She’s Gone

A 17-year love af­fair comes to an abrupt end

Flying - - Contents - By Dick Karl

Stricken, I re­treated to the ob­ser­va­tion plat­form at the FBO and watched as Lyle tax­ied for take­off. I had that sense of strange de­tach­ment that seems to ac­com­pany long-planned­for life events. Like go­ing to col­lege or get­ting mar­ried. Was this re­ally hap­pen­ing? It oc­curred to me that I had never seen my air­plane fly. I was al­ways the pilot.

The paint looked great. She took off with el­e­gance and climbed with alacrity. The gloom soon gath­ered her and her oc­cu­pants up. I turned away with a “dry tear.” I sat in the car, stunned.

Isn’t this what I wanted? Hadn’t I planned to sell the Cheyenne and see about get­ting a jet? Didn’t I re­al­ize I couldn’t get a jet un­til I sold the tur­bo­prop? All true, but then it hap­pened — quick as a car accident.

The pro­logue was any­thing but quick. I had de­cided seven months prior to sell the air­plane. I turned to a friend, Mike Shafer of Mer­cury Air­craft Sales, to rep­re­sent the air­plane; to set the price, take the pic­tures, post the ads and rep­re­sent me in ne­go­ti­a­tions that I hoped would be­gin quickly. It is said that you should never ask a plumber friend to fix your pipes or an ortho­pe­dic friend to re­place your knee. There is good rea­son for this warn­ing: If the pipes back up again, you feel awkward call­ing your friend. If you had hired a plumber, you could call him up, com­plain and ex­pect im­me­di­ate rem­edy.

It took half a year to sell the air­plane, and you should know that my friend­ship with Mike emerged in­tact. This is a tes­ti­mony to his pa­tience and ex­per­tise. It was, he’ll be quick to ad­mit, a bumpy ride.

A 37-year-old Cheyenne is an odd duck on the used-air­craft mar­ket, though for the life of me I don’t know why. It’s faster, cheaper to op­er­ate and bet­ter look­ing (in my hum­ble opin­ion)

than old King Air 90s, but the mar­ket for these ef­fi­cient birds (I usu­ally avoid this term) is, as the bro­kers say, soft.

But I wasn’t sell­ing an old Cheyenne. I was sell­ing the defin­ing air­plane of my 50-year fly­ing ca­reer. This air­plane burned jet-a, and could take me any­where I ever wanted to go — and did. This air­plane taught me more than the five oth­ers I have owned. This air­plane had in­cred­i­ble ca­pa­bil­ity. I might de­lay a few hours for weather, but I never had to can­cel a trip al­to­gether for weather or un­ex­pected main­te­nance. This air­plane never quiv­ered, never shud­dered, never served up a sur­prise. She could stay cool in the Florida sum­mer like James Bond, and shed ice in New Hamp­shire like tak­ing off a wind­breaker.

This air­plane took my wife and me to Oakland, Cal­i­for­nia, where I learned to fly in 1967. I couldn’t help but think I had fi­nally re­turned in a real air­plane. It took us to Hal­i­fax and to Vic­to­ria, span­ning most of Canada. It took us to Staniel Cay, Marsh Har­bour and Nas­sau in the Ba­hamas. We landed in al­most ev­ery state in the con­ti­nen­tal United States. We flew through some in­tim­i­dat­ing weather, but the radar, the Nexrad and the speed made things safe. I saw ground­speeds of 313 knots when fly­ing north­east and ground­speeds of 170 knots when re­trac­ing the route back to­ward the southwest. This air­plane pro­vided the first flights for five grand­chil­dren.

We cared for this air­plane. Al­ways hangared, she lived a pam­pered life. Bill Tur­ley, of Air­craft Main­te­nance in Bar­tow, Florida, kept ev­ery­thing run­ning. When­ever there was a ques­tion, Bill man­aged the prob­lem. I could call him from any­where and get the right ad­vice. These were al­ways mi­nor things, such as a lit­tle bit of rub­ber peel­ing from around the wind­shield. We painted her. We had a fab­u­lous in­te­rior done at Dun­can In­te­ri­ors in Lake­land, Florida. Four­teen years later, it still looked like new. While I was work­ing full time as a sur­geon, an evening visit to this air­plane in the hangar brought me so­lace. When fuel prices were high, Cathy and I and our dog would drag some sup­plies out to the hangar, open her up and sit there, drink­ing mar­ti­nis. This was the air­plane that I was sell­ing.

The path from putting the air­plane up for sale and that rainy day when she sold was not a straight one. An­other buyer, a low-time pilot, made an of­fer and had de­posited es­crow money, but he got side­tracked by a med­i­cal prob­lem and may have had sec­ond thoughts any­way. With this mis­fire, I re­luc­tantly and grumpily re­turned to the draw­ing board. I kept get­ting im­pa­tient, but Mike kept his cool. “It will sell,” he said.

Sens­ing my sen­ti­ment for the air­plane and my frus­tra­tion at the time it was tak­ing to sell her, a friend said that sell­ing was “like get­ting a di­vorce even though you are still get­ting along.” It felt like di­vorce. Watch­ing Lyle take off was like go­ing to a ball game and see­ing your ex with a taller, bet­ter-look­ing guy and he’s wear­ing that fa­vorite sweat­shirt of yours that you’ve been look­ing all over for.

When Kurt showed up as a buyer, I sensed he was get­ting good hon­est gouge from Lyle and that Lyle was highly ex­pe­ri­enced. This time, things went very smoothly. After the money was trans­ferred and I had re­moved the registration from its holder, I asked Lyle if he needed the equip­ment to down­load the Garmin or Avi­dyne data. “Nope, all set.” He knew what he was do­ing.

So, I handed Kurt the spe­cial leather cov­ers for the seats that Cathy had given me for my birth­day. They pro­tected the leather from the var­i­ous dogs. I in­serted a $20 bill be­hind the air­wor­thi­ness cer­tifi­cate as a to­ken of luck and safe for­tune. With that, they were gone.

I watched on Flightaware as they cir­cum­vented the thun­der­storms, then flew al­most straight west. I watched as he climbed her to Flight Level 280. I was asleep in bed by the time they landed, more than five hours later.

Sens­ing my sen­ti­ment for the air­plane and my frus­tra­tion at the time it was tak­ing to sell her, a friend said that sell­ing was “like get­ting a di­vorce even though you are still get­ting along.” It felt like di­vorce.

It took seven months to sell the Cheyenne, and then, just like that, it was over. The air­plane that meant more to me than any other was a mem­ory.

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