John Carlson: ‘It Was Fun While It Lasted’

My airplane made me happy. Now it’s making somebody else happy. Photo by Nancy CarlsonMy airplane made me happy. Now it’s making somebody else happy. Photo by Nancy Carlson

By John Carlson—

About two years ago, I bought an airplane.

About two weeks ago, I sold my airplane.

In the intervening years, I did a lot of thinking, mostly about the fact that some people probably shouldn’t own airplanes.

On the other hand, if I hadn’t owned my Quicksilver GT400 ultralight, I’d never have understood this important truth.

What I have also learned is that, while an owner needn’t be some hotshot certified airframe and powerplant technician to successfully interact with an airplane, it helps to at least have a detectable level of mechanical IQ.

Which, it turns out, I don’t …

This always becomes obvious during Saturday morning breakfasts with my fellow airplane nuts, all of whom are pretty much modern-day versions of the Wright Brothers. Sure, when they’re sitting around talking about cylinders, wing camber and stuff, I’m plopped alongside them nodding my head like I’m digesting all that information.

But what I’m really thinking is more like, ”Wonder how many little chunks of pork are in an average mouthful of sausage gravy?”

Later, when I confess this to them, they go out of their way to make me feel better. “Hey, John, so what  you’re a total mechanical loser?” they say. “You’re a writer, dude! I mean, none of us have any idea what a split infinitive is!”

Smiling bashfully at their kindness, I neglect to mention I wouldn’t know a split infinitive if one locked my tush in a death-grip.

The thing about airplanes is, when you’re an addict, you don’t have to know them inside and out to fall in love with them. I’m living proof of that, having started flying when I was fifteen, and doing so off and on – admittedly, mostly off – my whole life.

There were times these past two years when flying my little bird was pure delight. The farthest thing from luxurious, it was windy as an Indiana twister, the cockpit being totally open on both sides, and incredibly noisy to boot. Instruments and gauges were few. An altimeter. An airspeed indicator. Turn-and-bank indicator. A tachometer, plus cylinder and exhaust temperature gauges. Add a few switches, and that was about it.

But it was fun! Firewall it and the engine behind me roared as seconds later she jumped into the air. Floating along up there a few thousand feet at a breathtaking sixty miles an hour, the view was one I’d never experienced from an airplane before. And here was another benefit I hadn’t anticipated: If you were a pilot keenly aware of aviation’s colorful past, you had to figure this was a lot like what the first fliers experienced at the dawn of aviation history.

That was its own special joy.

But, alas, there was a downside, too. For unfathomable reasons, sometimes the engine would just up and quit. In fact, it did this to me three times.

The first time was your proverbial piece of cake. It having conked out right at takeoff, I simply settled back onto the runway then steered her into the grass.

No big deal.

The second time was somewhat more memorable. It was while turning onto my final approach for a landing that something unusual caught my attention.

“Heavens to Betsy,” I thought to myself. “It’s sure delightfully peaceful and quiet up here today.”

Then I thought, “Oh crap … ”

The engine being behind the cockpit, I couldn’t see that the propeller had ceased propelling. Nevertheless, I managed to glide down – gliding up being out of the question – then made a landing that could be better described as an arrival.

Still, as the old aviation maxim goes, “Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.”

This being the first true “dead-stick” landing of my life, my mood at my reunion with Nancy when I got home was slightly more thoughtful than usual. Much like my mechanical skills, I am a totally incompetent loser of a Christian, too, but a believer nonetheless. So for me this event sparked an uptick in my nightly prayer. Every night for two years I’d thanked God for hooking me up with my beloved airplane. But somewhere in there I started adding words to the effect that,” … and please don’t let me get crunched in it.”

My third engine failure occurred one beautiful afternoon when I’d been happily putzing about the sky for forty minutes. When without warning the engine lost half its power, I immediately steered toward an airport, wondering, “Can I make it there?”

Then the engine quit, which answered that question.

Immediately below I spotted an empty dirt field and calmly spiraled down to what, for me, was dead-stick landing number two in my life. Rationally, I credited having flown gliders for a few years with keeping me calm. When you fly gliders you don’t have an engine in the first place, since a regular airplane hauls you aloft at the end a rope until you yank a handy knob and “get off the tow.” But hey, there were those prayers to consider, too. Answered prayers, as I kept reminding myself.

So yes, no harm done … but something inside told me to take the hint.

Now, my old airplane has a new owner, a good guy who’s far more suited to maintaining it than I could ever be. When next spring rolls around, unless I’ve found a new way to get myself airborne, which I probably will, I don’t doubt that I’ll miss her.

But as another old saying goes, “It was fun while it lasted.”


John’s weekly columns are sponsored by Beasley & Gilkison, Muncie’s trusted attorneys for over 120 years.

About Beasley & Gilkison

We listen, analyze your unique situation, and prepare a course of action that best fits your needs. Contact one of our attorneys to schedule a consultation, or for more information, call 765-289-0661 or visit our Facebook page or website at






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 every Friday.