TODAY WAS THE DAY I finished most of the maintenance for Puff, and it was time to fly.
I pulled her out of her hangar, looked over all the nuts and bolts, the tension on the cables, made sure that all the hinges were working smoothly, the flight controls, added some fuel and oil for the flight. It had been several weeks since I had landed in the water, for all this maintenance, and I was just a little nervous as I slid into the cockpit, fastened the seat belt and shoulder harness, started the engine. This flight would take us to the lake again.
More than any airplane I’ve owned, Puff had somehow learned to talk with me (and I had learned how to talk with her), and we flew thousands of miles, happily chatting about the events of our flights. I don’t know if you remember, but after our crash with the high-tension wires, Puff had been silent,.
When I could walk again, I had some talks with her spirit (her body, wings and tail were destroyed, on the floor of the hangar), and she told me that when I rebuilt her body it would be a little confused, and would not talk much.
It was true. My friend Dan Nickens offered his own airplane’s spare wings and tail, a gift from his Jenn to Puff, her sister ship. When she was finished and ready to fly again, she flew perfectly. And sure enough, she didn’t speak. For five flights, silence. Then suddenly she said, “Hi,” as we climbed up from a lake, in Florida, and was quiet again.
Flying her from Florida to Washington State was a delight for Dan once again. We flew her after she arrived home, some land landings, some water landings so I was at least capable again of flying her after a long time on the ground. Dan left her with me, took a commercial airline home.
That’s the story till the engine-start today: Puff had become silent in the air, on the ground. She was a wonderful airplane, but she wasn’t talking. Not a word while I worked on her. Not a word now, her engine running, warming, atop her wing.
At noon we took off, toward a lake on the mainland — I wanted her first flights today to be in fresh water.
It would take half an hour to get to the lake from the island. I settled down thinking about the landings. Triple check the wheels UP, Richard, for a water landing. At 60 mph lower the flaps, slow down, snuggle down to the water, keep the nose a little up…
It was not just me, I thought. There were two of us. I said old habit, “Are you ready Puff? Water landings today.”
I expected silence.
“I’ll be fine,” I heard her in my mind.
I blinked, then answered. ”You’ve had some difficult times, Puff, the last years.”
“So did you,” she said.
I had to laugh. Yes, I’ve had some difficult times, too. I said it again. “Are you ready to fly, Puff? We’re heading to the lake.”
She sang. ”We’re goin’ to the water; We’re goin’ to splash in the blue!”
I couldn’t believe. Puff was singing to me! A funny little song, made me dissolve my tension, made me laugh again.
What happened to the silent cockpit? Puff was funny, upbeat. As though she wanted me to feel happy, too. I did.
We talked for the next ten minutes, all of it bright and happy, more of her singing and talking, than me. She made it part of her song, that she was flying again, and she was home and she was glad to be in the air again with me.
We skirted a mountain and there was the lake. A gentle breeze, little wavelets on the surface.
I checked the gear.
“My wheels are folded up,” she sang. “they’re all tucked away…”
Slowed to 60, lowered the flaps,
“…and down come the flaps, like little mice, down, down…”
Careful, Richard, I thought. Close to the water. Closer Gentle…now, hold her off…
“Like a little dandelion, we’re going to gently gently touch…”
And that moment I heard her hull clipping the tops of the wavelets and then slowing, squnching into the water.
“Hmm…hmm…hm…hm…We’re splashing in the water, splashing like moonlight…”
When she’s nearly stopped, some of the water flew from the spray into the cockpit
“…and my pilot’s getting wet…”
It was a perfect landing. Truly, it was perfect. Puff was silent for a second. ”See? You can land as well as you ever did!”
It felt terrific, the cold water getting warm on my life preserver.
Then throttle up, her engine spinning top speed, Puff lifted light in the water, just skimming, white feathers of her spray way behind us; and she was in the air.
“Oh, somebody loves the water,” she sang, “I wonder who…”
The second landing, same thing… perfect. And the third, again…perfect.
As though she were landing herself.
“…and my pilot’s the best pilot, in the whole wooorld…”
We did some step taxiing, 30 mph, trailing spray the way I once trailed contrails at high altitude, long ago.
Then off again, up again and home. Over the water we flew a foot or two over the sea, a sailboat in the sky.
Puff was silent once again. Then, “You’re feeling good?”
“Puff, you know that. You fly so sweetly, your little dance, mid-air.”
“It’s our dance.”
Then we landed on the runway, taxied to the hangar, and she didn’t say a word.
Soon as I got home, I emailed Dan Nickens. ”Got the service list done for Puff, and today, with a 5 knot wind, I went out for some water exercise.
“On the way to the lake, Dan, ten, fifteen minutes after takeoff, Puff started talking! I think it was her, but different from at first and different from after the rebuilding, when she was so silent. She was bright and happy and funny! Never seen that before. I was letting down for the water, checking the gear up, the flaps for the first time in the water. And she was singing! The first landing was perfect. Then off again two more times and some step turns. All of them, everything was perfect…”
He wrote back at once:
“YES! She’s BACK!
“Well, she never left, but now she’s really back with us in this space-time. That is so good for you, her, and all of us, Puff’s fans.
“Her quietness……Could it be that she was checking your sincerity…your commitment? I don’t know how she could doubt it. You did show it by caring for her over the past weeks.
“You’ve probably read of the cases: trauma renders a person mute. Unwilling or unable to face what happened they withdraw into themselves. They just don’t want to have to deal with this reality.
“Until they are drawn back by someone who loves them.
“Could that be Puff? So suddenly to jump back into this game? And to land here with such aplomb? Ta-Dah?
“Or has she just been waiting. Waiting for the two of you to need to be better than the one?
“No, I don’t know. But you do, or will.
“What I do know is that I couldn’t be happier for you or Puff. Perfect together again.”
Our lives, here in our beliefs of space-time. are stories. This one happened to me and Puff, today.