Glenn and Margaret Hathaways' new airplane was ready. The Piper Archer was being delivered by the distributor on Thursday.

The older couple had talked about "their new baby" freely and frequently to any flying school customer who would listen. They had visited the factory in Vero Beach, Florida while their Archer was being built. The Piper people had given them a tour of the assembly line and allowed them to sign their names in grease pencil inside the airframe before it was closed up. I could imagine Margaret wanting to shake hands and talk to every worker in the plant. They took pictures and when they got back, showed them around the flying school.

Summer McDay suggested turning the delivery into a social event.

"We could plan a barbecue around an open house for the flying school and schedule it to coincide with the delivery of Margaret's and Glenn's new airplane."

It was a nice idea but it wasn't my way of running the business. I talked to Henry about it in the privacy of the hangar.

"I just hate to tie up a good flying day with a social event," I moaned. "Maybe we could do it in the winter when we won't lose so much revenue from flying time."

"I know what you're saying but when have you been to a Christmas barbecue?" Before I could answer, he continued. "We have been working long and hard. Maybe it's time to give ourselves a break. Think of it as a chance to stop and appreciate what we've accomplished."

"You've got a point," I admitted.

"Look at it another way," Henry said patiently. "On a good day we can fly 12 hours with the three airplanes. Right?"


"That helps us pay some bills and maybe come out with a $4-an-hour profit. That's $48, right?"

"I'm listening."

"If we take time out to entertain our customers and show them a new airplane, we might interest someone else in buying one."

"That's true but the important thing is to keep our airplanes flying. That $48 a day profit is why we're here," I said. "Hopefully it will double and keep on doubling."

"I think to grow, the flying school has to offer more than just flying," Henry persisted. "For instance, it took two phone calls to arrange the purchase of the Hathaway's Archer. For that, the Piper distributor is paying us $1,500."

I hadn't known what we were making on that deal.

"I think the barbecue/open house is a great idea," I quickly declared.

Leanne talked to the Hathaways. They readily agreed to display their new Archer on the Saturday following delivery. Leanne placed advertising in the "Personal" column of the newspaper.

Flying school customer Al Milton was a beef farmer. He offered to donate the steaks for the barbecue.

"Will they be rejects?" I asked, just to give him a hard time.

"Don't knock it," he replied seriously. "Meat aged beyond the government maximum can make the best steaks you ever tasted."

I wasn't sure if he was saying "yes" or "no".

Summer arranged to borrow a large grill from her church.

"I've already talked to my choir mates about coming to the open house,” she said. “This is a great chance to get friends interested in flying."

She and Leanne published a newsletter inviting our customers to come and see the new airplane.

"I'll bring donuts," Dave Michelin announced.

"You're on a diet," I reminded him.

"The ones with the holes," he countered.

To pacify me, Henry booked Barry and Ray to fly sightseeing flights and introductory flying lessons during the open house. That left the other Cherokee 140 and the Hathaway Archer for a static display.

Illustration by Francois Bougie

The new airplane was delivered two days before the open house. Margaret and Glenn were there when it was flown in by the local Piper distributor, Buzz Billings. A few customers and most of the staff were also on hand. The airplane looked great. It was mostly white with two colored stripes along the sides. Margaret had chosen a red stripe and Glenn picked gold. Piper had agreed to paint the stripes on one side gold and red, and red and gold on the other.

Billings taxied the Archer onto our ramp and shut it down. I had never met the man but he was exactly what I had imagined an aircraft distributor would be like.

He popped the door open on the right side, hoisted himself across the seats and climbed onto the wingwalk.

"Anyone here looking for a new airplane?" he asked with a cheesy grin.

He was a short, round man with balding hair and a chubby, tanned face. Billings was dressed in Piper colors: bright red sports jacket, white shirt, sky blue pants and white shoes. He should have had a cigar in his mouth to complete the picture of a true salesman.

He shook a meaty hand with all of us and then opened the baggage door and engine cowling for the Hathaways to inspect their new purchase.

The registration on the airplane was the most fun. The Canadian government aircraft database had arbitrarily assigned "C-HGVM". When Glenn saw the red letters painted on the tail, his face split into a huge grin.

"Hathaway, Glenn versus Margaret," he declared laughing. "It's perfect."

"Oh, Glenn," Margaret protested.

Having witnessed the opposite ways that the couple flew, I knew Glenn's interpretation of the registration was accurate.

Henry had finished the paperwork for the sale and registration of the aircraft so the only thing left to complete the delivery was a checkout for the new owners.

"Buzz," I said to the smiling salesman, "I'd like to ride in the back seat when you fly a checkout with the Hathaways. I'll be flying with them during their instrument training."

The salesman's smile dropped considerably. He looked at his watch.

"I wasn't planning on any checkouts," he announced. "Cherokees are Cherokees. If you've flown one, you've flown them all," he said to no one in particular. Then he turned to me. "You take them up and you'll all be fine. Now, who's going to fly me home?"

"I was going to fly you back after the checkouts," I persisted.

"Well, good buddy," he said, placing his hand on my arm and giving me a fake smile, "I don't have time to give rides. Delivery includes bringing the airplane here and getting a lift back, not checkouts. I'll leave you and these fine folks to enjoy the new airplane and I'll scoot on out of here. Who've you got to give me a ride?"

He made a point of looking at his watch again.

This guy was bugging me. It bothered me that Billings had just made an easy $5,000 profit for flying an airplane to the Circus Airport. Henry had done the selling and the paperwork. I thought Billings should do more than just grin for five minutes and then disappear.

