Budd Davisson, 2001

Making it Fit
Be it Ever so Humble, Even an Ugly Airplane is an Airplane

Like all airports in the world, ours has its share of derelict airplanes sinking into the pavement on the back tie-down lines. Every single day I taxi past three of them. There's a Musketeer, its yellow paint flaking off in sheets and its tires flat, a 180 Comache so sun-bleached it's hard to tell what color it was, and an old square-tail C­150 with corrosion visible everywhere the paint has fallen off. Every time I see those airplanes, I wonder what their owners are thinking. For the decade I've been flying out of that airport not one of these airplanes has turned a wheel. Why do the owners continue paying ramp fees on something that is obviously never going to fly? Why not sell them? Then I met one of the owners at a party and was again reminded that airplanes can fit into a person's life in a lot of different ways and produce a number of different effects.

This particular owner sang the same song so many others do, when questioned about their deteriorating airplanes, "Why yes, I do own that airplane and I'm going to fix it up and fly it one of these days." He was pleased to be singled out as an airplane owner. Even though it was a dead airplane, it was still an airplane and he knew owning it put him in a pretty elite group. During the course of the conversation, he made certain others around us knew he owned an airplane. He seemed to like the fact that it set him apart from the crowd. Better than that, just the fact that he owned an assemblage of parts that used to fly made him a part of the aviation community and that appeared to be reason enough for him to continue paying his ramp fees.

Only about one out of two thousand people in the U.S. population own an airplane, so it would have to be admitted that, yes, owning an airplane does make you different. It doesn't make you any better, in fact, airplane ownership can sometimes make your situation worse, but, when judged against the rest of the world, it definitely makes you different. That, however, is just one of a bizillion reasons why people own airplanes. Every single airplane owner has a different spin on why he or she bought their flying machine. Not many of them, however, are fully aware of the various effects the airplane is having on them, both good and bad.

A huge number of folks own airplanes primarily so they can work on them. There is nothing quite as satisfying as working on something that flies. Whether it's a homebuilt or a fixer-upper, when you're twisting bolts and pounding rivets on something that flies, it is intrinsically different than performing the exact same operations on a house, car or boat. Airplanes, even in an unfinished state, are living breathing entities and exude a magical attraction. People who own these kinds of airplanes often would rather work on them than fly them. More than that, most would find their lives incomplete without an outlet for their compulsion to create things that fly.

I love those situations where a couple is retired and view their airplane as a golden carpet that can take them anywhere their heart desires. I know a couple with a ragged-looking 1946 Stinson 108 and that airplane might as well be a Lear Jet in the way they use it. They think nothing of loading up and trekking across the entire country to see grand kids or friends. Distance is not a factor to them, so, the airplane spends as much time in the air as on the ground. The panel is fresh with a new GPS and an 0-470 conversion lurks under the cowl, giving them plenty of performance, but the rest of the airplane is a little dowdy looking. Actually, I guess it just has a lived-in look, which is only fitting, considering its use. What this airplane has done for this couple is obvious. Instead of waiting around for old St. Pete to call them, they are going to make him catch them while they're on a dead run living life to the fullest.

One of the neater kinds of airplane ownership is represented by a young couple I know who is in that spool-up period of life in which so many goals seem beyond their grasp. Still, they've managed to buy an airplane. It's a cute, if somewhat tattered, Aeronca Chief that they fly religiously every Sunday morning. Between flights, they are nickel and diming their way through the airframe trying to keep it flying while they do a spray-can restoration. It'll never be an award winner, but I'll guarantee you that there isn't a more loved airplane on the planet. More important, it was goal they had set and accomplished, and carrying that goal-oriented way of thinking with them will make their lives fuller.

Why do I own an airplane and how has it affected my life? First of all, I'm not sure I have a choice: somewhere over three decades ago, it became a given that a Pitts Special must be part of my life. My airplane is both a member of our family and an integral part of both my thought processes and my being. It is what I am, and vice versa. I know that's not a crystal clear answer, but I doubt if anyone else can give a complete list of reasons why they own their airplanes either. So, maybe it's just as well that we know an airplane is important to us and it's not necessary that we know why. Some things aren't supposed to be understood.