they’re diamonds. I’m careful to only trust cast-off T-shirts as soft enough for them. I use the best Plexiglas polish and cleaner and keep them covered when they aren’t in the air. Still, last year, as I’d turn final into the sun, the runway would disappear behind a misty cobweb of almost-invisible scratches. I waxed, polished and tried all accepted methods for cosmetic restoration, but it became obvious that the only way we’d have a clear view of the world would be through new Plexi. So, after something like 3,500 hours, the little eyelids of plastic that protect me from the wind went through a form of cataract surgery. They were replaced, and I felt as a blind man must feel when his sight is restored; it had been deteriorating so slowly for such a long time that I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten until the windshield was suddenly clear again.
This kind of gradual deterioration is a sad fact of life: The hours and miles creep up on us until, when we add them up, we’re startled by the total. One minute, we’re student pilots striving to build time, and then, after what seems like a few months later, we’re graybeard aviators who stop logging time because it’s of no importance to us.
Like fuel in the tank, the passage of time is logarithmic: the first portion seems to go slowly, but the last literally races past, rendering us incapable of accurately judging its passage. In response, we look back wistfully, wishing for the good old days, which, unfortunately, is a waste of our precious time. What we should be doing is treating today as the good old day we’ll be remembering tomorrow. It may be a cliché to say that today is the sum total of our yesterdays, just as what we’ve flown, and how we flew it, makes us the pilots we are today. But it’s important to remember that what we fly today, and how we fly it, does indeed determine what kinds of pilots we’ll be tomorrow. Think about it—how we invest today determines what and who we’ll be tomorrow. That thought makes wasting even the slightest amount of time feel criminal, doesn’t it?
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.