Au Revoir Little Mites; A Love Letter
by Robert Schroeder
Minneapolis, November 8, 2012:
This morning I watched N4147 take-off for the last time from MIC (Crystal, MN); she's on her way to a new home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. The sky was gray and dreary as was I. I'd been having an affair with her for years. She was someone else's mistress for decades...and then she came home to my hanger one afternoon in 2007. We started our hands-on relationship in the presence of another...118C. Yes, I know, Moonegamy...the single mistress rule...one Mite per hanger. But they were both champions, 118C a decade before 4147, and both had spent lots of time on the "runway". They had shared hangers with other planes before...this would work. How bold of me to have two beautiful and well maintained Mites. Oh, and then there was the Chinese gal, Nanchang... or "CJ" for short ...she also shared the hanger...and like the TV show, "Big Love", I was their one and only.
We all got along really well. On summer evenings, everyone would get to enjoy the late day sun and smooth air. Oftentimes each one would get six or more T and G's, become intoxicated with the ups and downs and then need to sit by the hanger while the others did the same. Damn, it was fun (T&G's not G&T's... gin and tonics). In Feb of 2008, I slipped on our driveway and nailed my head on the brick pavers. It would be more than a year and LOTS of health records for me to get my 3rd class back. During that time, I also became very busy with my fire and explosion analysis practice....when bad things happen, I go to work...I'm not the kind of doctor you want to have... Needless to say, the girls started spending too much time cooped up in the hanger...not good.
Over the next four years, I would fly them all, just not enough. My retained skill and knowledge of each aircraft wasn't impressive. All had their own way unique ways of starting and flying. If you've flown Mites you know how forgiving they are and what minimal flying skills are required to keep the aircraft stable and safe. That was my redemption!
As of late, I began to question my ability to manage all of these "mistresses"...oh, did I forget to mention that I also have a beautiful wife? She accepted the three others into our family and understood that with the Mite sisters, I would be spending time with them alone. With "CJ", my wife could be part of the fun! Don't condemn this...she was always in the back...and watching...for other airplanes. Frankly, my grand plan was to get my wife interested in getting her ticket and fly beside me in one of the Mites. She gave this idea serious thought but concluded that she didn't have the "Right Stuff" to be a pilot let alone flying formation with me. I'm slow but in the last few years it dawned on me that I really had to choose one...one of the three aircraft that is. I suspect you can figure out which of the three wasn't going to be put up for adoption; I do love spending time in the air with CJ and my wife...with my wife watching...for airplanes.
If you've spend any time on this wonderful website you will have seen the stories on N4147 and N118C. Both were fully functioning champions and not pretty hanger queens. Both also were brought back from the "long forgotten and presumed dead" by very committed and skilled artists: Vern Flacksbarth and Durber Allen on 4147; Tony Terrigno and a second reprieve in the 90's by Dick Rank and the late Ben Epps on 118C. If you haven't read the stories, do so. Each of these men exemplify the commitment that we've all had for these aircraft.
A couple of weeks ago, 118C headed for her new home in North Carolina. She was flown there by Capt. Bill, a Delta 747 driver who ferries aircraft on his days off. As he explained it, he just loves to fly. A 1000 mile trip in a Mite proves it. He described the flight to NC as pretty enjoyable especially on day two when the cross winds laid down. Now comes the big surprise. Tonight, Capt Bill is in Minot, ND. No kidding, he's at it again. This guy does love to fly...and fly Mites to boot! (who doesn't) He's at it again. Two Mites in two weeks with an intermediate work related diversion to Tel Aviv...think of it this way...His log book will read: Mooney Mite; Boeing 747-400; Mooney Mite....and whatever else he flew during that short period!
But I digress...back to this week's edition of "Capt. Bill's Big Adventure". Remember that self-deprecating comment about individual aircraft knowledge, well it revealed itself in a chilling way today. Unbeknownst to me, 4147 apparently doesn't have heat...or if it did, it wasn't much. 118C did have heat and was comfortable to fly in the winter..or in the fall to NC. Capt. Bill expected 4147 to have cabin heat...Sometimes in life, our expectations are not met. In case you missed it, he's flying north to Canada...in November... Capt. Bill was last reported to be standing in a hot shower at some unnamed motel near the Minot airport...
It has been difficult for me to let the Mites go. I began flying Mites in the early 80's. Sweet, nimble, a plane you literally wore. I flew them across the Midwest from my base in MN. Always greeted by wide eyes and lots of questions...and disbelief watching me prop them with my butt against the wing and my hand flipping the blade...and then the scramble to get in the cockpit before it would taxi itself away. How could I not mention the air shows and pancake breakfasts. In the beginning, I could do a breakfast and not worry about the Mite being bothered...as of late, this has changed. Adults, little kids, parents don't seem to understand that this is an airplane not a toy or jungle gym. Have you ever found someone sitting in the cockpit of your Mite? I have and more than once. "Oh, we're just taking a picture of Johnny; it's so cute." The only place that didn't present this risk was EAA OSH. There people got it. When 118C returned to AirVenture in 1998, it was treated like royalty...I benefited from that as well. Sadly, in the end, I quit taking the Mites to $100 pancake breakfasts...a loss for me and the people that came to see airplanes.
In closing, I want to express my thanks to all of you who have stood by and nurtured these beautiful aircraft into "middle age". As a community, we must continue sharing technical knowledge, parts and enthusiasm. We also have to encourage others to join us and become Mite owners. Much can be said about the new generation of pilots and their lack of interest in old birds like the Mite. The reality is that we have to reach-out and promote Mites to these new flyers. Get them in and they're hooked. In retrospect, my only Mite flying regret was not making the trip from MN to Porterville, CA for a WAMM weekend...my schedule would never allow for such an adventure. If you've never been to a WAMM weekend, don't delay. Go! Wonderful setting, lots of airplane chatter and a committed group that welcome all Mite enthusiasts. Thank you all, thank you Dave and thank you Al Mooney where ever you are... Robert
Dr. Robert Schroeder has been flying Mites since the early 80's. His first Mite experience was as a member of the Mity Air Force, an ANE-based group of 10 who owned N4101; $200/guy bought you a piece of a Mite! N4101 has not flown since the early 90's, spending its time in a warm and dry hanger. In 1997, Schroeder acquired 118C; in 2007, N4147. Based at MIC, Schroeder flies a Nanchang CJ-6A, a retired Chinese Air Force trainer.