A Triumphant Return Into a Glorious Sunset

10:19 PM

I am writing this having just returned from one of the more memorable flights I have made in a long, long time. We aviators make lots of flights for all kinds of reasons, and each one is different than the next. They are all grand in their own way, and on this day, everything came together to re-define again why I aviate:
It has been 67 days since Katy and I enjoyed the rush of achieving lift under her big Hershey Bar wings and escaping the crust of this deteriorating planet. She went down for annual on 11.14.09, and it took until yesterday to get the logs back signed off as airworthy. It will not serve the goal of this post to dissect the reasons why a simple annual inspection on a fixed gear, fixed prop GA plane took over two months with no major squawks...no, this post is not about the past, it is about the present.
If you have ever been around an airplane owner who has a sick bird, the emotions surrounding that pilot can be like riding one of those old wooden roller coasters down at the Boardwalk. One minute you are pissed that things are not going well, the next you think it'll all be over and you'll be back in the air. That's been me for two months, trying to stay sane as false start after unexplained delay kept Katy grounded. But today, that all changed:
The Lycoming engine under Katy's cowl had been started only once in the past 67 days as far as I knew, because I had an oil change and the IA had to run it up and check pressures. But that might have been many weeks ago, so after a very VERY thorough pre-flight inspection, I carefully worked my checklist and introduced spark to gasoline inside the jugs. Katy fired up as if I had flown her yesterday, ran purrfect, and all systems were green. Since I also had a brake job and some avionics work done, I got permission to taxi around the non-movement area and stabbed the handle (Katy has no toe brakes) to seat the liners. I also tested all three comm radios with Eugene ground (two Kings and a hard-wired Vertex Standard emergency radio). I went over everything down to the security of the seats...everything.
Satisfied that the IA and Avionics Tech put everything back together correctly without causing further damage, I keyed the mic and hoped I could still remember how to use the radio. After jotting down taxi instructions, I was off to see if Katy and I still remembered how to fly:
The sky around Western Oregon today was dramatic, with a setting sun lighting up brilliant hues of pink and orange across low stratus set against the backdrop of distant towering build-ups over the Cascades. After receiving clearance to launch, I gingerly rolled onto runway 16L and gave Katy permission to become a rocket ship with one person aboard and half a load of fuel. Before I could even screw in all the power, she leaped off the runway, as eager as I was to get back to flying. I kept a quick scan going from engine gauges to radios and audio panel to flight instruments, checking to see if anything looked amiss. I was feeling giddy about having everything working perfectly when I noticed Katy was on her way quickly to 2,000 MSL. And with my promise to stay in left closed traffic in the 1,174 MSL pattern, I had to quickly get head back in game and try to keep the slop to a minimum.
When your plane comes out of a long maintenance bout, as a pilot, you want to know that everything is squawk-free. You want to believe all is as it was before the cowl came off:
My mission was twofold. First, I wanted to make sure the plane was fine, and then I wanted to get VFR current again with my required three takeoffs and landings. So the first lap around closed traffic was a shake down lap, was everything in the green...how's the oil pressure look...that sort of thing. With light winds of 210/3, I was amazed at how good this first lap felt. After a touch-and-go that seemed textbook, I went around again. But on this lap, my focus drifted from shakedown mode to awestruck tourist mode. I noticed that dramatic sky, the way the last rays of the winter sun slid effortlessly through the layers of clouds resting atop the Coast Range separating me from the mighty Pacific Ocean. The second approach felt perfect, so stable it was as if someone had painted the airspeed needle over the 80 mph tick.
With two laps down and Katy running as if she came out of Vero Beach yesterday, I slowed things down on the third and final lap to just enjoy the ride...one that was 67 days in the making:
Everything about this final closed traffic trip around the pattern was golden. So I just powered back, dropped all the flaps, and cruised. As I turned base to final pointing west coming to south, the sun was just slipping into the mountains for the night. The tiny sliver of fireball left showing was just enough to shower the underside of the 5,500 MSL cloud deck with an artist's palette of blues, pinks, oranges, reds, yellows and even a touch of a lusty sort of green. I wanted this final approach to last forever so I could cherish the scene before me. Eugene Airport in my windscreen, the almost psychedelic colors of the sky reflecting off the still water of Fern Ridge Reservoir just west of the field. It was magical, it was the reason I fly.
It was as if the aviation Gods were smiling down on Katy and I, rewarding us with one of those precious, priceless moments we flyers get to enjoy now and then.

Yes, Katy and I were back.

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