Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"Toto's Revenge" ©

“Toto’s Revenge”
from Aeromancy ©, 2005, Paul Berge

Best FBO? Hard to say. I’m no fan of metropolitan airports with their Berlin Wall security and prefer, instead, the outback fields where crop dusters fly 200-foot traffic patterns and tick-pimpled dogs sleep beside a broken pop machine with a sign that reads: “Leave money in coffee can. Signed, Betty.”

Million Air at Van Nuys (VNY), California surprised me when I’d expected big-city snubs only to be treated like a fat-dollar celebrity. (Some say I’m easily mistaken for Robin Williams before liposuction, so maybe that was it.) Ramp fees were waived after I purchased a paltry ten gallons and swiped the last brownie off the counter.
Guymon (GUY, photo above right) located in the accusing finger of Oklahoma’s panhandle is an unsung bargain close to a great Mexican diner, and if you behave yourself at Frasca Field (C16) in Urbana, Illinois, you can tour Frasca’s simulator factory. Show a respectful blend of awe and gratitude, and you may get the VIP trip through Rudy Frasca’s private museum of war birds, old birds, and odd birds. Don’t touch anything. And don't talk--listen.
Flower Aviation in Salina, Kansas (SLN) makes any tramp pilot’s Top Ten list. And it’s not just because of the pretty girls in tight shorts who direct transients into tie-down spots and then cause middle-aged men to drop jaw-first from their airplanes watching them bend over to chock the tires.
Okay, that might be one of the reasons.

The other is the lobby where you’ll eat fresh chocolate-chip cookies and get sworn at by a parrot, macaw, or whatever that foul-speaking thing is that was obviously raised by Navy linguists.
Kansas, parked midway between everything hip on the West Coast and urbane on the East, needs to do something to get noticed. Cookies alone won’t do it, so the state offers a bigger show as I relearned when wandering through on no particular route in something unsophisticated that taxis with its tail in the dirt and no lid over the cockpits. Four wings completed my barnstorming ensemble, so wherever I’d arrive someone usually remarked, “Nice biplane; think you’ll ever learn to land it?” At least in Salina they smile when they say that—giggle, actually.
For those unfamiliar with the Midwest, here’s a quick lesson: It’s not all flat. Iowa even has ski resorts, although, they are a bit silly; my favorite is located near the Boone (BNW) airport, where there’s a homebuilders’ workshop/co-op open to anyone having trouble riveting together a quick-build RV-8.
Kansas, however, is a flat billiard table stretching to all horizons covered in endless pastures and whatever it is growing below in waving green felt. In the cool morning sky a few hundred feet above all that waving, I could see as far as the earth’s curvature allowed. Beyond that I didn’t care, because the openness sucked my mind dry, removing all remnants of 1970s Rocky Mountain highs and filled the void with a 2-D vision that staggers most viewers but made me want to fly above it forever. Or at least until the afternoon sky warmed and all that green below sweated into the air currents rising to colder heights. Plus, I was hungry and almost out of gas, so taking a tip from a freight dog who knew where to find free cookies, I headed to Salina.
The tower controller wasn’t particularly friendly, and to punctuate my disdain for his indifference, I demonstrated a triple-bounce wheel landing on the 12,000-foot runway.
“If able, turn left at the end,” he said, “And taxi to the ramp.”
I was able and did, following a shorts-clad ramp rat waving parking batons like a KU cheerleader. I think his name was Daryl, and it was apparent that he handled the lesser customers while the biz jet behind me received the full Flower reception.
Still, like Odysseus on the Isle of Babes I lingered until the weather soured. Flight Service painted an optimistic picture of the route: “If you hurry and get real lucky, you may survive the line of Level Six thunderstorms forming between Salina and Topeka.” Once in Topeka (TOP) the forecast called for clear skies and blessed siren songs all the way to my final resting place, er, destination in Iowa. So, I departed and, like Odysseus, I must’ve irritated the weather gods, and because I didn’t understand that Kansas could morph into a mountain state I found myself weaving through canyons of vertical development the likes of which gives any sensible barnstormer pause. Unfortunately, every airport where I’d hoped to pause went down the weather toilet.
Smart pilots avoid anything made of water vapor the color of marshmallows growing to 70,000 feet. It was late afternoon, and Kansas having broiled all day in the sun now released its steamed energy skyward. The air was deceptively smooth at the feet of these towering thugs, but as I tuned nearby AWOS frequencies, reports deteriorated from rain, to wind, to blowing frogs.
I monitored Flight Watch (122.0) with the thought of climbing on top, but heard an anxious Bonanza driver several thousand feet above me trying to make the same mistakes only to report that the clouds grew around him so fast that he turned tail for Texas. I decided to do likewise back to Salina only to find my back door closed. Cut off, my plans shifted from reaching Topeka to considering a survivable side road landing.
The gods toy with the wayfarer who ignores evidence of his own stupidity. So as clouds boiled around me in unbelievable glory and terror, thumping their vaporous chests, I pressed eastward through a twisting alleyway of narrowing sanity above Kansas' greenery, and running just a little faster than the squall line, floated into Topeka. No cookies, no bargain-priced avgas, or Playmate staff, just a guy in a blue work shirt leaning into the wind to help me tie the biplane down shortly before the sky unloaded.
Best FBO? Tough to say, but as lightning chiseled the sky, I was damn glad this one was there.