"If the Hathaways agree," I said, "we'll fly you to home in their airplane. That way, they'll get their checkouts and you'll get your ride."

"That's fine with us," Margaret and Glenn said at the same time.

Billings set a pained expression on his face.

"Well, I was counting on a quick trip back." He looked at his watch again. "A first flight in a new type of airplane isn't the fastest way to go anywhere."

"Nonsense," I said. I put my hand on his arm just like he had done to me. "Cherokees are Cherokees, once you've flown one, you've flown them all. We'll have you there in no time."

I didn't wait for his reply. I turned to Glenn and Margaret.

"I'll let you two decide who's going to fly first. You can switch for the flight back."

"Margaret can go first," Glenn said.

"Glenn can go first," Margaret said at the same time.

"Ladies first," Glenn said, breaking the tie.

"Okay, then," I said before Margaret could protest, "Margaret, you climb into the left seat and familiarize yourself with the cockpit and Glenn and I will do the walkaround inspection."

"I did a walkaround before coming here," Billings said.

"Good, I replied, "Let us know if we miss anything."

"I'll sign you out on the flight sheets," Leanne volunteered. "Do you need charts?"

"Yes, please," I replied.

"I'll get a tow bar," Henry offered.

We all got to work except Billings who stepped out of the way. To his credit, he seemed resigned to accept the slow ride home.

It was a treat to see an airplane without a scratch, dent or stain on it anywhere. When we had done the pre-flight inspection and turned the airplane around, Glenn climbed onto the wingwalk and into the back seat. Billings gestered for me to follow.

"No, it's okay, Buzz," I said with my hand on his arm. "Margaret and I have flown Cherokees before. We'll be fine. Climb in."

He started to say something and then decided against it. He joined Glenn in the back seat. I climbed in and sat down beside Margaret.

The interior had that wonderful "new car" smell. Margaret was rummaging around in her handbag. I held the door ajar for fresh air while she pulled out a tissue and tucked it up the right sleeve of her sweater.

She turned and smiled at Billings. "In case a girl gets the sniffles," she explained.

I was familiar with Margaret's pre-flight routine but I could imagine the aircraft salesman doing a slow burn behind me. He didn't say anything.

Margaret reached into her purse again and extracted a tube of lipstick and a compact mirror. She turned to Billings. "It's part of my pre-start check," she said with a bigger smile.

"Take your time," he said. His tone was impatient.

Margaret finished applying the lipstick, dropped the tube back into her purse and dug out a bag of scotch mints. She held them toward the back seat. "Candy?" she offered.

I turned to look at Billings. He was fit-to-be-tied.

"No thank you," he said through clenched teeth.

Margaret also saw his look. "I'll be ready to go in a minute," she said.

There was a checklist in the aircraft side pocket but Margaret pulled her own Cherokee 140 list from the purse. She held it up.

"Will this one be all right?" she asked Billings.

"Sure," he replied automatically.

I had been looking around the cockpit. Billings had been right. Most of the knobs, levers and dials were similar to our smaller flying school airplanes. They were just newer. Piper had done its homework to make moving up to an Archer easy.

Margaret started running through the checklist rapidly and out loud. In a matter of seconds she was done the pre-start check. She pumped the throttle, yelled "Clear!" out the pilot's side vent window and turned the key. The engine fired, chugged and then settled into a smooth, throaty idle. She turned off the electric fuel pump, checked the engine gauges and called the ground controller.

"Good afternoon, Circus ground. This is Hotel Golf Victor Mike requesting taxi instructions." She released the microphone button. "It's hard to say that registration the first time."

"Good afternoon Mrs. Hathaway," the controller replied. "The new airplane looks great. The runway is 24, wind 240 at 20 knots, altimeter 3992; you're cleared to taxi Charlie, Bravo to hold short of 24, call the tower for takeoff."

"Thank you," Margaret replied, "Runway 24, Golf Victor Mike."

She turned and smiled at Billings again. "The boys in the control tower here are very friendly."

She released the brakes, gunned the engine and taxied the airplane at a fast clip. She pulled up beside the runway and immediately started into a pre-takeoff check.

"Seat belts on," she said to everyone. "Door closed," she said to me.

Without waiting for a reply, she spun the radio selector to the tower frequency and called for a takeoff clearance.

"Golf Victor Mike is now cleared for takeoff Runway 24, wind two four zero at twelve."

"Golf Victor Mike."

I just got the door closed and latched in time as Margaret accelerated onto the runway. She continued into the take-off roll all in one motion. I could feel the extra pull of the 180-horsepower engine.

Her face was split with a wide grin. "This is great!"

The extra torque that came with the power pulled the Archer to the left. Margaret corrected onto the centreline before I had to say anything. I thought she might hold the airplane on the runway for one of her patented "zoom" climbs but she behaved herself and pulled back on the control wheel as soon as the airplane was ready to fly. The Archer eagerly lifted off.

She turned to me and whooped, "I love the power!"

"It makes a difference," I replied.

We crossed the far end of the runway passing through 300 feet. The airplane climbed easily despite the full load. The engine was loud but in a deep, satisfying way. I daydreamed a few seconds inside the wall of noise and thought how nice it would be to have a new airplane like this for the school.

The dream was shattered by a sudden silence.

The engine quit.

There had been no warning, no burp or sputter. The propeller was windmilling but the engine was dead.