AirVenture, Day 4
After last night’s neuronic-jam-session of discussions, I was tired, wired, got to bed late, and slept poorly for all of two hours or so. I woke up with a nasty conversation hangover, and the whole day was just a little off. There were a few new arrivals starting in the booth as a couple of others went home, and the carefully hand-crafted work schedule fell victim to things like canceled airline flights and a bit of miscommunication. It all worked out in the end, as it always does, and we had another day of interested visitors and enthralled kids. Orange may not be the new pink, but the F-18 (included in the upcoming Acceleration expansion pack) is unequivocally the new Extra; the most popular aircraft among visiting customers.
Overall, the customers have been extremely positive – excited about the new additions coming up, eager to tell their stories about how FS has helped them in their flying, and glad for a chance to ask us directly about things like keyboard shortcuts, add-on aircraft, multi-monitor setups, why we still don’t have a Cirrus, a (user flyable) Cherokee, or a Bonanza, etc. There was one guy who was terribly angry, and he stopped at the booth to tell me that Windows XP is a complete disaster, I must be an idiot, and that he can prove that Windows Vista hasn’t actually been released yet. Apparently, this is why he’s still using what he thinks is called "Windows NT 2000".
That guy, however, didn’t rend my drowsy and addled psyche asunder nearly as much as when I turned around and saw this:
Pictured, from L to R: Dan Sallee, Justin Lamb,
a Terrible Monster, and Owen Hewitt.
While making the rounds, I was glad to see that the gorgeous DH88 Comet reproduction built by Bill Turner that we used for some source photos in Flight Simulator 2004 had dropped in:
Truly a flying sculpture, the airplane was in good company parked with my new friend Greg’s two Stinson Tri-motors:
I ducked out of the booth a bit early and came back to the motel to change for dinner, as Brett and I had been invited to the EAA’s "Gathering of Eagles" gala dinner and auction. We drove from the Super 8 to the AirVenture Museum on a golf cart, a fact that might be important later. The event is a celebration and fund raiser for the EAA’s Young Eagles program, and attracts a veritable who’s who of the avioscenti, and us. There was a long and meandering bit of pre-dinner mingling that found me saying hello to a few friends – Mike Lorden of ASA, Marty Blaker at King Schools, Adam Smith, the Director of the Museum, Erik Lindbergh, and the previously mentioned Ron Kaplan of the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
As it turned out, Ron is exactly the right sort of guy to walk around with at an event like this. While I have a pretty respectable network of my own, one that has even come to Ron’s aid once or twice, he simply knows everybody. Ron’s a smart guy, but, luckily for me, tonight he was foolish enough to assume that everybody, in turn, wanted to know me. I lost count of the number of people that were asked "Do you know Hal Bryan?" (but not the number of those that actually answered in the affirmative – I’ve got that one memorized). I realize it’s horribly gauche to drop names, but, first of all, there’s no way to tell this story without mentioning a few, and second, the title wouldn’t make sense otherwise.
There were a couple of living legends I’d actually met before – Chuck Yeager, the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound, and Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon (hopefully, he turned the light off). I shook hands with Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13, thanked Morgan Freeman on my wife’s behalf for The Shawshank Redemption, and abused the third-highest-scoring ace of all time, Guenther Rall, with my halting German.
I met David Hartman (unfortunately flashing back to my brother’s miserable impression of him during his time on Good Morning, America), swapped pleasantries with FAA Administrator Marion Blakey, chatted with aviation record-breaker Steve Fosset, and talked Tiger Moths with none other than Cliff Robertson.
Believe it or don’t, none of those were quite the high point of the evening. Not even having dinner and a great brainstorming session with a man called Snort, or even my annual hug from the single best aviation reference I’ve ever known – Sue Lurvey, the EAA’s librarian – quite made it.
The ride home to the motel holding on to the back of Brett’s golf cart for dear life, wrapped in a Hefty bag against a miserable rain didn’t quite make the short list, either. However my vague memory of peeking out from under the black plastic and seeing what looked like a public street full of fast moving cars all around us did at least grab my ever-elusive attention for a moment, until I rewrapped my head and pretended I never saw any such thing.
No, the thing that struck me the most was when I saw Barrington Irving for the first time since his successful flight, and found myself in the unique position of being able to say the following:
"Barrington, this is Ron – he’s the director of the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Ron, this is Barrington. I have a feeling that you two were going to meet before long. "
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Barrington’s name ends up on one of Ron’s lists of honorees. Should that happen, I’ll remember tonight as the night that a coincidence or three put me in the position to introduce them.
Regardless, this will always be the night that I started by mixing with legends, actors, aviators, and astronauts, and ended clinging to a golf cart for dear life while disguised as a wet bag of garbage.
I’m fairly sure that should give me some kind of perspective, but really it was just cold, wet, and funnier than it sounds.