***The End

Thursday, May 17, 2007

P-51 Red Tail Mustang

Many of you saw Don Hinz or Doug Rozendaal flying the Commemorative Air Force Red Tail Mustang at Airshows and Fly-ins across America. With your help we can be flying again soon. We have raised a significant amount of money in the past 6 months. The fuselage and tail are structurally complete. We have an engine and we are very close to starting the rebuild of our wing, but we still need your help to finish it up.

We are hosting the Minnesota public premier showing of “Red Tail Reborn” at the Minnesota Historical Society on June 6th. This documentary will air nationwide on PBS, but this is your chance to see it first. There will be a cocktail hour, charity silent auction, Keynote address, (Tubby Smith is tentatively confirmed) and the documentary showing.

The details are on the website. http://www.redtail.org/ You can see the documentary trailer on that website. http://www.redtailreborn.com/ We are seeking individual attendees and table sponsors. If you have any questions please call Dani @ 715-426-9716.

Please consider attending and bring a neighbor or friend as well. If you can’t attend, but would like to help get the Red Tail Flying again, you can do that too at our website. This promises to be a special evening that will include several Original Tuskegee Airmen and a special presentation to the Hinz family. This will be an aviation evening not to miss.


Monday, May 14, 2007

"The Logbook" © by Paul Berge

The Logbook © by Paul Berge appears on the audiobook CD by the same title ISBN 0-9728150-2-3.


