When classic planes and classic cars collide

The axiom in the subtitle brings a smile to most of you… or at least a smirk. Not only does he endorse materialism, but he suggests that the pursuit of toy hoarding is competitive. Although we may not admit it, most of us accept that not only is such a pursuit unattainable, but that it should not be the focus of our lives. That being said, it sure is fun to dream. I was lucky enough to spend a day doing just that with a classic Piper Arrow and around 3,500 classic cars.

For a few years I bothered my wife with the idea of ​​buying a car corresponding to my year of birth. The idea was unrealistic. The logistics of storage and maintenance are mixed with the apprehension that such an automobile can only be seen and not touched. After being exposed to the world of classic cars through my friend JetBlue captain, Mike Strauss, I realized that some toys could be categorized as “pilots”. Drivers are still valuable, but can also be enjoyed beyond the confines of a car show on a blue-sky Sunday in June.

With lots of supervision from Mike and another mutual friend, retired Continental/United captain Kage Barton, I was convinced to pull the trigger on my first classic car. The purchase made me smile. As expected, my wife managed a hesitant smile, graciously acknowledging the acquisition. Interestingly enough, the seller was a vivacious 90-year-old who had been a Navy Aviation Electronics Technician during the Korean War. He admired the drivers, even though we tried to convince him that he should probably raise his standards. Thanks to him, I quickly had the honorable responsibility of becoming the next “keeper” of a 1957 Chrysler New Yorker.

Now in the world of classic cars, I have been invited to appropriate events, one of them being the famous Mecum auction. There, toys in the form of cars, boats, motorbikes and motors are displayed for bidding in such ridiculous quantities – from disputed paint to ostentatious – that it boggles the mind. For this year, the auction sites were spread across 13 locations across the United States, including live streaming and a regular TV show. In January a show was held in Kissimmee, Florida which offered the opportunity for a 35 minute flight in my 50 year old classic airplane.

A friendly race in Kissimmee

For those who have followed my story of the woes of aircraft ownership, the Arrow returned to operational status in December after its six-month retirement in the secluded rear corner of a maintenance hangar. An AMOC (Alternative Method of Compliance) was finally granted following a failed eddy current inspection of the Arrow last year – the result of minor abrasions in the two spar cap bolt holes of the right wing which were dealt with by an airworthiness directive instituted as a result. from a crash in 2018. The AMOC simply allowed bolt holes that were only a thousandth of an inch larger in diameter than Piper’s spec. It is probably the safest Arrow wing in the world now.

With Mike departing in his Beechcraft Bonanza from Ormond Beach, Fla. (KOMN), and me departing from Flagler Beach (KFIN) in the Arrow, we coordinated a synchronous finish in Kissimmee (KISM). My non-aircraft passenger, Ken Bryan, is a local friend and classic car enthusiast. I briefed Ken in airline fashion – and apologized in advance for any lapses in my piloting skills – assigning him the task of opening the cockpit door in the event of an emergency at the lift-off. Aside from the gusts of wind, it was a blue sky morning.

“We landed with minimal issues other than a healthy crosswind. Much to Mike’s chagrin, we got past him.

Noting that the magenta line took us directly over DeLand Airport (KDED) and its associated skydiving operation, I altered course to the west to avoid a possible encounter with a nylon canopy colored. My contact with Daytona Beach Approach for flight tracking revealed an issue with Orlando ATC. They were understaffed, probably an Omicron issue, so no flights were following Class B airspace – an operation controllers normally support.

Using my new cockpit assistant, ForeFlight, I started the finger dance to figure out airspace altitudes and the best frequency to monitor Orlando’s approach. A course west of class B seemed the best option. Unfortunately this added an extra 10 minutes to the hike, but Ken was still enjoying the scenery. Disney World, with its permanent TFR, was the next potential airspace violation to avoid. I would later find out that Mike had dropped off IFR in the Bonanza – with his ATC routing advantage – so his only complicated task was to find Kissimmee.

We landed with minimal issues other than a healthy crosswind. Much to Mike’s chagrin, we got past him. Fortunately, George Vernon, a former colleague and retiree of American Airlines was Mike’s passenger. George testified to the winner of our undeclared air race. I don’t remember working that hard on my JFK-London flights, but we didn’t have that kind of fun.

Although the Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee was the location of the auction, you could consider it one of the most extensive automotive museums in the world. The only difference was that the pieces in the museum were all for sale. In seven hours, we only saw half the cars.

An “Encyclopedia” of classic cars

Mike is a human encyclopedia of the car, facilitating our self-guided walking tour. It has an incredible ability to source the most obscure details, from the body style to the type of carburettor installed. I thought he was just making stuff up, but so far he’s only been wrong twice despite my myriad questions. He was appropriately reprimanded for being incorrect.

Performed with the melodic cadence of professional auctioneers, the auction itself was an incredibly efficient process. Most cars that rolled onto the auction stage stayed there for an average of two minutes. A cherry red 1959 Cadillac convertible that sold for $155,000 might have taken a minute longer after a bidding war broke out. Although we weren’t seated in the bidding area, I kept my hands in my pockets.

Because we stayed till late, our flight home was in a night sky. Flying at night in a single-engine plane isn’t my usual practice – having been spoiled by the luxury of a sophisticated jet and a capable co-pilot – but I found the courage anyway. Without help from the Signature staff, after paying the “installation fee” which had literally increased overnight to $50, we walked to our planes located in a dark area away from the ramp. We removed the chocks and orange hazard cones on our respective tours.

This time with the support of an IFR flight plan, Ken and I launched into the sky. We were dazzled by the lights below and a fireworks display from Epcot. Despite a rheostat failure which did not allow the panel lights to be dimmed, I managed to find the landing strip, but with a slightly firmer touchdown than desired.

It was a great classic car and a great classic airplane day. And no, there’s no way I’ll die with the most toys.

This article first appeared in the Q2 2022 edition of FLYING Magazine.

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