On the outskirts of Rome, nestled between the highway that circles the
eternal city and the international airport of Fiumicino, is a little grass airstrip, known only to a lucky few. 400 metres of unkept grass, bordered on one side by tall trees that help mitigate the wind. In one corner a once proud Fiat G91T jet trainer mounted on a swivel acts as a wind indicator and in the small hangar next to it a little Piper Cub shares protection with a tired Morane and a flashy new RV6.
The little Piper is well worn: her paintwork is flaked, the grease on her
cable joints dark, her sticks polished by the many hands that have flown
her. She works for a living, flying photographic missions and towing banners over the football stadium and along the beaches. But if you ask nicely she is available for a pleasure flight in the last rays of a sunlit afternoon of early autumn.
You climb aboard and settle down, taking in her smell. You touch all her
switches, making yourself at home. You push the starter and she rumbles
to life, and taxi slowly down the strip to the far end, checking her brakes
and trying to feel her mood. She seems happy and content, but you know her, she might decide to be cheeky and start playing around. Checks completed, no wind, tail straight, one more look to be sure the local dog hasn't decided to take a nap in the middle of the runway and you push the throttle forward.
Tail up, keep her straight, and she decides to test you, darting to the
left. Pedal, maybe too much, now she wants to look right, she's in a
mischievous mood. You keep her straight and float into the already golden tainted sky.
You climb slowly to 800ft. You don't want to go higher, the big jets are
landing just six miles away. You turn downwind: on your right you can see
Rome spread below, the sunlit dome of Saint Peters, the green of the parks, the modern districts crowding the ancient part of the city. You fly content, the little Piper purring happily. In flight, as always, she is a darling.
Turn base and final. Flaps down, speed okay, just a touch of power. You
keep an eye on the two tall trees at the beginning of the runway, okay,
passed them, stick back, little Piper, please be good. Bounce, bounce,
bounce, she definitely wants to be cheeky today, left, right, keep her straight, full power, and off we go for another circuit. On final again, this time you'll get it right. But little Piper has other ideas. Bounce, bounce,
bounce, she seems to be laughing aloud as you fight to keep her under control. You go around again, and little Piper really enjoys herself, while in a cold sweat you try to keep up with her all over the runaway.
Humbled and disgusted with yourself, you line up for your final landing. Over the trees, stick back, resigned for the final humiliation. And ... she touches soft as a feather, running straight and true, slowing down towards the hangar at the far end.
You can feel her smiling, she has had her fun, but she didn't want to ruin
your day. And when you push her back into the hangar, her engine ticking
softly, you give her a pat, happy she has chosen to be your friend.