Flying W

Living out of a suitcase with predetermined travel itineraries, opportunities for the creative and the adventurous are in the eyes of the beholder. Reallocating time predestined for rest, the brave and the bold turn the lemons computer algorithms present as our schedules into the sweetest lemonade around.

The Garden State rarely makes an appearance on my schedule. Having seniority for the first time in my career, an attempt to remain west of the Rocky Mountains was thwarted by this brief moment to the east coast. Not to be outdone by PBS’ misfortune, I remembered earlier conversations with my buddy Joe, a fellow cub owner, airline captain, and husband / father. A photo of his airplane flying around Lady Liberty reminded me that he’s likely hangared out here, and, much to my luck, the famous hangar is close by, he’s not scheduled to work, and having flown his cub earlier, was likely going to be out at his hangar that evening.

Taking modern action cameras and capturing the classic lines of the Cub with the beauty of some of the greenest grass runways around blurred in the background, Joe has shared his passion for flying from a perspective never before seen. These breathtaking images have been revered and shared throughout the aviation community, everywhere from online to in print. Through these images you’ll feel the thrill of flight, the rush of the coastal salt air blowing through the opened door, the slight musk of the remnants of Continental’s sixty-five horses swirling around the fuselage, the tinge of 100LL fulfilling a yearning to be in his rarely-empty front seat along for the ride.

Balancing his roles as a husband, father, and captain, I’m fortunate enough to be a few miles from the famous Christmas card hangar, where Joe is fulfilling his fourth role as an ambassador to aviation, with his hangar doors open, chairs out, and fridge well stocked. Having flown the cross-country trek without necessary rations, a Weber grill with a few hamburgers roasting amongst the sweltering heat and humidity is a welcome sight. Slowly I’m coming to the conclusion that the mere happenstance of my visit to the Flying W Airport is more than just to put faces to names, but to be given a glimpse of the spirit of general aviation on the flip side of the Mississippi.

My mind continues to dwell on this hypothetical soul of a local airport. While my battles continue locally to find a home for me and my Cub, here in my brief moments in the confines of the Philadelphia Mode C veil, I’ve seen the true heart of a general aviation airport. Aviators young and old, students and instructors alike, converge like moths to a flame around one another. Joe’s hangar, an impromptu museum of flight, serving as that light that initially draws them in. Filled with replicas of earlier times, collections of Cub Clues, aviation publications, and the accoutrements to fill the role as home to many, the stringed lights keep conversations rolling well beyond civil twilight. 

Sadly, even Flying W is not without the potential demise, as land owners and developers turn a blind eye to aviation, threatening to place these machines that continue to turn mere men into aviators onto lists for the homeless. The almighty dollar will one day replace Joe’s hangar with medium-density residential areas, perhaps a small park; places where kids will dream of being able to fly, not recognizing the irony of what these lands once were. 

While the future is uncertain, the night is young, the conversation around the hangar continues. Heroic battles in the fight against gravity, tales from the flight decks of modern airliners, and the follies of flight students keep us engaged, while slowly the transition to our ancillary roles begins. Driving away, a heightened level of what once was and what could become refuel our passions for flight. The community we seek to be party of slowly manifests itself in our minds and our hearts as we replay the moments just previously shared.

To dwell on the minutiae of how these moments happen potentially lessens the realization that moments like these were gifts to us to be enjoyed. Life, and the life of an airline pilot living on the road will continually bombard us with lemons. Whether we take the moment to see the potential in those fruits, to realize what can become of them when an honest effort is given, is up to us. Whether those efforts culminate in the sweetest of rewards, whether those brief sips of the lemonade fulfill our desires, or cause us to thirst for more, the hands and hearts that transform those lemons are ours. On this day, the scheduling gods gave me lemons, and, with the help of my buddy Joe, and our rag-tag group of aviators around Flying W that evening, we made some lemonade.