Budd Davisson, Plane and Pilot Magazine

What’s the TBO on a flying jacket?

I’m about to lose a long-time friend and, in it’s 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’s something about worn jeans, ratty jackets and a well-worn pair of good boots that just feels “right.” I don’t know the exact words, but you know what I’m talking about. They’ve molded themselves to you in such a way that you feel better about life when wearing those clothes than any other.

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 where shoulder harnesses and parachute straps have left their marks. The sleeves have a line worn almost completely through about six inches up, because I always cuff them twice to get them away from my wrists for more comfortable stick movement.

The bottom of the right sleeve is worn to the threads where my arm habitually rests on my right leg fingertipping the control stick, just laying in wait for the movement that tells me the student is about to dig us into a very dark corner.

When I had that jacket embroidered, we did a spare knowing I’d eventually wear it out and lately I’ve worn the new one a couple of times. But it just doesn’t feel right. So, I go back to the old one, hoping I can squeeze a few more flights in with my old friend. And that’s what it is, my old friend.

I get goofy about stuff that accompanies me through every step of life. I’ve been wearing the same old US Cavalry belt buckle for 34 years and, while I won’t say 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. Because 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 are now as smooth as emeralds. This has allowed my current boots to come up to the five-year mark with none of the mechanical surgery scars the others have shown. I have boots I’ve worn for non-flying duties for well over thirty years, but this pair looks as if they may set a record in the flying category.

My boots and belts have been with me longer than just about anything or anyone. The day my son was born, I was wearing the boots 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 when we got the call so long ago telling me 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 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 these artifacts have played in my life and hopefully they will be passed onto my grand kids.

All of this is well and good, but right now I’m at that transition point from an old friend to a new one. From an old jacket to one that, although seemingly identical, doesn’t have the kharma of the original. Airplane kharma, however, only comes through one process. It comes through continual exposure to flight. Sooner or later, the new one will soften and begin to become part of the life I lead. In the meantime, however, I’ll miss the old one.  BD