The double beam from atop the control tower cut through the frozen gloom in tireless strokes--green, white; green, white....
Yellow flashes from the hazard lights on the snowplows moved slowly along the runway.
Vernon had just slid his car off the access road in front of the cargo terminal when he pushed his sleeve up to read his watch--1:38 a.m. Except for the handful of snowplows, the airport was quiet. The last airliner would have landed at midnight, and the nightly cargo flights, a collection of just about anything with engines, wings and a vacuous hole for cargo, would arrive around 3 a.m. The pilots were all young. They hauled everything from canceled checks to lobster tails. It was aviation at its most raw. Vernon, by contrast, hadn’t flown since losing his medical certificate on his 66th birthday.
It was a short distance to the terminal--the old terminal, not used for passengers since the early 1970's. There was a newer one made of glass across the field for the airlines. Vernon worked in the old brick terminal, now used exclusively for cargo.
After trying the car door, held shut by a snowdrift, he crawled over the gearshift and brake handle and out the passenger's side. He slammed the door, catching his coat and lost his balance on the ice.
His right elbow struck the frozen pavement with a sharp jab of pain, and he wallowed in the slush, tangled in his overcoat, spitting venom.
Vernon pushed himself to his feet and walked stiffly toward the old terminal. The snow changed back to sleet. By the light of the street lamps he saw his reflection in the glass doors. A stocky old man in a baggy overcoat, he thought, then squared his shoulders and moved the cigar from one corner of his mouth to the other.
His elbow throbbed from the fall, but the rest of his body felt strong. Watching his reflection through the rain, he remembered the first day he had walked up to the terminal, decades earlier. Recently discharged from the Navy after two years in the Pacific, flying Martin PBM flying boats, he was just another pilot looking for a job. The offer of $30 per week and a room had brought him to the Midwest. Fifty years of life since then had kept him there.
He pushed the door open and shook the sleet from his hat.
"Evening, Vern," a sleepy voice from behind the dispatcher's counter called.
"Hmmm," Vernon grumbled. The room was warm, stuffy warm. The smell of coffee and cigarettes made it lonely.
"Is it snowing yet?"
"Started to," Vernon answered. "Mostly sleet. Got stuck in a snowbank." He waved vaguely at the parking lot.
"One of the plows can pull you out later."
"Umm," Vernon grunted. A radio played music somewhere in a darkened corner. Vernon stepped around a pile of cinder blocks and boards in the center of the room.
"Haven’t they started remodeling in here yet?" he asked looking around at the gutted old building.
"No, just deposited more junk."
He ignored the answer and went into the men's room. Looking at himself in the cracked mirror above the sink he decided his face was the same--the same one he had brought in 1947. There were more lines, of course, and parts sagged where once they had been tight, but it was the same face staring back. He ran his hand across his short wavy hair.
"Cab Calloway's hair," he said and laughed.
Suddenly, a toilet flushed behind him, and a stall door swung open with a long squeak. "What'd you say?" One of the mechanics emerged buttoning his insulated overalls, an amused smirk on his lips.
"Huh?" Vernon started. "Oh, my hair." He pointed, embarrassed. "My wife used to say I had Cab Calloway's hair."
"Cab...never mind."
The mechanic left, and Vernon glanced around at the battered tile walls, steam radiator and heavy porcelain fixtures. "Old," he sighed. "All old and worn out." He rubbed his sore elbow, then tossed the cold cigar butt into a urinal and strode out. He glanced down the long dark hallway, past the empty stalls where Frontier, Braniff, and Tri-State Airlines had all had their ticket counters. At the end of the hall was the empty operations office and the old flight school; all long gone.
"The Mitsubishi flying 321 is stuck in Omaha. I thought I could get the Cheyenne on 308 to swing over there from Kansas City and..."
Vernon cut the dispatcher's voice off with a wave. "Give me ten minutes," he said and disappeared into his office, a tiny room across from where the hangar had been. He closed the door behind him and stood in the dark, staring out the window.
He missed the hangar--missed it terribly. He missed many things. He missed his wife. He missed flying. He missed being a child and listening to the mail planes fly over his house toward the night beacon, flashing steady white every ten seconds.
He massaged his elbow. The control tower’s rotating beacon swept green and white overhead. He looked out where the hangar had been. It was almost completely gone now, only the one wall remained, and as soon as the weather cleared it, too, would go. A bulldozer sat posed, waiting. He flicked on the light. A cluttered desk, a single file cabinet, the radiator and a phone--these were his tools. On one wall were two photographs. He lit another cigar. Blue smoke rose toward the ceiling. He stepped closer to the wall and stared. One photograph showed the nose of a Martin PBM towering above a small cluster of young men in casual Navy uniforms. Everyone smiled, including the short officer with the wavy hair dressed in tee shirt and cap and cigar clamped arrogantly between his teeth. Someone had scrawled: "With Love, From, Iwo Jima--1945" across the picture.
The other photograph had been taken beside the now demolished hangar outside his office. It showed a pair of Aeronca Champs drawn nose to nose and a wedding party in tuxedos and gowns arranged in a crescent in front of the planes. All the faces were young and happy, including the young groom with the black wavy hair and his bride.
"Chief Pilot and Squaw--June 1948"

