A Story With Puff

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.”

Almost Off 1


Our lives, here in our beliefs of space-time. are stories.  This one happened to me and Puff, today.

34 thoughts on “A Story With Puff

  1. Absolutely amazing! So happy to see this connection between both of you has just been silently growing, nurtured by each other’s love and passion. This relentless strive to pull up, to rebuild yourself and little Puff is a blessing for all of us witnessing! What a gift! Both of you, happily flying together, climbing! Being silently observed by a joyful Seagull not far away…
    I’m happy and greateful in advance, for the many more stories both will enjoy!

  2. How totally wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing. Stories like this make life sparkle.

    And that picture, so exuberant and joyful. You can hear the words through the screen… “Here I come!”

  3. Sounds magical, and I’m so happy for you both! I’m also glad Puff found her voice, she sounds very pleased! It’s interesting (and fun) discovering a spirit which meshes so well with our own, in whatever form it chooses to take.

  4. When you travel with Puff, both create a wonderful symphony with nature, and we as readers are participants in the stillness of the heart …

  5. I am in the middle of “Illusions II”. I have been so worried about you and Puff since the accident. It was comforting to read that you had been with Don again though. I can’t tell you how many times I have read “Illusions” and passed it along to those I love. I can’t tell you how happy I am to see that you and Puff are together in the air again. I never learned to fly but my husband did. Ever so often I just get the urge to fly somewhere just for the peace that it gives me being so close to those in heaven and in my heart. Safe flights for you and Puff forever more!

  6. Richard, Puff must have felt very heavy trying to break free of the water……with all of “us” on board…. it feels good !!! Thanks for sharing. Aloha

  7. Just beautiful. Reading stuff like this is like climbing out of the clouds after taking off on a cloudy day and feeling the sun.

  8. Glad Puff is back for you, and you are back for Puff. I’m finished with my SeaRey build and learning to fly her now. Hope to see you in Florida again at Garner’s Fly-in or mine if you can make it.

  9. Great news! I can’t wait to get out to my hanger and read this story aloud to Miss Mandolin. I believe she’s been somewhat worried about both you two. Obviously all is well. We will both be patiently awaiting your visit some day. Everything’s ready here at F45. 🙂

  10. Thanks as always for inspiration and insight. Just returning from an aviation injury myself and need to chat with my wing. I feel like she may want an apology for my botched landing…

  11. 🙂 how does that song go…? where the clear wind blows, where the eagles cry … love lifts us up where we belong … lift and loft … aloft ! whatcom ? 🙂

  12. Hi Richard,

    What a heartfelt post with Puff talking to you again! It made my heart sing just to read it as I sensed the pure joy of your flight together…your dance in the sky. And I especially loved these words from Dan…

    “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.”

    Beautiful words, and so true. How lucky you are to have Puff to love and dance with!

  13. How beautiful !
    Read your post, and sitting here crying tears of happiness, and fond memories of flying. and the inter-action, of what some think of as an inadiment object.
    Thank you, Richard.
    Enjoy all that you do.
    Bob. ( PT 17 )

  14. I am so glad Puff is back. Really back. And that you’re together. Beautifully written, as always.

    (And we were lucky enough to have a relationship like that with a plane. I miss her greatly.)

  15. Richard, thank you for your share of puff. You brought me back to a place and time I had not been in so so long…2014 – 1974 = 40 years! I was 12 years old at Farrell’s ice cream parlor on Hawthorne blvd. across the street from Torrance airport (KTOA) at my 12th birthday party where I received Jonathan in paperback. At a memorial tonight for a pilot who passed on a few weeks back you came up, talking about stranger to the ground which I have not read yet although have read several others the thought came to look you up. I’m so glad I did, I’m so glad your still with us and if I don’t get to meet you I hope I will be able to Speak with you some time, you have sparked something old and something new in me and after 8 children and 10,000 + flight hours in everything from hanggliders to private jets I am back where I started but in a different time and in a different way. I am in no way a writer as you can see by this but you have sparked that idea in me as well…thank you Richard!

  16. Great story, Richard! I remember seeing you at the Garner’s Landing Fly-in and asking if she had told you her name yet. I can’t wait for next year when Puff and OspRey can meet and play together.

  17. Dear Richard, I am so happy you decided to have this site ! I know you must be getting this kind of response often, but I do not mind to repeat it :-). I got your Gift of Wings from my wife 8 years ago, I started to learn to fly 6 years ago (a bit late as I am 48 now), still learning :-). Have almost all your books in my bookshelf and regularly re-reading parts anytime I need to meet a flying friend. Best hangar talk ever :-). I was checking our local bookstore recently, hungry for new stories from you, finding out no new Czech translations in “Bach books”. So I searched the Amazon, and happily found and bought Travels with Puff. Last two weeks enjoying / co-living the story. It was all the way somehow bitter sweet reading knowing about your accident (happy you recovered, sad that they say Puff is not well – diplomatic expression). Could not have dreamed more fantastic “landing” as this post ! I am so happy to hear you both are flying together again ! Give my best regards to Puff. And keep coming to our hangar please :-)!
    Best wishes,
    Czech Republic

  18. It feels so nice to know that there are such relationships possible. Somehow enjoying it regardless the distance. And do not feel crazy when talking to my little airplane :-). Thanks !

  19. Richard,

    I just bought and read Travels With Puff as an e-book today, knowing as I read the story that Puff, because of previous owners had misgivings about you, and I knew of the future accident on San Juan Island. With that knowledge, reading about her fear as you were first becoming acquainted with her had me thinking that her fear was to be well founded. Thank you for this post, I’m relieved that all is good again with you and her, both physically and spiritually.

    I plan on giving the hard copy to my grand nieces and nephews in hopes that their parents (my nieces and nephews) will be more understanding of me giving them flights than my sister was some 40 years ago for them. Back then I was also flying hang gliders, so now in retrospect I understand my sister’s refusal of allowing her children to fly with me. As with me, Richard you are a favorite author of my sister when she discovered your book J L S. At that time I thought your name seemed familiar with me, and it was, going back to the mid 70’s. I can’t remember if it was Air Progress, but your pilot’s report on the 1947 Republic Seabee had stayed with me all these years. Reading Puff I was hoping for a reference to the Seabee.

    I really don’t read many books, but your writing style has always sucked me into the story your telling or the plane you were reporting on in the GA magazines. As I get older I have that nagging fear that at some time not passing my physical would ground me. I can’t tell you how many ads I’ve seen in Barnstormers that are prefaced with “….selling due to lost medical”. I’ve been researching the LSA scene and keep coming back to the Searey. Living 20 minutes from Lake Tahoe and knowing no other LSA amphibian uses the turbo intercooled Rotax 914 in such high numbers means there just might be a Puff II in my future. If this is the case, I look forward to flying with you and Puff in the future.

    The only drawback to the ebook version is all those wonderful pictures that Dan took were very small in size and only the type would enlarge with Ctrl +. Is there any way I could get those pictures as jpg files?



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