At first light, the son awoke. Through the panes of glass in the pilot’s lounge, the son could see that the airport was buried under a thick layer of fog. He got up and made coffee, then went outside where it was like stepping into a hot shower stall after the water had been turned off. The Dove was dripping with the condensation of a still Kentucky morning.
For two hours the son waited in the FBO building for the fog to lift. He looked online at the weather and packed his gear. Finally, at 9:45 AM, the son removed the canopy cover and pre-flighted the Dove. After a thorough runup, he back-taxied to the end of Runway 26 and kicked the tail around to line up for departure.
On the crosswind turn, the son looked to port and beheld the unmistakable glow of a coming resurrection in the clear-cut forests of Loyall.
On the downwind departure, he made an aggressive climb-out through a patchwork of towering cumulus and leveled off at 9,500 feet. He flew along the western flank of the Appalachians for nearly 200 miles before deciding to crank hard to the west over Upshur County Regional, West Virginia (W22). The air was cool and glassy smooth as he proceeded westward. He landed for fuel after only 2 hours of flying at the Ross County Airport (RZT), about 7 miles from Chillicothe, Ohio.
The son shut down by the pumps and realized that it was an assisted service facility. Nobody was around. He walked into the FBO building to find a lineman.
Inside, the son was met by two dogs, a large black and white poodle, and a smaller Schnauzer-type dog. There was somebody talking inside of the main office, and the son found a lineman having lunch in the pilot’s lounge. The son introduced himself. The employee introduced himself as Ryan. He was young man in his thirties, thin, with closely cropped hair and a thick black beard. The son wanted to know the names of the dogs. The poodle was Arthur, and the Schnauzer was Frank. They belonged to the airport manager who was in the office.
The son asked if he could get topped off with fuel, and Ryan got up very astutely and led the way out to the pumps. As Ryan approached the Dove, he asked what kind of plane it was and the son told him. Ryan wanted to know how fast it could go and if it could do aerobatics. He had never seen an RV-8 before, and that surprised the son. Ryan had told him that he worked as an avionics technician in the big blue hangar behind the pumps. He said he was booked solid for the next year with ADS-B installations.
After topping off the tanks, the son saw Frank and Arthur come running out of the FBO building toward the Dove. Arthur bounded behind the large blue hangar and disappeared as the airport manager approached, calling after him. The manager, a tall man in his fifties with short white hair, asked the son if he was on his way to Oshkosh. The son told him that, no, he was not planning on going. The manager called again for Arthur and walked behind the hangar to find him. He came back around with the big poodle leading him over the tarmac to the FBO. The son walked into the FBO with Ryan and paid his bill, used the restroom, then walked back out and strapped into the Dove for departure.
He took off on Runway 23 for a right crosswind turnout to the west. He climbed up to 12,500 feet in smooth air and flew over scattered cumulus and an infinity of farmland.
Two hours into the flight, the son could see a large system of thunderstorms wreaking havoc over Oshkosh and Madison, Wisconsin. About 200 miles to the north, huge anvils were forming and covering the upper atmosphere with a large thin disk of dissipating vapor.
The son began making a descent near the Mississippi River and picked up a nearby ASOS report of 14-knot winds coming directly from the south. 20 miles west of the Mississippi, the son made a straight-in approach for Runway 27 at Monroe City (K52), with the left wing dropped heavily and foot full of right rudder. It was a direct crosswind, but nothing the RV-8 couldn’t manage easily.
The son taxied up to a little shack with galvanized metal siding and a slight tilt in the building itself that suggested the imminence of collapse. It appeared quite run-down with a wooden door and a standard keyed entry.
“This does not look promising,” the son said to himself. He pulled up to a tie-down cross and pulled the mixture back. “It does not look promising at all.”
As he was tabulating numbers in his log book entry, a stout man in his early sixties came walking out of the tin-covered shack. He wore a dark set of sunglasses under a camouflage-colored baseball cap, and had on a light brown shirt and blue jeans. His hair was thick and gray, and there was a neatly trimmed goatee patterned around a square, firmly set jaw. He was not smiling at all. The son thought that perhaps he had violated some rule on the airport because of the seriousness of the man’s approach.
“You build this?” the man said under his hat. He was walking around the nose of the Dove as the son finished entering numbers.
“Yes, sir!” the son replied.
“How long did it take you?”
“Ten years,” the son said, getting out of the plane. “Ten years with my father helping me out.”
The son thought the man was eyeing him and questioning him with suspicion. But when the son told him about flying through America for the first time since his father died, there came a distinct softening in the man’s voice and demeanor. The son introduced himself and extended his hand.
“Del,” the man said. “Del Buckman.” He pointed down a row of hangars at the east end of the ramp. There were only about four or five hangars, and they were all fairly old, weather-beaten and, like the FBO shack, leaning precariously as if anticipating collapse but holding onto every last sliver and nail to prevent it.
“You can take that end hangar down there,” said Del. “A guy just pulled his plane out of there and he won’t be back for a week or so. You heading to Osh?”
“No,” the son said. “My father and I shared an experience there back in two-thousand-eight, and I’d hate to tarnish it by trying to step into the same river twice.”
The son climbed back into the Dove and cranked over. Del walked ahead and led him to the doorless hangar at the end of the row where the son kicked the tail around and shut down. There was a soft bed of dirt where the tailwheel suddenly buried itself as they were pushing the plane in. Del scrounged up a couple of two-by-fours and the son lifted the tail of the airplane onto the rail and rolled it back a few more feet. It wasn’t much of a hangar, the son thought, but it was better than nothing and a very kind gesture on Del’s part to offer it.