I rolled onto the final approach leaving myself plenty of altitude and distance from the runway. The sky was clear and dark. An afterglow remained low on the western horizon.
Flames from smudge pots outlined the runway; headlights from two cars illuminated the runway ahead.
I approached the runway in a sideslip within a strong gusty crosswind. I would kick the airplane into alignment with the runway at the last possible moment.
I checked the landing gear, three-in-the-green. The landing lights illuminated the touchdown zone.
At the end of the runway, the sod was worn to the gravel. I made a mental note to start my takeoff roll in the sod portion when it became time to depart.
Trees lined the opposite end of the runway, the runway was short, several high hills would need to be cleared if I screwed up and went around. I rehearsed the go-around in my mind.
I recited my abbreviated checklist: gas, undercarriage, mixture, prop. If I had to go-around, it would have to be now, otherwise I was committed to land.
The flash of the collision light reflected from the ground as I passed the landing threshold. With a deft flick of my wrist and a dance on the rudder petals I kicked the airplane out of the slip to level flight just as the main wheels rolled onto the gravel. Letting the nose wheel down, I came to a stop with hundreds of feet to spare.
I sat there; the cars speeding along after me, they pulled ahead and made a sweeping turn around in front to guide me to the parking area.
I retracted the flaps, made a slow turn back down the runway, and followed the cars who stopped next to a row of wooden “T” hangers. At the end of the hangers, A light shown out of an office window, illuminating an impressive Sikorsky helicopter tied down on the ramp.
I recognized the name of the company emblazoned on the side of the fuselage and realized the Sikorsky must be the reason for the replacement part that I have onboard.
A man directed me to the center of the blacktopped ramp. I set the parking brake and shut down the engine. Completing the checklist, I turned off the battery switch. The cockpit went dark, I sat listening to the gyros spinning down.
It wasn’t a difficult flight. I found the airport on the first pass, the landing went well. Putting aside my fear of meeting new people, I unlatched the cabin door and stepped out onto the wing and then to the ground.
Flood lights came on. Men from the cars assembled outside my plane. I recognized one of the men, the helicopter pilot.
A chilly wind was blowing, I zipped up my flight jacket and stepped around the wing to meet the greeting committee.
They weren’t all men. One of greeters was a handsome woman, a woman of striking beauty, older than myself by ten years.
It started the moment our eyes met; I have never been right since and that was sixty years ago.