John Carlson: Off Into The Wild Blue…

As you can see, my plane features no shortage of air. Photo by: Ron WaechterAs you can see, my plane features no shortage of air. Photo by: Ron Waechter

By: John Carlson—

Why, yes! As a matter of fact, I do own an airplane!

Sixty-seven years. My whole life. That’s how long I’ve waited to say that. Well, OK. Technically, it would be 67 years had I wanted an airplane the moment I popped from Mom’s womb and some doctor flipped me over to smack me on the butt. But I have waited a solid 52 years, since the day I took my first flying lesson as a kid.

Also technically, six or seven years ago I bought a beautiful little ultralight airplane that had never flown, but I couldn’t force it into the sky either. So what I bought was essentially more of an airplane sculpture.

Anyway, my new airplane is a Quicksilver GT 400, an Experimental Light Sport Aircraft, just in case anybody viewing the photo above mistakes it for a Learjet. Its N number is 2484Q, or “eight four Quebec” in aviation radio parlance.

I don’t want to say how much – or really, how little – it cost. But as you might presume from its single seat, the cloth covering and the breezy, wide open cockpit, it was remarkably cheap. To put it in terms most of us can understand, my airplane cost about what I’d pay for 160 of my favorite Pizza King pizzas, those being the 16-inch sausages with extra cheese.

It has a lot fewer calories, though.

I was paying a rare visit to The Fickle Peach for a beer a few Wednesdays ago when my flying buddy, Ron Waechter, texted me about the airplane. By the following Saturday I was hopelessly in love, and it was mine.

Five days later, with Ron escorting me in his airplane flying way off my right wing, I flew it to its new home in Muncie.

To some degree, flying a 400-pound airplane can be a sensory overload. There’s the roar of that engine, which in this case is located just behind the cockpit. The wind? It’s more than ample, rushing through those wide-open sides. The view? It’s astonishingly good, thanks to the minimal amount of fuselage wrapped around you. Looking up, around and straight down is no problem, especially from 2,000 feet on a day with excellent visibility.

It can seem a little bit skittish, though, even in light turbulence. Nothing really scary, but the stout four-point harness wrapping your shoulders and crossing your waist has an undeniably comforting feel when you are bouncing around up there.

Especially given those low-cut, open sides.

What’s really cool about an airplane like 84 Quebec – nicknamed “Pieces n Prayers” by its previous owner, Dave Raines, to whom I am indebted for selling it – is that it harkens back to a simpler time in aviation history. Flying mine around in 2018, it’s not hard to imagine what it was like to fly a classic Curtiss JN-4 Jenny in 1918.

It has a radio, which you wouldn’t have found in a vintage Jenny, not to mention a strobe light for enhanced see-and-be-seen safety. But its instrumentation is ridiculously sparse. Or maybe the right word is “blessedly.” There’s an altimeter. A skid indicator. A compass. Exhaust heat and cylinder head temperature gauges. A tachometer.

Oh yeah, and an airspeed indicator.

Sometimes watching it on the flight from Anderson made me smile, and even want to laugh. There were instances in the air when it barely registered 50 miles an hour. With added throttle and the nose down, it would occasionally nudge 70, but that’s where the airspeed indicator’s yellow arc began advising caution.

About half the time, I got a more realistic idea of its speed by looking down at the traffic heading east on Ind. 67. More often than not, the cars were outdistancing me.

Soon enough, though, 84 Quebec and I were over Reese Airport, entering the traffic pattern and then on the ground, upon which I lighted with a hearty bounce. Having landed behind me, Ron came over to congratulate me on having survived my landing. As they used to say in the flyboy, or flygirl, business, “Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.”

Nancy, who before my flight had ominously left me a handwritten note reading “I love you,” just in case, was happy to get my “all’s well” phone call. It’s her I owe my thanks for all this. Having just gotten her brand new kitchen, she suggested the airplane could be my “don’t cry” present, like some whiny kids are given at their siblings’ birthday parties. Being a grown man, I first thought to assure her that was totally unnecessary.

Then I thought, “Sheesh, don’t be a moron, you idiot,” snorted a fake sniffle while dabbing at my eyes and took her up on her offer.

Now, weather and winds permitting, whenever I wish I’ll “slip the surly bonds of earth and dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings.” That’s a passage from “High Flight,” every pilot’s favorite poem. It was written by John Gillespie Magee Jr., a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot who was killed at age 19 while flying a Supermarine Spitfire during World War II.

Knowing me, though, I’ll probably be perfectly content to skip the sky dancing. Instead, I’ll happily just wallow around among the clouds, gazing down and marveling at how tiny the cows, corncribs and cars look.

That’s plenty good enough for a guy who’s just acquired a new airplane. This guy, anyway. Oh, and for the record, I haven’t cried once about Nancy getting her new kitchen since buying it.


A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on Muncie Journal every Friday.