The door swung open behind him, and the aroma of coffee flowed in with the dispatcher.
"I go home now," the dispatcher said. "I sent 308 to Omaha to pick up 312's load; your first flight's due in at 3:16 a.m.; 308 will be in at 3:45; 312, when they fix it, will go back to Kansas City; the runway's been glycoled; I hear one of Night Express's went off the runway at Minneapolis--so much for the
competition; the coffee's fresh; we need sugar, and there's only three thousand gallons of Jet fuel, more should be delivered tomorrow if it doesn't snow. Good Night."
Vernon followed him out.
"What's this?" he asked picking up a dusty black book from the counter.
"That? Oh, one of the construction worker's found it this morning when they tore out a wall..." He pointed toward the old hangar. "It's someone's logbook--old, real old. I was going to toss it out." With that he left.
Vernon turned the logbook over slowly in his hands. The binding was dry and cracked. It opened with a gentle rustle. The musty smell of the years rose to his nostrils sending a sharp pang through his emotions. He read the name: Charles S. Dansig. It meant nothing. The wind blew suddenly, rattling snow against the plate windows like thousands of tiny claws. Vernon looked up and reached for the thermostat, turning it a notch higher. He took the logbook into his office. He sat at his desk and read the name in the logbook again: Charles S. Dansig. It was taking on a familiar ring. He thought a moment, staring out the window past the bulldozer now fuzzy with snow. A thought dawned. He glanced at the two photographs on the wall. In one lunge he moved from behind his desk to the wall and lifted the Navy picture from its nail. The light was pale, so he twisted the desk lamp's neck, pointing it at the wall.
"Dansig," he said to himself. "Charlie Dansig, I've heard that name, I know it…"
Turning the photograph over, he fumbled with the staples holding the cardboard back to the frame. One of the staples was brittle and snapped, making a neat incision in his right index finger. A drop of blood soaked into the cardboard.
The photograph slid easily from the frame. He moved closer to the lamp and turned the glossy print over. The same fountain pen that had scrawled across the picture's face listed the crew's name starting with the plane's commander, Vernon L. Ackerbach, Lt., USN. Vernon scanned down the list, but the only name close to Dansig was, Charles "Charlie Horse" Danbury, a gunner. He set the print down on the glass frame and stared into the snow. The green and white arms of the beacon swept through the dusty night. He turned back to the wall, looking at the wedding photo. One by one, he examined the party, naming the young figures. "Harold Reynolds, Susie Hickok, Trevor Hedges...." He paused briefly and stared at his late wife, her round face smiling and bright; the white lace cascading across her dark hair. He said her name, "Peggy."
Suddenly, he looked to the end of the line and saw a tall, older man, dressed in a tuxedo the same as the others. The figure smiled like the others, but Vernon had forgotten his name. He flipped the picture over and tore the photograph from its mount, reading the back. Again the names were listed, but nothing even close to, Charles S. Dansig. The forgotten man was, Daniel Jones, a pilot Vernon had known and forgotten long ago. Dejected, he sat behind the desk and pushed the dismantled frames away. Their presence in the old building across from the old hangar depressed him. He watched the snow, then turned back to the desk, adjusted the lamp, and reached for the logbook.
With little interest, he flipped through the yellow edged pages reading the entries. They began in 1929 and ended abruptly in late 1931. Several blank pages followed the last entry. Vernon leaned over the desk. This was apparently Dansig’s second logbook. He estimated him to have almost 2000 hours when it terminated in 1931; almost a thousand of that coming in the last two years. The entries were scribbled, some in pen, others in dull pencil. Daily entries had been abandoned at the very beginning of the book, the owner choosing to lump weekly totals together in single line entries. It as apparent Charles S. Dansig flew the mail. Almost all the logged time was in a Boeing 40 biplane, one of those huge mail carriers Vernon remembered seeing as a boy.
He recalled sneaking off at night with his brother, riding double on the bicycle, to the airport in Salt Lake City to watch the mail planes come in. Nobody had bothered them as they stood in the dark arguing over which was better, the open cockpit Boeing 40's or the great model 80's, the tri-motors. His brother leaned toward the later, while Vernon argued the merits of having one's head out in the wind where one could feel the sky. A stab of loneliness rocked him, thinking of his brother. He tried not to think of the dead, but the memories came flooding back.
Slowly, he reached for the photographs, choosing the wedding picture. He stared at the group, the two Aeroncas and the date, June, 1948. He remembered how the wedding had been delayed a year after his brother's death. He wanted to cry, but refused. He slid the photograph away from him and picked up the logbook again.
"Well, Mr. Dansig, how did you manage to lose this?"
