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Old School

Early on a misty, overcast morning in McMinnville, Oregon, my parents, my wife Janet and I, along with Eddie Pippin, Canine Aviator, arrived by taxi at the airport. We'd flown in from Seattle the night before in my club's A36 Bonanza. After a restful and enjoyable night's stay at a nearby hotel we'd come to visit the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, right across the road from the airport. We were greeted by Jennifer, who with her husband runs Cirrus Aviation.

"Heading to the museum today?" she asked.

"Yes!" I answered. "We've been meaning come for a long time and it finally worked out."

"I can dog-sit for you while you're there," Jennifer offered. "Can he get treats?" she asked. Eddie Pippin gazed up at her expectantly.

"Sure, but he has to work for 'em!" Janet answered. She and Jennifer discussed the Wonder Pom's training and temperament and quickly had a plan. Jennifer's dog-savvy was immediately apparent.

As I paid for our fuel and bought a couple of spare quarts of oil, a young lineman came in from a flight lesson, followed by his instructor.

"The Cessna outside needs a top-off," Jennifer told him.

"I'm on it," he replied, putting away his headset and heading outside.

The scene was typical of the way general aviation used to be at small airports all over the country. A pilot and his instructor were sitting at a small table reviewing a flight plan. In the back room, another student was taking the oral exam portion of her Private Pilot checkride. I even bumped into another pilot I know from San Jose who'd flown his Mooney in and was having it worked on. Jennifer called the museum to ask for the shuttle to pick us up and then drove me and our gear out to the airplane in a golf cart so I could pack it away for our planned afternoon departure.

The museum was amazing. As I described in last week's post, the incredible Hughes H-4 Flying Boat, better known as the "Spruce Goose," by itself made the trip worthwhile, but there were many other beautiful airplanes to admire. Our three hours there went by far too fast. We'll be back.

By the time we returned to the airport, the morning overcast had lifted and it was a fine, warm, late-Summer day. The aerobatic instructor taxied out and took off in his Yak-52. A helicopter was doing circuits of the field. Janet and Jennifer were talking dogs and soon were plotting some aerobatic training for me. There was a steady traffic of pilots and instructors coming in and out of the office and several just sitting around doing some "hangar flying" while I got a weather briefing on the office computer.

Finally, after Jennifer's help ferrying my parents out to the airplane in the golf cart, we took off and headed up the Columbia Gorge on our way to The Dalles. Reflecting on the day I felt a twinge of sadness, knowing that the time-honored aviation rituals and traditions we'd seen at McMinnville, which used to be the rule at GA airports, are getting harder and harder to find. Still, it did my heart good to know there are still places where those traditions are alive and well and where people like Jennifer and her crew are seeing to it that they continue.

"What a wonderful day!" said Janet as we watched the great river slide past underneath us.

"Amen, sister," I said. It's a day I won't soon forget.

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