It was easy to find the Farmville, Virginia Municipal Airport (right next door to the Farmville Municipal Golf Course) because it was the only thing down there in the very heart of Virginia. My trip was 109nm from my base at Potomac Airfield in Maryland but in contrast with my home in the DC suburbs, it is a million miles away.
I went down to visit my son, Colin, a graduating senior at Longwood University. I wanted to try the trip before graduation day May 9th. A car trip to Farmville is a four hour affair if you are fortunate enough to not get stuck behind slow traffic on the winding two lane roads used to get there. In the Zenith, I was there in a little over an hour flying into a 23 knot headwind.
When I was a new pilot, a crusty old flight instructor told me that “airplanes are time machines.” I didn’t have the resources to fly enough to know what he meant then, but on the trip to Farmville, I knew instantly. Flying the Golden Zen provides a measure of freedom over time and distance that comes from escaping to the sky and taking the route “as the crow flies.” What was a long driving ordeal to see my son at school was this day, a quick morning flight, lunch and a return home.
The freedom of personal flight is amazing but for most pilots it isn’t about the destination, it is about the journey. My son and I shared a pizza and made our predictions about the NFL draft coming up later that day. A great visit made possible by my new time machine but I was anxious to return to my cockpit cocoon, feel the stick in my hand and the rudders at my feet, fire the engine, double check everything and off to defy gravity again.
Not that I was in a hurry to leave Farmville. From the first time we visited Longwood University and again on this trip, I was enveloped in a surreal feeling of escaping the pressure filled world of the present and finding myself in a sleepy little southern town from the past. Farmville is a place where the local car buffs gather on a Saturday outside the Advance Auto store to show off their polished classics and check under hoods. By the Longwood Campus, college girls stroll downtown in groups, in short shorts, with white legs and flip flops. Returning to the airport after lunch, I noticed a line of empty carts at the golf course on a beautiful Saturday. This is a place where people are scarce and services are plenty.
It was my second long flight in the Zenith and I have much to learn about really flying the machine. I am sure if my course line was plotted going down to Farmville, it would show a lot of meandering off course and more than a few ups and downs. These detours occurred while I was trying to “chase the needle” on the GPS or vertical speed indicator and trying to find the elusive “hands free” trim position. The wind was blowing and the Zenith was bouncing, I was learning every second about flying this airplane. After some practice, I was able to fly to spots on the horizon and check my instruments – amazing how much easier it is to keep things straight by looking out the window! The flight back home was more precise. I remembered a command my father, a WWII aviator, used to give me when I was running afoul of the rules as a kid, “straighten out and fly right.”
The folks hanging around the FBO café asked about the Zenith. I told them I just bought it and flew down here to see my son who graduates in two weeks from Longwood. The words came out of my mouth but soared from my heart, “I am very proud of him!” The FBO guy said, “reckon we’ll see you again in two weeks.” I said, “for sure” – smiles all around and one mildly embarrassed son. I told him as I was leaving, “you could have a real good life in a little town like this.”