Out of the Shadows

Are airplanes good for the soul?


I ask myself, “Why does this seem so much easier than before?” I am in the process of rolling out for takeoff in my RV-8A behind Bob Lankston in his RV-9. It has been six years since I did any formation flying, and back then it seemed I could not produce the stability (and thus comfort) I wanted.

Today is different. I follow Bob on climb-out and quickly settle in to his 7 o’clock position. After just a bit of flying we confirm two things: 1) My climbing performance is better than his and 2) His cruise performance is better than mine. No big deal, we communicate and he throttles back a little.

As I watch Bob in front of me and the fields of Arkansas pass beneath me, it hits me: This is fun. This is a big part of why I fly. And I don’t do it nearly enough.

Over the last 18 years I have flown N889BS (has it really been that long?), my flight time has, admittedly, been low. Too little time, too little money. (I know, I know—the biggest chunk was the RV itself! We spent about 7½ years building it and just paid it off a few years ago. But that is another story.) More recently, the primary limiter has been time. So most of my flights have been short hops around Charles W. Baker Airport (2M8), just north of Memphis. Productive hops—I always work on some maneuvers versus just taking off, flying straight and level and landing—but short. And pretty much in just the local area. And always alone.

Lisa posing with the prop she mounted (left). N889BS after being moved from the garage to the hangar (center). Lisa and Rachel playing pilot (top right). Me in the front seat, Jordan in back and Caleb standing next to the RV-8A (bottom right).

Today we are flying from Memphis to Dexter, Missouri. At less than an hour each way, it is not exactly a record-setting cross-country. But it is over 50 miles away, so I do get to count it! I am quickly finding that there is just “something” about flying like this with another aircraft. It adds to the challenge of the flight, it adds to the uniqueness of the flight and perhaps most importantly, it adds camaraderie to the flight.

There (and back) I work on basic formation maneuvers. Hold the gap. Let the gap grow. Close the gap. Switch from 7 o’clock over to 5 o’clock. To 4 o’clock. To 8 o’clock. A little high, a little low. And all well within my comfort zone.

I grow the gap and we land “flight of two” in Dexter. We taxi up to the FBO and settle in for the $100 breakfast (what can I say; it sounded better than the burger). Relaxing. Talking. Catching up.

Escaping, if only for a while.

I know at times we have all asked ourselves the question: Why do we fly? It can be expensive. There are often trade-offs that have to be made (just ask me about my 31-year-old Nissan 300ZX, which is normally my primary vehicle). For those of us who built our aircraft, there were of course the trade-offs of time. Time spent working on the aircraft was potentially less time flying. Less time with friends. Less time with family. Or in my case, less time sleeping.

On the ramp at Dexter, Missouri, with Bob Lankston’s RV. Mine is the one with the “all natural” paint scheme!

Why Do We Do It?

Sometimes it can be simply for the challenge of getting better. Of working on a skill you may be rusty on. Or one you may not have much experience with. Those crosswind landings that make you a little nervous. The precision needed for aerobatics. The formation flying like I did with Bob. Even just basic turns, steep turns and other maneuvers. Because flying is a skill, and it is one that should be worked regularly. And one that we can be proud of when we do it well.

Sometimes—like today—it was all about time spent with a friend. Flying with friends for that burger. Or to hang out at a fly-in with like-minded people. Last October the need to get away and hang out with some fellow RVers was so strong that I drove through the rain to the Petit Jean Fly-In from Memphis. The weather had socked me in every year since 2016, and this year I was determined. It was only a day trip and weather was all around, but it was worth every minute of the drive. It was part of the escape for me, and sometimes we all need that. Just time away from work or other stresses. Time to go brain-dead for a little and focus on how he built that panel, or how she painted those wings, or what other good ideas could be copied onto what we are working on or what we already have. To compare notes on flight experiences or lessons learned or cool places to go. It can be simply a break from the real world even if only for a little while.

For me though, I find that “escape” seems to be the most common theme for why I fly. Heck, simply being out at the airport does that for me. There is something about that world, that environment, that allows for it like no other. Back in late 2020, with some concerning news regarding my wife Lisa’s health and with her being gone for three weeks for treatments, I had the house to myself. And since I was working from home (as was my team) thanks to COVID, it quickly became more like an isolation prison. So, what did I do? I ran to the airport.

The RV-8A in my driveway (left). Me, after my first flight (center). During construction, Caleb was always ready to help (right).

