Once Upon Forever

M y first scheduled acrobatic contest was just a week away and I was taking the week off work to practice...to fly my sequence over and over till it felt like dancing...dancing on the edge of the wind. The other aerobats based at the airport had not yet returned from a competition in Ohio, and the sky was all mine....

Late in the afternoon, I was back in the air for one more practice session. This time, I was going to become one with my airplane, one with the sequence, one with that graceful twisting vector drawing freedom figures in the sky. But as I approached my practice area, a glance at my gauges showed my number two cylinder with an extremely low EGT (exhaust gas temperature) reading, which could be a sign that I was about to lose my engine.

Deciding not to push the situation, I headed back to the field. Taxing to my hanger, I noticed the other aerobats had returned and were milling about Linda's hanger. As is our practice, we would all gather at different times of the day in someones’ hanger to talk about our latest experiences, exchanging hints, critiquing each others’ performance and sharing friendship. Linda, who made it to this years U.S. National Team, was our most advanced competition pilot. She was a good source of information on blown engines as she's lost a couple since I've known her. I taxied over hoping to find out about my EGT problem. Upon shutting down, Dave walked over to greet me.

Dave had become my closest buddy among the aerobats. When I started taking acrobatic lessons, Bill Bruns, an air show pilot, acrobatic master, friend and mentor, was our instructor. Back then, when I first met Dave, he had greeted me, not with the bravado of the more advanced aerobat that he was, but with the smile of a fellow aviator enamored with the sport. He welcomed me when I moved my plane to the airport, helping me every step of the way into the lifestyle, the camaraderie, and later urged me to start competing. He himself had moved fast. He was now flying in the Unlimited Category - the highest in acrobatic competition. He had offered to be my "first buddy" at my first contest that was soon approaching. I was glad to see him.

"Dave...I got a real low EGT on my number two."

With that, he helped me take the cowling off as he and Linda worked on the engine. Determining the problem was not with the engine but with the EGT sensor, we put the cowling back on and pronounced my plane airworthy for aerobatics. As he headed to pre-flight his own plane, he said he was going to try flying the unknown sequence given out at the competition. They had flown the known and the free style sequences but the latter part of the contest was "weathered out" and the unknowns were never flown.

I took off again and flew my sequence, reassured by the fact that Dave would be there next weekend to push me along. As the late afternoon sun started playing havoc on my eyesight, I decided to call it a day and headed back to the field. Upon landing, I saw Dave leaving the pattern in a steep climb to the West, heading for his practice area by the Des Planes river. Though too far for me to read, I could almost see the verse he had stenciled in tiny letters on his upper wing - "My Limits are my Dreams and My Dreams are Unlimited" - from the way his plane cut a path in the sky.

After a short rest, my plane back in the hangar, I headed for the terminal building to chat with Unicom Tom, the airport's unicom radio operator. He was one us, sharing our love of flying machines and unusual flight attitudes. But as I saw him, his usual easy does it demeanor was clearly agitated, fighting back a swelling anguish building in his eyes,

"What's up Tom?"

In hesitating phrases he said: "Just got a report on the radio...a crash by the Des Planes river...a fatality...N number Eight Three Alpha Mike...."

October 14, 1991
***


Dave Cargill
...6/16/91

When I landed, I saw you
Climbing westward towards the afternoon sun.
I didn't know then - it was farewell....

As that crimson sunset lingers
Like the feelings In my soul,
The verse you flew on your wings
Rings like a mantra in my mind:

   "My limits are my dreams,
    and my dreams are unlimited."

Indeed I know, un-hindered you now fly
The ultimate of all unknown sequences;
As I know, together, we'll all soar again
On wings of un-forgotten remembrances,
Through crystal clear and infinite skies,
Figures you can now only know...

And you will be the old master...
Once upon forever....
June 18, 1991
***


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