Friday, November 02, 2012

The Perils of Being a Pilot's (Only) Daughter (and Wife)

Expecting the birth of grandchild #8, my 71 year old father has decided to buy a Luscombe 8A from a friend. He's decided it will be more worthwhile and cheaper than buying a car.

That statement only makes sense if 1. you know pilots or 2 (being gunnies here). you change the statement to "expecting _______, I've decided to buy an AR-10." Dad buying a plane is just a desire looking for an excuse and a justification.

But anyhoo...

Dad is an A&P-IA (an Airframe and Powerplant mechanic and Inspection Authority); and has been for over 45 years (and a pilot for 50 years); since getting his degree in aviation maintenance and management from the University of Illinois (where he met my mother, who was also a student; and was from a small town nearby).

Not only does he repair planes, he's also qualified and certified to do all sorts of inspections required by the FAA (that's the IA part of A&P-IA). This is what he's done my entire life and my brothers' entire lives.

In fact, he's been doing it since the army, where they let him work on the fun stuff (as an aircraft mechanic, from '60 to '64; with a couple years break between high school and the Army, that he spent travelling around the country on a motor scooter).

My father is the most boring interesting person you will ever meet; and I mean that in the nicest possible way. He's actually had a really interesting life, doing lots of unusual and interesting things... but he's very quiet and unassuming, methodical, detail oriented (anal really.. )... You'd never know he was anything but a conservative, churchgoing, older gentleman.... And he'd certainly never tell you unless you asked.

My dad has had three consuming passions in his life: My late mother (and our family), god, and airplanes.

From the moment my brothers and I were born he'd take us up in whatever small airplane was available to him at the time, for short flights around the Phoenix area. Sometimes we wouldn't even leave the proximity of our base airport, just do touch-and-go's as practice. He started training me on using the radio at age 6 and plotting flight plans at age 8.

My parents ran an aircraft rental operation for about 5 years; from around the time I was 6 'til I was about 11 (and he has run an FBO in Kearny Arizona since 2000). My elementary schools would occasionally get phone calls to not send me home on the bus because Dad and whatever pilot friend would be taking me and the other airport brats flying after school. I grew up thinking of this as normal.

I started climbing into the nose cones of airplanes with screwdrivers when I was six, because I was the only one with small enough hands to do the work. I was doing engine compression tests at 14. My brothers started using me to pump brakes for brake fluid changes at 12 (yes they were complicit in this forced child labor).

I started working on a variety of GM engines at 14. I learned to drive in an old Chevy truck; with a three speed manual,  no power steering, no power brakes. My father and brothers wouldn't let me get my driver's license until they'd seen me responsibly and effectively jack up a truck, use jack stands, and change a few tires. Their concern was one part not wanting me to be vulnerable to anyone on the side of the road and one part not wanting to need to come rescue me. By this time I'd figured out this wasn't normal for teenage girls but I went with it because I didn't have much of a choice. .

On the other hand I don't get taken advantage of by mechanics, I can work on Chevy and GMC crate motors in my sleep, I know how to change out an engine and replace all the seals, and I can drive any consumer vehicle on the market.

...Oh, and my husband found me already properly trained in how to identify, retrieve, and hand him tools. This comes in handy more times than you would think.

I don't know if we've ever told this story on the blog, but the perfect illustration of the personality of my father is encapsulated in what he did when he first met Chris.

After 24 years of being my father's daughter I knew how to bring up the fact that I was seeing someone. I started out by mentioning that Chris was ex-Air Force, went to Embry Riddle, and graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering. My father took this in and said nothing because, well, he is a man of few words like so many other war babies.

When I brought Chris to meet my father, Dad put him through a series of "tests".

Our family owns a 1928 Oldsmobile F28 touring sedan that my grandfather (24 years old at the time) bought from the original owner shortly before my father was born in 1941. It was my grandfathers first car, and then my fathers first car. It's still my father's car technically, and will most likely end up mine eventually. It's got a magneto ignition inline six, with a 3 speed, non-synchro, dog-clutch transmission, and it sort of kind of has brakes (at least it has an electrical system with electric start).

When I took Chris to meet my parents for the first time, it was sitting in the driveway when we reached their house.

Dad asked Chris if he wanted to drive it. Chris's enthusiasm and ability to drive it (actually just the fact that he knew how to start it; then that he knew how to properly drive a nonsyncro trans and double clutch, and use compression breaking) passed Dad's scrutiny, so he has Chris drive it to the airport.

Dad had an arrangement with one of his friends to borrow a Cessna P210 whenever he needed it. Dad decided that he, Chris, JohnOC (he was with us at the time), and I, would be flying that afternoon. Dad had Chris do the pre-flight checks and watched him do it. That also passed scrutiny. Then, once we were in the air, he told Chris to take over the controls.

That's when my father decided Chris wasn't full of shit and was therefore "acceptable." If I hadn't been in the plane, he would most undoubtedly have pulled the same thing he did with a former boyfriend of mine where he took him up and intentionally cut out the engines to see how he would react. That's my father for you.

Fast forward a few years. Between us, there's now seven grandchildren. Five of those are my middle brother and sister-in-law's (my older and oldest brother are both unmarried with no kids; and likely will remain that way). Four of theirs are boys. My father is more than somewhat dismayed, because dear SIL is a fearful creature and doesn't want her boys (never mind her daughter, who she assumes would never be interested in such things... She's going to be a perfect dainty little lady) playing with that "dangerous and dirty" stuff, i.e. internal combustion engines, planes, trains, and automobiles.

In my father's eyes this is a tragedy, not only because the girl is never even considered (relentless in his quest for sexual equality, I got to play with most of the stuff my brothers played with) but also because his grandbabies aren't being taught to be self-reliant mechanics.

Then I got pregnant again.

It took him a while for the wheels to turn in his head, but I'm sure he got there eventually. A grandchild he would have unlimited access to, with parents who would not only not object, but encourage him; to take the child flying and teach him/her how to be a proper mechanic. Dad would finally be able to fulfill what he considers to be his life mission: teach all of his heirs how to take care of themselves.

Thus why he needed to buy an airplane.

Thus why he called us up, asking us for the code of the local airport and then spending a long time on the phone with Chris going over details.

Now, a Luscombe 8 is a very small airplane. It's got no electrical system, no radios, limited instruments; it's only got two seats, and a 65 to 90 horsepower engine (Dad is looking at a 65hp model, but may upgrade the engine; it's a common modification He'll have a portable radio and GPS with him). It's got a max cruise speed of about 120mph, a maximum economy cruise at about 90mph (about 3.5 gallons per hour); and while it technically will climb to about 10,000 feet, you really don't want to climb much over 6,500 feet with it.

The problem is, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Montana, AND Washington ALL have TONS of MOA (Military Operations Areas) and restricted areas... And he's looking at an airplane where you don't want to have to climb over say 6500 feet... And the average en-route altitude is about 7000 feet.

Last night Chris and I plotted what we considered a proper course so we had an idea of distance and time. It's been a while since I've planned a trip using flight charts but it's nice to do it on a computer instead of with an armload of unfolded maps and a ruler and pencil. It's also very odd to have my husband ask me about my father's flight and airport preferences, and know the answers.

I'm sure in another 6 years both Chris and my father will be teaching Baby Byrne how to use the flight radio and plot a course that avoids certain elevations and no-fly zones.

Some things never change.