Solo ERV a short story by Esteban Erik Stipnieks
It had sat on the ramp all day. It was one of Kerrville Aviation's N19071 a Cessna 150 born in 1972. It spent the bulk of its time during the day out on the ramp soaking up the sun. For the pilot it meant one thing cheap thrills. The airplane had a fixed pitch propeller two seats and a 90 horsepower engine. Its operating costs were right under 30 dollars an hour. As far as planes went it was simple the skills to keep airplane in the sky were simple. Cessna had designed a simple basic airplane. Today it would be well more memorable then a loss of virginity the airplane would be the set of wings where a person would take the sky for the first time alone. Only this time instead of a male it was a gal who would enter a different realm.
Michael Fram had come in three hours before bringing in a King Air from Midland. He was a short man built like a fireplug but he had a reputation around the airport. Grumpy...grouchy a character behind the persona was a keen mind coupled to a compassionate heart. He sat down on a bench after he put the change in a Coke Machine to get himself a cool twelve ounce coke. Mooney was testing a newer version of the Ovation. Michael Fram had cohorts that had handled 707s for Branniff. Braniff the airline had faded from memory it once was Texas Glamour being based out of Dallas offering trips to Mexico, South America, and later Hawaii and Europe. 707s were once the roaring jets that ushered in the jet age. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Branniff was Dallas glamour. Michael made comments about GPS and had taken a private pilot aside and given him a tutorial about map compass along with a briefing on local conditions. He curtly reminded the pilot that while there was more of a valley field elevation of Louis Schreiner field was still 3 feet above an airport nestled near Cumberland Gap. On the death of a friend he quipped "He used like to portray himself as a Greek god but more often then not we told him was a god damn Greek!" Michael loved flight. Seeing the New Mooney go through the pattern and taxi was a thrill to him. The grumpy old man was as much a act as it was her personality. He had a student to instruct. He smiled to himself "She has a great set of hands if only some of my male students knew control touch like she did." Karen Vaughn was going to solo she had passed her written early now he was just in a playful mood to get it done. He liked building suspense and adding heat in the cockpit it produced some nice results. The wind was coming from the west and the cold coke felt chilly in his he watched the Mooney go through the pattern. Michael was relaxing. Life was good.
The deep throated sound of tuned Harley meant that she arrived. He laughed she was a tomboy a rancher's daughter her daddy's top hand. She could drop a white tail at 200 yards with a single shot easier then many higher time pilots landed in still air. She was not a brat she was remarkably down to earth though growing frustrated with her lack of soloing she was at 12 hours. The extra 2 hours were adaptation to the fact ERV was a Western Airport and had some hazards that he wanted students to master. The extra hour was just to apply pressure on her to see how she could handle it. He would adjust the training to eliminate those two extra hours later. Michael had flown her dad charter work in a King Air. He let her have toys but the Harley she fixed up herself there were chores done on the ranch some out of duty the family others she got paid for. He was paying for her flight training contingent on her GPA and coach feedback. In short Karen had to prove through grades and good attitude at school that she was worthy of the money for flying. Karen's father was an old school man of the west. He had an older son who was now running much of the books of the ranch. Karen's dad may have appeared to be rough with the lazy drawl out of his mouth. Behind the exterior was a man who loved his God and loves his children that order. Michael had flown Karen to Kanakuk and then later much later she was sent to LLYC. Kanakuk provided a grounding Laity Lodge Youth camp which had more of evangelical tone was a training ground of sorts for Karen.
