Monday, October 17, 2011

A Short Encounter (A repost from 2010)

A long time ago, a very good friend of mine suggested that I write a book someday. She was always amused at the short stories of my flying experiences. Perhaps that's why I started this blog. Maybe it was because my email list to relay upcoming events was slowly becoming shorter due to people changing their email addresses. Short explanation, the mailer demons were getting more frequent and driving me crazy.

So while I'm finishing the "Part II" of my accident story, (yes, I'm still working on it) I thought I'd talk about a flight to Clarksburg, WV a while back. A friend of mine, Chuck, asked if I'd be able to take him to Clarksburg for a meeting since his airplane was going through its annual inspection. I jumped at the chance because pilots are a crazy lot - they'd fly anywhere if given a chance. It's a good experience and adds another notch to the logbook entries.

I carefully planned out the flight and remembered to bring reading materials to give me something to do while I waited. I'd been to Clarksburg before so I'm not totally flying blind. I also know that it could be a quiet day with nothing to amuse me. I remember when I lived in Miami for a year back in the 70's, I was fascinated with aviation. The Boeing 747s had recently been designed and there were a few flights coming into Miami International. I used to drive down to the airport and sit in my car watching airplanes land and take off. I especially enjoyed watching the 747's come in. It was awesome.

Our family used to have a cottage along the Juniata River between Everett and Breezewood, PA. We would pack up the car and headed out for our weekend journey to the cottage. To my three siblings and I, we may as well have lived across the country. Children have no concept of time and travel. A couple miles seemed like an eternity to traverse. The cool thing about the trip for me was passing the Latrobe airport. I always crossed my fingers and hoped the timing would work out that when we got to that point, a small plane would fly over us. I thought that was a neat experience.

Okay, now that I've gone back in the time machine, I'll get back to my story. We landed in Clarksburg and I parked the plane in a space near the FBO. Chuck had prearranged to get picked up by the people he was meeting. As I watched them drive away, I grabbed an aviation magazine and plopped down on the bench alongside the FBO building facing the runway. It was a beautiful, summer morning and very quiet. I read an article and got up to stretch my legs.  A few doors down a hangar door was open and I noticed a mechanic there. It was a big corporate hangar and he was doing paperwork at a counter. I struck up a conversation with him. He asked where I was from. "Latrobe airport, I replied." I proceeded to tell him my purpose for being there. We chatted for a little bit and I headed back to the bench. Activity on the airport was now picking up. A few airplanes landed and taxied to their respective hangars. A couple airplanes had taken off to destinations unknown to me.

I read another article in the magazine I had, then walked over to my airplane to get a pice of gum. While I was standing there, I noticed a couple State Police officers emerge from the FBO and walk out on the ramp looking around. They disappeared back in through the door. Hmmm. They must have been looking for someone who hadn't arrived yet. I started to walk back to my "bench" and one of the officers came back out. He approached me and asked if I was with the Governor's detail. I replied that I was not. Convinced I was not a threat nor a secret governor envoy, he went back into the FBO office. As I was meandering the ramp, I detected what I thought was a band tuning up. ""Am I hearing things?" "What's going on?" Next thing I know, someone opened the door to the FBO and low and behold, the little band was inside. All of a sudden, activity picked up drastically. The band came out onto the ramp; a TV camera and news reporter came out. The news reporter grabbed my hand and said "Come on with us and meet the Governor." I told her "but I'm not from West Virginia." She said "That's okay." At that point in time, I noticed a King Air had landed and was taxiing to the ramp. The band began to play. The airplane shut down, the door was opened and out came the Governor, Gaston Caperton. He and his entourage passed by and into the FBO. The reporter and camera man headed to the grassy area outside the FBO and I followed. There were more people waiting in that area. The camera was rolling and the Governor emerged from the FBO. He began shaking hands of the group of people having little conversations with them. He came to me and asked my name and shook my hand. After a small speech, he got in the waiting limousine and drove off. I had a grin on my face because of the little charade that just occurred, but it was pretty cool. I wondered if anyone I knew from that area would be watching the news that evening only to see my mug talking to the Gov.

I returned to my bench and just sat and enjoyed the airport activity. An Army helicopter landed and got fuel; a few other airplanes landed; a jet arrived and dropped off their passengers and left. While I was reading a book I had taken with me, I noticed a yellow bi-plane had landed and taxied to the ramp and shut down. I noticed the gentleman hop out and the fuel truck pulled up to refuel him. He was holding an oil can when I walked over and sheepishly looked into the cockpit of the plane. It was a beautiful plane. I asked him if it would be okay to look into the cockpit. He said "sure!" As he was checking his oil, he asked where I was from. "Latrobe" I replied. "Ahhhh. I've been to Latrobe quite a few times" he told me. I complimented him on how beautiful his plane is and he thanked me. I walked around and was quite impressed with how well he had taken care of his plane. I noticed a picture on the side of the plane but I didn't pay too much attention to it. I asked him if he was based at Clarksburg. "No, I actually keep the plane in Summersville." I told him I had heard of Summersville but had never been there. The lineman showed up with the fuel bill and I told the gentlemen to have a nice flight. He replied "have a safe trip back to Latrobe; and tell Arnie I said "hi."
As I walked away, the mechanic I had befriended earlier in the day waved to me to come over. As I walked into the hangar he asked me if I knew who I was talking to. I said I didn't know his name but I was admiring his plane. The mechanic said "That's Stephen Coonts!
I said "who's that?".
He said "you don't know who Stephen Coonts is?"
I said "not really".
"He's a famous author. He wrote the Flight of the Intruder. And that's the Cannibal Queen!"

"Ahhhh. I guess I didn't really know but that's pretty cool." Hmm, just call me a goober for not knowing. I appreciate people who have notoriety but I don't slobber all over them. I do know some famous people but I respect their privacy. And so it goes. Mr. Coonts, wherever you are, it was a treasure to talk to you, albeit a short encounter.
My bench awaited me and I guess Chuck should be arriving any time now. I headed over to the plane and started my preflight. A half hour later, Chuck showed up. He apologized for being a little late and hoped that I wasn't too bored. I gave him an half grin. We got in the plane and taxied out. During our cruise back to Latrobe I recounted my "adventures" at the airport. of the reasons why I love to fly.

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