Pleasant Distractions

I had a fair amount of work to do on the RV, including installing the late-to-the-party ADS-B Out. But there was a list of other things I had been wanting to do as well. When I was at the airport, I was not thinking about my wife’s cancer. I was thinking about how I was going to fabricate the tray to hold the ADS-B avionics under my floorboard. I was not thinking about her being gone. I was thinking about how I was going to route the GPS antenna to the deck behind the rear seat. I was thinking about how I was going to build the wiring harness. (Then I was thinking about who I was going to get to build one that actually worked!) Then I was laughing at myself for having built the aircraft including all of the wiring 20 years prior but now couldn’t build a basic harness. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

Don’t get me wrong—the escape was not permanent. As soon as I got back home each day, the worry and other demons came out of the shadows. But then the next day, back at the airport again, I had my reprieve, if only for the day. I found that having it for the day was better than not having it at all.

And I got all the work completed. I found someone (recommended by another pilot friend at 2M8) who jumped in and built the harness and the antenna wiring for me. (By the way Matt, I still owe you for the parts.) I replaced my old Whelen strobes and position lights with LEDs. I finally installed my long-desired fuel pump “on” indicator light. I finished my condition inspection.

And I flew.

I was reenergized. I would go home and the shadows would be a little less scary.

My wife came home. And she was OK.

Do you see what was going on here? For me—and maybe for most of us—flying isn’t just a little fun hobby we have. It is part of who we are.

Returning home over the patchwork quilt of Arkansas.

For some of us, it is excitement. For some it is simply the challenge. For many it is the friendships and relationships.

And yes, for some, it is an escape. From whatever shadows you are wanting to be distracted from, if only for a moment.

Flying with Bob reminded me of that.

We finished eating and catching up and relaxing and escaping and went back out to return home. More formation work. A little more headwind. But another beautiful flight.


  1. Loved the story Scott. I’m 74 and haven’t flown privately since I was 17. Life happened…
    I was raised (as an avid passenger) with my bush pilot father. This was pre GPS, pre decent nav aids. Dad was an incredible navigator…as were most pilots of his generation. I learned to map read and recognize landmarks during frequent outings in population sparse northern Alberta.
    The last few years I’ve renewed my passion for light aircraft and now thinking strongly of a kit build. Never too late…

    • Thanks Rex! I know what you mean about “life happening!” GPS certainly made cross country flying more fun for me; I’m not so good with the pilotage! And you are correct – it’s never too late! Go for it!

  2. Nice story, Scott. I flew my RV-7A “naked” for 9 years, I went with partial vinyl and polish about 2 years ago. It was cheaper, quicker, and lighter than paint, but still looks really cool. Wrapping the fairly flat areas easy, even for a rank amateur, but the convex parts parts like the cowling and spinner can be difficult (I found a friendly auto wrapping company to help me with those at a very fair price, but it did cost me a free ride for the two owners, they loved it!).

    • Thanks Eric! I have thought about going with polish and vinyl, but don’t want the work needed for keeping the polish up. But I have to replace my front wheel pant and install the intersection fairings before I do anything! Those will be my Fall projects and then I’ll see about the finishing decision! 😊

  3. Scott, great post! Now imagine doing what you did, but at night and you’re strapped into an F16C fully loaded for war. With 29000 pounds of thrust each, you and your wingman blast off for bad guy land for a 7+ hour patrol and whatever eventuality awaits. Formation is so normal it’s muscle memory, and trust goes without saying. That’s what I was blessed to do for 25 years. Thanks for arousing those memories.

    • Rob – thank you; I’m glad you liked it! I envy your 25 years with the F16. My eyes have been bad (glasses required) all my life, so flying for the Air Force (or Navy) was never going to be an option. The RV is as close as I will come, and I’m ok with that. I have always marveled at what the military does with the formation work. Doing a very mild version of that makes me appreciate it even more!

  4. Great story. My aviation addiction is starting to take hold on me. I earned an A&P license long ago, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy my dream, nor keep the wolf from the door.
    Right now, I fly for the challenge of learning to fly, realize a near lifelong goal. The immediate goal is to qualify for and pass the stage one check so I can get into the pattern. Once I get there, I probably will solo shortly afterwards. Then the sky will no longer be the limit.

    I’m pretty much landing well enough to have my own plane, which will be experimental. I already know the make and model, and have had a flight in one, years ago, and I fit comfortably in it. (We big guys need to try on planes before we pull the trigger.)

    I’m sure there’ll be enough upgrades I want to make to it to see if I have a big enough itch to build my own plane.

    • Richard – thank you! If your experience mirrors mine, you may find that as you fly more and as you grow older, your motivations may evolve as well. Initially I was like you – it was a lifelong goal. Then it was about learning to fly a tail dragger. Then it was about being able to fly limited aerobatics.

      I always planned on building my own. However, I had a partnership in a Champ then one in a Cessna 140 on the way there. Each aircraft and each phase of my flying in retrospect had a purpose on that journey.

      Keep plugging away and enjoy the steps and milestones along the way!


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