He went off the bench and greeted Karen. Karen checked the airplane out and Michael quizzed her doing pre-flight. Karen was a svelte 5 foot 4 but she weighed 130lbs. She was visually appealing for teenage guys having curves backed up my muscle. She looked the role of a rancher's daughter with a wild streak. As he asked her questions she revealed she had studied and studied hard. A note of contempt hung in her voice as if offended she was being asked. That tone in her voice a good sign she considered the knowledge to be basic. It revealed that she read the POH of the airplane with more intensity then some girls read romance novels. He discussed briefly the concept of density altitude. Once again the conversation was revealing in the fact she knew it better then many other pilots with much more time. The lazy cold front she casually mentioned bringing in knowledge how the drier air met a greater density to the air meaning both the wing and the engine had more air to bite to produce both horsepower and lift with. He found it hard to suppress a grin. It revealed to him that she was passionate about flight. The airplane was deemed air worthy. They taxied to runway 30. The airplane would be taking off to the north west. The cooler drier air made the airplane climb a bit faster. She mentioned this as and the fact their was a fair amount of wind blowing down. Near the Mooney the factory he pulled the power she pitched to 65mph and got the airplane aimed at an open field behind. Near the base she made a shallow turn into the wind. Michael was more then satisfied as the reaction occurred fluidly almost as if it had been planned. Inside her mind there was brief shot of panic but the procedures she memorized came sixty five look for a field no time to attempt to restart. Michael added power and before the flap was added they were going around the thicker air added umph to the climb. He added power and got on the radio N19071 is getting ready to turn low cross wind 30 Kerrville full stop. Karen handled Cessna 150 putting it where he wanted it. She got used to keeping tight pattern. She did the standard box off on the 45 he had taught her for bigger airfields. The airplane came in steep under control stabilized she had added 20 flap and made a minor crosswind correction. Karen was working hard but noticed her reactions were getting better she focused more intensely. She got off after using one thousand feet of runway. Michael got out. He had a sly smile on his face and shouted "You are one the better students I had do three touch and goes full stop I will be watching an waiting for you."
Karen was alone in the airplane. She was a bit scared but happy she taxied to the active and did a left turn looking in the pattern and heard the Mooney going down the runway for departure. The tone on the radio had the distinct Kerrville accent. As the Mooney departed she heard "Mooney experimental departing on downwind the pattern is yours on your solo congrats" As she verified the pattern was clear she advanced the throttle and applied proper aileron so the airplane departed on runway heading she kept the airplane on the ground as the needle on the airspeed indicator went past sixty five. Since the airplane was climbing at a fixed turn into the slight cross wind she wanted some extra speed. She climbed out at 76 miles per hour. She was surprised she knew but still seeing the climb at 800 feet per minute since Michael's heft was out of the airplane.. David Gilmour's words went through her head a Pink Floyd song "Above the clouds on a wail of breath" She made three touch and goes with a little bit of crosswind component. She was excited a bit scared but her main task was avoiding other traffic and keeping the airplane under her command at the same time. She could see Michael cast a glance. She set up for final on her last landing and called out this was going to be a full stop. She made the turn off that she had planned out. Karen was giddy during the taxi.
Joey was in Kerrville Aviation he had been let on in the secret. Karen did not know she would solo that day but the FBO manager did. He heard her radio call. He smiled the 18 year old Tivy Senior and him had something in common 19071 was the bird they soloed in. He watched the take off. Three touch and goes. He could see Michael walking back. Joey watched and smiled. She was a good student. He shook Michael's hand "Another one of your prized pupil's" Michael replied "I should give her five percent discount she does not make me work too hard she has got control touch too few have she wants it she really wants it." Joey said "She is striving to be a fighter pilot." Michael responded "Well if I were Osama I would be afraid." Joey smiled they both did. She taxied the airplane in and Lionel did the honors of solo endorsement Joey got out the scissors a big piece of Tivy Soccer T-shirt was removed with words First Solo the date and the call sign of the airplane. After it was over with she went to the airplane kissed the cowl still warm. Joey quipped "You just made a lot of guys jealous." Karen smiled "If a guy wants that from me a pastor better tell him he may kiss the bride first!"
N19071 with its faded paint was gently wheeled into the hangar. Darkness started falling and a Learjet taxied in an oil baron was going to spend some time at his hill country ranch. Michael left and at 7 Joey closed up. A pilot had taken a step towards a pilots license. Life at the airport continued.
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