Why Charlie?10:54 PM
I had been visiting the Fresno County Library since about age 10 when in 2000, I pulled a ratty copy of Three-Eight Charlie off the shelf of the aviation section. I had never heard of Jerrie Mock, but I seriously dig Skywagons, and this looked like a good hangar flying tale of one courageous woman's romp around our globe. Once into the book, I could not put it down, it was Mock's masterpiece, a tale of epic size and scope, with all the ups, downs pitfalls and triumphs you would expect that comes from a solo flight around this rock we live on.
After searching from one end of the NASM to another, I could not find Charlie. I asked a clerk and found that Mock's plane was "in storage" at the Smithsonian's Paul Garber Restoration Facility in nearby Suitland, MD. I caught a train and bus out there, and slipped onto the tail end of the last tour of the day. In the last building on the tour, I stumbled across Charlie, stuffed back in a corner with his wings removed and resting between the gear. One tire was a little low, and the plane looked like it had seen better days. I was blown away. No, check that, I was pissed. And confused.
As the rest of the tour wandered to the far side of the building housing Charlie, I stepped over the rope that separated the public from the artifacts. I walked slowly up to the side of Charlie, and soon found myself completely mesmerized. I stood in a trance, my fingers soon running softly across the large red "N" number on the side of the fuselage. To myself, I said "how the hell could this have happened, Charlie? What ARE you doing here?" As I stood there, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that in some otherworldy way, Charlie was communicating with me, and he was telling me to get him out of there. It literally gives me chills to even write this today, because I know what I felt that day, and it was an airplane pleading with it to help get his and his pilot's story told. And while I know you can't actually talk to a flying machine, I did that day, and promised Charlie I was going to do whatever I could to right this wrong. At this point the security guard showed up and politely ordered me to step away from the artifact.