An airplane works in the sky and sleeps in a hangar. The hangar’s owner is called a Fixed Base Operator, or FBO.
Our airplane lived in the same FBO for six years. Their mechanics were dedicated, licensed and customer-oriented. We paid for fuel, hangar and maintenance without question, and happily referred student pilots and other customers to our FBO.
One day our operator put up strange posters declaring “We May Not Be The Best, But We Are The Best Among The Worst.” Then, last May, a joint CAAP-ICAO audit team found that our FBO was not authorized to maintain airplanes.
I began to look for a new home.
In September, ‘The Best Among the Worst’ accused us of writing “blogs” (we didn’t) that caused them “embarrassment and obvious harm” (I thought it was their failed audit that caused them embarrassment and obvious harm).
A day after my birthday, the operator sent me a letter asking us to leave. After six years and tens of thousands of dollars in maintenance, fuel and hangar fees, we got a letter! They wrote that our marriage had gone sour. I didn’t realize we were married. I thought I was in a customer-contractor relationship. I was mistaken.
That same day, we found damage on our airplane’s tail. Later the FBO’s lawyer explained to me in a letter burdened with bad grammar that the tail is not as important as “its engines [sic] or other more important parts”. Clearly he was some kind of expert. I was learning a lot.
It was time to go. Carlo and I had made that decision months before.
Carlo and I had flown many times over the immaculate grass runway of Woodland Airpark, home of the Angeles City Flying Club. Often we saw ultralight aircraft touring placidly near the airfield. We marvelled at the stick and rudder skills of pilots who took to the air with fabric wings.
Ultralights are mostly fabric wings stretched over aluminium airframes, powered by small, efficient engines, and often assembled by their pilot-owners themselves.
Many of these aviators spend as much time tenderly caring for their airplanes on the ground as they do flying them.
Many of the airplanes boasted of GPS and glass cockpit systems, ballistic recovery parachutes, aviation-grade hardware.
Six months after that first visit, Carlo and I flew into Woodland’s 550-meter grass runway, manicured like a golf fairway and smooth as a putting green.
This visit was important – we wanted to see if 1513 would graciously step in and out of a short grass airstrip and make friends with other airplanes.
Tony Willis, the club’s General Manager, toured us around their hangars and workshops. My favorite restoration project was a Boeing PT-13 Stearman biplane dating back to the 1940s. Polished wooden floorboards, classic broom handle joystick, cloth wings, BIG radial engine (REAL Men fly round engines!).
That’s one of its fabric wings, mounted on a rotisserie for painting!
We marvelled at a Dallach D4 Fascination – German-built, moulded composite airframe, retractable landing gear. Nearly twice our speed, with less horsepower and half our fuel burn.
Another interesting visitor is the German-built Rotorsport gyrocopter of cancer survivor Norman Surplus, of Northern Ireland.
Norman has flown across Europe, the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia. His aircraft is now at Woodland Airpark, awaiting clearances to fly to Japan. This will be the first gyrocopter to fly around the world!
Elsewhere in the hangar, we met Paul – he was taking a break that weekend from his job at Cathay Pacific to work on his X-Air’s engine.
At lunch, Carlo and I snickered at Herr Hauptman Helmuth, the Austrian, and Tony, the ex-British military General Manager. Their opinions on the Great War and overall merits of each other’s sovereignties were, er, not aligned. An old married couple.
Wandering around the hangars, where craftsmen were working on wooden wing spars and fabric fuselages, we began to understand that Woodland was an airfield, an aviation museum and an airframe and power plant workshop, all rolled into one.
Every club has a clubhouse, restaurant, swimming pool, rooms for rent, function rooms. Woodland has them all. There is no golf course, but the Manila Golf Club has no runway. Besides, golf is a dangerous sport.
Finally, in October, we packed our logbooks (non-authorized maintenance entries and all 😦 ) and left our old FBO for the last time. At Woodland, the General Manager himself marshalled us to the ramp behind an ultralight bedecked in the national colors. The town mayor was even there!
Some very nice people welcomed us. Rolf, who owns a glider and a D4 Fascination, waved at us from his cockpit.
Mike, who I have always wanted to meet, owns the big Stearman biplane.
Herr Hauptman quizzed us on their traffic pattern procedures.
We got our own key to the fuel shed, where four drums of avgas and a brand new pump awaited us, arranged by two of the club members weeks before.
We felt right at home on the first day. For luck, we brought rice, salt, money and water with us in the airplane. Important for good feung shui, when moving into a new house.
The mechanics at Woodland fabricated a tow bar for us. Helmuth put barber pole tape around it, and I spent the weekend waxing the airplane.
The airplane looks pampered now. I was turning OC, like Herr Hauptman.
We are so lucky. Not just in discovering new friends, but in finding who our friends are really meant to be.
Posted from Bangkok, November 12, 2010