Sunday, July 27, 2008

In The Presence of Greatness

Today started out like most any other Sunday. I fell out of bed after first staring accusingly at the alarm clock to make sure it hadn't malfunctioned, and then calling Gaithersburg's weather line with the slightly hopeful thought that the clouds outside my window were lower than they appeared and I could roll over and go back to sleep. It's not that I didn't want to go flying, but it was 7:45 on a Sunday. Gaithersburg reported decent weather, however, and the internet and FAA briefer confirmed our route of flight looked clear.

As Gillian and I headed out to the airport, I couldn't help but think how cool it was that only last summer I had embarked on a 3+ hour drive to visit Juan and Carlos (my Godson), and now I was planning on a 50 minute flight to New Garden, Pennsylvania.

Gillian and I arrived at the airport only slightly behind schedule (but with iced coffees in hand) to find Romeo pre-flighted and ready to go. (Thanks, Rich!)

Although the weather conditions weren't great, Gillian managed to find a few photo-worthy shots as we flew past the familiar sight of the tank farm, and then turned to a more easterly course en route to New Garden. Various water bodies in Maryland make for good landmarks initially, but the route gets a bit more challenging after the Susquehanna River when there is little to distinguish the terrain.
However, the run is almost second nature at this point; Rich and I having already scoped it out with his friend Lynne in anticipation of Juan and Carlos arriving for the summer polo season.

We soon came upon the airfield and maneuvered for a landing on Runway 24. Nestled between the tree lines with a quarry at one end, the airfield has a very different feel from Gaithersburg.

Rich and I marvelled that the grass strip intersecting the runway at a right angle in the left of the frame is an official landing strip. Sizing it up, I knew I wouldn't want to have to land even a Cessna 152 on it in good winds. We later learned, however, that there is at least one pilot at New Garden that can probably do it with grass to spare.

Juan had told me that the polo fields were close to the airfield, but it was only after we arrived that we realized they were walking distance close. Gillian, somewhat serendipitously, took a photo as I turned crosswind of the red roof barn when Juan's horses spend their summer, the practice polo cage we would soon explore, and the manager's office where we would wait out the impending thunderstorm.

Carlos started off our visit by introducing Gillian and I to nearly a half dozen of their polo horses.

As you can see, Gillian was a big fan. Rich and Juan soon caught up with us, with Rich all aglow with stories of a metal polo horse. As the thunderstorms ATC had vectored us around opened up over the fields, causing Juan's 3 o'clock polo game to be cancelled, Gillian and I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

After a graceful mount onto the metal horse (rivaled only by my own, of course) Gillian looked like an old polo playing pro.

Carlos and I eventually decided to take our chances and hung out on the sloping walls of the practice cage, instead of continuing to cling to the fence in a vain attempt to elude the increasing downpour.

Rich tried his best to send a ball sailing into our back corner, but, luckily for us, a few more practice hours were required. You'd never know it from the photo though. Look, kids! The ball is going SO fast - it's blurry!

After lunch at one of Carlos' favorite haunts, we returned to the airfield to pre-flight Romeo. Rich and I then took Juan and Carlos up for a quick tour of the polo fields. Carlos had a few trepidations before the flight, but ended up being all smiles.

Rich snapped a quick picture of us before we collected Gillian and prepared to be on our way. Or so we thought. When I turned the key, there was a whirring noise, but the propeller didn't turn. Rich got out to take a look. We gave it the ol' college try a few more times before Rich called Bob, our club President and resident mechanic. Bob recommended hand-propping the plane.

Rich noted that there had been a few Cub pilots at one of the hangers near the airfield who might be able to assist. Sensing a woman's touch was in order, I volunteered to solicit their help. The first truck I flagged down contained two pilots, eager to help until they learned we were talking about a metal propeller instead of a wood one. They suggested I continue down to the hanger where "Roger" might be willing to assist me. I came upon Roger near his yellow cub and, after we agreed that "aviation needs more women pilots," he offered to come see what could be done about getting our plane started.

After several unsuccessful attempts, Roger declared that our propeller was not "keyed right" and set off to get some tools.

(Ever heard the joke about the pilot that wrote on the squawk sheet that the engine sounded like there was a midget banging on it with a hammer, to which the plane's mechanic responded, "hammer taken away from midget"?)

Right. So, Roger returned with a hammer and proceeded to bang on something.

And then the engine started.

What luck! With promises of free beer should they ever seek us out at Gaithersburg, we were just about to pull away when one of the pilots called through my window, "That was Roger Lenhert!"

"Oh!" I replied, "Okay!!"

Rich and I exchanged quizzical looks before heading to the taxiway for our run-up and an uneventful flight home.

Once back at Gaithersburg, we were curious enough about the pilot's remark to go into the airport and Google "Roger New Garden." Much to our amazement, we learned that we had been in the presence of greatness ...

The Flying Farmer had hand-propped our plane!

Gillian reminded me that Roger had touched my shoulder before we left, and suggested that I never wash it again. Although I wouldn't go quite that far, I do plan to go back some day with a case of beer and see if he'll take me for a little spin in his cub.

That's right, Mum. Just like in this video.

Maybe Rich can bring his truck and we can see if Roger can still land on a dime too.


At July 28, 2008 at 8:34 AM , Blogger Greg said...

What a cool flying day! I always said that you find the nicest people at small airports....

At July 28, 2008 at 12:57 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another amazing adventure! I can't wait till it's my turn to sit in the back seat! Your story and the great visuals are a super trip in themselves, and how wonderful to see Carlos and Juan! Love, Mum
PS: If you do go joy riding with Roger (amazing piot for sure!!), please tell me after you come home!


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