Suddenly, he noticed the radio was silent, the music gone. A low hum of static hissed through the halls. He glanced at his watch, 2:30 a.m.
"Must have gone off the air," he mumbled and stood. Outside the office he snapped the radio off. At the far end of the hallway, where the flight school had been, a fluorescent bulb flickered, trying to die. Wind rattled something deep inside the building. Vernon shivered from the cold.
"Impossible to heat this damn place," he said.
He walked down the long empty hall toward the flickering bulb, his own footsteps sharp against the cold stone floor. Looking at his hand, he noticed he still carried the logbook.
"Mmm," he uttered and reached for the light switch outside the old flight school office, and hesitated.
The school had been gone since 1951 when he last instructed there. Since then it had been used as an operations room, a maintenance office; an insurance company had even leased it for two years. Lately, it had been used for storage. Vernon peered inside and snapped on a light--four walls, all yellow, and a mop and bucket. Nothing remained of the hundreds of young men who passed through on the G.I. Bill. There was no trace of the maps, the training aids, the posters. Vernon stepped inside. He turned to his right, to exactly where the counter had stood, where Peggy had stood. He saw her. At least he felt as though he could see her.
"Hello," he said shyly. The cold walls stared back. "New skirt? I like plaid...Doing anything after work? No? I just got paid, care to...You would? Great! I have a student, now," he said aloud. "I'll see you when..." He heard his excited voice echo in the empty room and froze. He turned abruptly, leaving the room after smacking the light switch off. The fluorescent bulb still flickered as he strode back along the empty hallway toward his office.
"Stupid," he mumbled. "Forget them…Gone…They're all gone!"
He rounded the corner into his office and gathered the photographs in one hand trying to take the frames as well. He still carried the logbook. Smash! The two glass frames hit the floor and shattered, the shards dispersing under the desk and chair. "Ahhh…" He bent to pick up the broken frames, then stood.
"You can stay there!" he shouted. "You belong there!"
He turned toward the snow and felt his eyes swell. "You left me here," he said quietly.
A light poked through the snow. It moved toward him, sweeping its white beam from left to right, as though feeling its way in the darkness. Vernon stared. He looked at his watch, 2:40 a.m. The first arrival was not due for at least a half-hour. The beam continued to search, moving closer. The outline of an aircraft appeared, a large plane, a taildragger. The green and white beacon from the tower flashed overhead, and the deep rumble of radial engines vibrated the windows. All the company planes were turbines. Nobody used radial engines around there. Other companies still used DC-3's, but none came there. He watched the light, thick in the blowing snow. The airplane took shape, a twin engine with two rudders--an old twin Beech. The radial engines sent a deep throb into Vernon's insides. He remembered the same twins hauling passengers out of that very terminal forty years earlier.
The twin swiveled around, blowing snow in a great cloud toward the glass. Vernon left his office, ran down the hallway, and through the door. Once in the snow he moved quickly toward the airplane. Snow blew in cold eddies around him. He wore no coat, but ignored the cold. He carried the logbook.
"Peggy, remember the Twin Beech we took to Florida?" His voice was happy. He started to run and slipped, recovered and continued. The green and white lights washed above. The Twin
Beech shut one engine down, and a cargo door swung open. A vague face looked out from the darkened fuselage.
"Hello!" Vernon called. No one answered. "Have you come for me?" He stopped in front of the open door. The face leaned out.
"What?" It was a young face on a young man dressed in blue jeans and a nylon parka. He needed a shave and chewed gum nervously.
"Did you come for me?" Vernon asked again, feeling something was wrong.
"You from Federal Express?" the pilot asked and kicked at the doorframe to keep his feet warm. "I've never flown in here; normally go into Cedar Rapids, but it's closed. There's supposed
to be a truck meet me here. You it?"
Vernon shook his head slowly and stared at the plane. The one radial still running ticked evenly.
"If you're not it, I'm closing the door. It's cold out here. Where's your coat?" the pilot asked.
Vernon suddenly felt the cold. "I...What year is this?" he asked.
The pilot was already reaching for the door. "This? Ah, I think it's a '48, '47 or a '48. Hell, I don't know."
"No, I mean what year is it now?"
The pilot tilted his head. "Look, I think you'd better get inside, or get home. You can't be standing around in the cold like that. Why don't you go on. The van's pulling up now."
Vernon turned. A large van pulled through the gate and past his car still perched on the snow bank. He walked back to the terminal, his elbow beginning to ache again. Before he reached the door he turned. "Is your name, Dansig?" he called. "Charles S. Dansig?"
The pilot shook his head and waved the delivery van back toward the airplane.

