Fly-In Tales From the Passenger Seat

By Terry Scarborough

If you ask me what I will remember forever about Reklaw, I will tell you that it’s the sounds of airplanes overhead that wake us in the cold, damp morning air of East Texas. We lie still in our sleeping bags, conserving the warmth we have generated during the night, and talking softly during the dead silences between airplanes.

I am learning that different planes have different engines and make different sounds; the loud, popping roar of some, and the mosquito drone of others. Later, I would come to know the robust whistling of a jet engine coming to life at the opposite end of the runway.

It is our first full day at Reklaw. It is nice to think about our truck parked next to the tent now, and no longer stuck in the deep, slippery mud near the entrance. When we leave, we will not have to carry all our gear several hundred yards to load up. The tractor driver’s name is Jesse, and I’m sure we will remember him for a long time. I will remember waving our gas lantern back and forth in the dark to show him where to pull the truck. And I will remember his friendly, helpful manner, generous even in the cold of night.

Our first concern is breakfast. My husband, Ben, EAA 759069, checks the time on his phone and we know that food awaits us in the big hangar. This means braving the cold to put our muddy jeans and shoes back on. Our solution to avoiding chilly air on bare skin is to move quickly!

More airplanes have come in during the night and early morning, so the hangar is very crowded with pilots and their families juggling plates of sausage and pancakes, and cups of juice and coffee. Everything sounds different in a very tall, metal building like this hangar. The distinctive echo of conversations that revolve around airplanes reminds me that we are on the sacred ground of flyers and flying. A sign near the huge coffee pots says, “Skill — what pilots often choose to call luck.”

We walk up and down the flightline, being careful to cross the runway behind the orange cones. I have never seen so many airplanes together in one place. A sign says, “Caution, Active Runway.” It is a grass strip maybe 50 feet wide. Airplanes come and go at a regular pace. Some are landing or taking off, and some are just flying over. I like it when airplanes pass each other on the ground, or fly over each other. It is exciting. This is how we spend our day. I am beginning to understand my husband’s passion for this world.

The next day we meet up with some friends, Brad and Maritza, and we ride around on their golf cart looking at all the airplanes again. I thought I would tire of this, but I don’t. There are even more airplanes now! 

I have come to this place differentiating airplanes mostly by color. “I like that blue one!” But I have asked enough questions and listened enough to our husband-pilots’ talk that some of the terminology has rubbed off on me. I know what taildraggers are, and I know that they perform well on grass. I know that a nose-dragger is not a nose-dragger, but a tricycle gear. I know high-wing and low-wing, and biplane. I know there are tandems and side-by-sides. I can easily identify a Stearman, and usually get the model number of a Cessna right. A Zenith is boxy, and kind of deceptively ugly, because it is a good performing airplane. Sometimes we are all stumped and someone will say, oh, that must be a homebuilt. 

I still place a lot of importance on color, but I think pilots do too. A good paint job is an important component of any plane, and can rank up there with the engine in cost. It’s fun to look at them all and try to choose which plane will fill the empty spot in our hangar someday.

We make some new friends: a couple, Jimmy and Pam, who are here in their motor home, and a young woman, 20 years old, who flew here from Houston on her first solo trip. They afford a glimpse into this community of people who love to place themselves in command of their own 3D space, people who are eager to rise with the sun to start an engine and fly. We see kindred souls in each other’s eyes as we pull up our chairs around a campfire and share an evening meal.

Walking around in mud has been tiring. We must choose where to place our feet for every step. It is a little like marching — using different muscles than regular walking, always being careful not to let the mud suck our shoes from our feet. I think I will always associate the Flying M Ranch Fly-In and Campout with mud.

It is easier for a plane to move over mud than it is for a car or truck because the wheels are not pulling the airplane. Still, there are many new ruts on the runway, some very deep. There is a volunteer crew on hand at all times ready to rescue a stuck plane.

We pass some of these ruts and can see the path that a nose wheel has taken. The runway surface is marred by a black curve of mud that ends at the wheel of the plane that is here right in front of us. Grass that built up in a wheel pant spun the plane around before it could come to a stop.

These tracks tell a story that you can hear if you are paying attention. They are dark and profound, and they will be here long after we have gone home.

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