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I hadn't seen Avalon Eden in months, so it was a pleasant surprise when she materialized in the seat next to me. It was only the second time my guardian angel had ventured aboard my new Evektor SportStar. I knew I was in for a treat.
"Where've you been?" I asked my favorite ghost, and she responded by shoving the stick full forward, pointing the nose straight down. "The hell, you say," I responded as I wound the throttle back, lest the Rotax overspeed.
"Correct as usual," Avalon smiled, and winked.
I knew why my first and favorite flight instructor hadn't dropped in lately. The SportStar, like all Light Sport aircraft, is limited to two occupants. I had spent the past few months giving flight instruction to the next generation of pilots - so, the left seat of the cramped little cockpit had been occupied. This was the first time since Spring that I was flying solo - or, at least, had been, until Avalon showed up.
"How's the flight school going?" Avalon inquired, as I returned us to straight and level flight over the Susquehanna Valley. The green hills shimmered, and the bright blue sky was dazzling.
"I'm busier than I have any right to be in retirement," I replied. "Eight primary students, four in intensive training, one post-solo student, three adjunct flight instructors, me maintaining the machinery and trying to stay on top of all the paperwork - it's almost like working for a living."
"I know what you're saying," she replied. "What else do you think I was doing when I was teaching you to fly the Champ?"
"You mean, besides running around with what's-his-name?"
She let that one pass. Avalon had been married back then. As was I, when I met Muriel. So, who was I to talk? In any case, I had hardly been her only student.
"Nor were you my best one," she cut in on my thoughts. "That's why you needed me."
"Still do," I admitted. "I mean, I've got the stick-and-rudder bit down pretty well, after half a century. Still trying to figure out the rest."
"It's the classic weight-and-balance problem," Avalon explained. "If life is weighing too heavily on you, it means you haven't yet found the proper balance. So, you shift a few items aft, into the baggage compartment, offload a few others, maybe take on a little less fuel than usual, and then recalculate. You seem to be getting pretty good at that."
She was right. I was getting much better at balancing my responsibilities as father, husband, flight instructor, businessman, community activist, and actualized human being. A couple of decades back, I was overwhelmed. Now, I was merely whelmed. Only, it would sure help to live on a more slowly rotating planet. A 26 hour day would be nice.
"Anything special I need to know about the SportStar?" Avalon changed the subject.
"Well," I replied, "the wing loading is really light, so you'll feel the turbulence a lot more than you're used to. Don't fight it; just ride it out. Point the nose down like you just did, and both the airspeed and tachometer will wind up pretty fast. Point up, and the opposite occurs. So, you need to mind the throttle a lot more than you do with a constant-speed prop. Don't even bother to watch the tach; just listen to the wind noise, and the engine sounds, and trust your kinesthetic sense. Also, this is a geared engine, so it revs quite a bit higher than the prop speed would suggest. That changes both the sound and the feel. Takes a little getting used to. But the main thing is, you absolutely have to nail your approach speed on final, or you'll float all the way down the runway. Oh - and never try to force her on the ground. If your mains aren't planted in the first third of the runway, nose high and fully stalled, go around and try again."
"Good advice," complimented Avalon. "Now, do you mind if I give you some?"
"Always," I admitted. "But I know that's not going to stop you."
"Don't forget that you're well past sixty now. Consider that you've just turned final. Touchdown isn't all that far ahead. So get your airspeed under control, and watch your approach slope. Keep it smooth and gentle. Don't expect you'll be able to execute a missed approach this time around."
I know where you're going with this, I told Avalon, and I don't much like it. My open-heart surgery gave me a temporary reprieve, but don't think for a minute that mortality doesn't weigh heavily on me.
"Well, then, that explains it," she cut in. "You started the flight school because it, and your students, will outlast you. It's your best and last chance for immortality."
"I guess so," I admitted. "But will it work?"
"It seems to have for me. At least, for the past few decades." And, thinking about all our flights together these past thirty years, I can see that Avalon was right. I wanted to tell her that over the purr of the Rotax, but suddenly the left seat was empty again. I could swear I felt the slightest bump when she deplaned. Then again, maybe it's just the light wing loading.
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this page last updated 28 March 2010