Vernon walked along the hallway and back into his office. He sat. Emotion drained from him, leaving only an emptiness. The Twin Beech fired its other engine and Vernon listened to it taxi away, then, silence. He sat, unmoving. He felt foolish. He glanced at the photographs.
"Ghosts," he said. "I wanted ghosts." Planting his elbows on the desk, he rubbed his face with both hands. A white light flashed through the window moving his shadow momentarily across the wall where the photographs had been. He glanced over his shoulder. The control tower's beam pulsated once, white, and then seconds later, white again, no green. He barely noted it. Another plane taxied toward the terminal, its light searching through the snow. A large piston engine shook the windows again. Vernon chuckled. "Not one of mine," he said.
He kept his back to the window. The plane's landing light poked through the glass again, keeping Vernon's shadow on the wall. He held his head in his hands. The engine ticked at idle behind him, and a strong wind shook the building. He glanced up. The flicker of the fluorescent bulb was the only movement in the hallway, but he felt something.
"Baloney," he said, still leaning on the desk. But something was moving, moving toward him. He listened, and heard nothing other that the snow against the glass and the airplane's motor outside. His shadow barely moved beside the doorframe. The hallway light flickered. Suddenly, someone appeared in the doorway, filling the frame.
"You have something of mine," a deep voice said. He stood in shadow, the light from outside not reaching him. Vernon sat frozen, his shadow unmoving. The figure raised an arm into the light. It was coated in thick leather, its hand in heavy gauntlet. A finger pointed toward him.
"There, on the desk."
Vernon barely moved his eyes, looking where the figure indicated. The logbook.
"No need to be surprised," the voice said, now almost friendly. "You've been looking for me. I felt it, so I came."
Vernon spoke, his voice a thin creak. "Dansig? Charles S. Dansig?"
"Charlie. I need the logbook. I never filled in my last flight, you know." His hand opened slowly.
Vernon picked the book from the desk and started to hand it to him. "I...I suspected there might be...things...like you." The hand still reached out waiting for the book. "Are there others?"
Vernon glanced at the wedding photo, the Navy photo. "All the others?"
"Do you know them?"
"Can you...can I...?"
"I cannot, but you can."
"You found me didn't you?"
"Yes, but..."
"Find them." With that, the figure stretched its hand even further. "Please, I must go."

Vernon looked outside at the airplane, a biplane, a Boeing Model 40, mail plane. A steady white beacon light flashed--no green. He remembered the old airway beacons flashing solid white
when he was a child. He looked back at the figure, still in shadow. He stood and moved closer. The nearer he got, the more vague the figure became. He could almost see through it to the hallway.
"Please," the voice said.
Vernon placed the logbook in the outstretched hand. The fingers closed, and the figure vanished almost instantly along the hallway toward the flickering light. Vernon ran to the window. The solid white beacon flashed and the Boeing 40, under a blast of power swiveled its tail and disappeared in a cloud of twisting snow. The beacon from the tower flashed white..., then green. Vernon sat lightly at the desk and picked up the wedding photograph. A lightness overcame him, and he ran his fingers over Peggy's face.
"Just find them," he said. "Find them."

***THE END***

the Logbook ©, 1987, 2007 by Paul Berge. All rights reserved by the author. Contact Ahquabi House Publishing, LLC for reprint permission or queries.