A few weeks ago I joined an airplane club so I would have a plane for training. What I did not know until after I had joined and was allowed in the club hangar for the first time was that their trainer Cessna was…well…terrifying.
The club has two planes: a Cessna 172B for training and short ventures, and another one…I don’t know much about that one. It is bigger and shinier. I think it’s a Piper ____ and as I understand it, I may look at it, and maybe someday if my training goes well they’ll let me crawl inside it but for now, no touchsies.
Now about the one I can touch, let me paint you a picture: The Cessna 172B was made in the early 1960s. I’m not sure the apholstery has been changed on this model. Ever. Did you catch that? The sweat from the men that flew this thing when JFK was president is probably still on that seat cushion somewhere. On the outside the paint is chipped all over and rivets are missing. It has to be parked on a large, shallow tray because it ceaselessly leaks a steady trickle of dark brown oil. The hangar floor betrays two blue circles under each wing from where the fuel occasionally leaks. The windshield is covered in bugs, some of which were extinct a decade ago. Each tire is just a little flat. Sticking out sorely is the shiny powerplant at the front. The prop was recently replaced when someone ran it into something while taxiing. It is 200 hours past the due date from its LMOH.
My first time to rent it, it was still out with the person who checked it out before me. This was a comfort because it was proof that it could fly. When it came taxiing up to my instructor and I as we waited at the hangar, all of its age and ill repair showed in the bright sunlight. The moment it was parked an oil puddle began to develop beneath it.
When the pilot and student before us jumped out, my CFI asked, “How does she handle?” The other instructor replied, “Someone should put her out of her misery.”
We did the pre-flight with a margin of “good enough” and “that’ll hold” for most of the items on our checklist. I stopped at one point and explained I did not wish to widow my partner and was willing to park it in the hangar and leave if it truly wasn’t safe to fly. My instructor made a joke and told me to hop in. So, grabbing all of the courage I could muster, we hopped in and spent the next few minutes banging the doors repeatedly into the fuselage, a little harder each time, until they finally clicked shut. There were no shoulder harnasses. Of course not!
Reports of how flying is one of the safest modes of transportation and that “I have confidence…” song from The Sound of Music took turns in my head as we taxiied out to the runway and did the run-up. I heard the Ride of the Valkyries as we lifted off. Frightening situations always trigger theme music to start playing in my head. I just hope I don’t break into a chorus of “Come Josephine, in my flying machine” on my check-ride.
From a student’s perspective, the plane flew as well as any other I’ve flown (my grand total is up to 4 different planes). It taxiied like all of the other planes. It dripped oil on me when I grounded it at the fuel station, but others have done that too.
Still, I’ve never so desperately wanted to give a plane a makeover, stroke it gently, and let it know someone loves it. How could anyone let such an amazing piece of machinery fall to this deplorable state?!
Here’s the answer. The owner of the aircraft lives in another state and is looking to have it back by the end of the month to sell it and be rid of it. The club, knowing we only have this plane a few more weeks, is letting a lot of stuff go because there’s no point in putting a lot of money into a craft that is leaving in a few weeks. As long as it is fine to fly, who cares if it leaks a little oil? I looked into the maintenance records of the plane with the club and they have made some repairs to some important items, the most recent of which was the stall warning that at one point wasn’t working some six months ago.
A new training plane joins the club at the end of the month as this one exits. It is slightly more expensive to rent, but hopefully it will be less terrifying to fly.