“No, no, not that kind of fans,” Bud thought carefully before continuing. Emily had been away a long time. “FANS, as in Future Aviation Navigation Systems,” he saw the flash in her eyes the moment he spoke the words. She wanted to know more.
“I must have this FANS on my airplane,” she declared.
Bud scratched his head. “It’s not that simple when it comes to your airplane, but…”
He was interrupted by Meg as she entered the Pilots’ lounge, eyeing the coat she’d forgotten to pack. “Thank you Bud! Shoes?”
Bud pointed at the floor by the chair, but kept his attention on the pioneering aviator. Meg, curious, moved closer. Could that be Emily Hart? No, couldn’t be.
She glanced at JT, who was listening intently to his headset, then whispered to him. “Is that who I think it is?” The seasoned airman gave an almost imperceptible nod. “Dragons on the runway again,” his voice low.
Emily looked at her vintage map, trying to imagine flight without it. Meg, recognizing a respectful opening in their conversation, interjected. “Speaking of FANS, we still on schedule?”
Bud smiled at his new client, “as a matter of fact, we’re three days ahead of schedule; you’ll be back in the air by the end of next week. I’m heading over to check on it now.” Meg relaxed for the first time in months. The new interior and avionics upgrades meant time on the ground and no charter income.
“You couldn’t have given me better news,” she admitted, picking up the coat, “and thank you again for bringing my coat and shoes; still can’t believe I forgot them when I left the plane with you a few weeks ago.”
Bud tried to ignore the hunger pangs in his stomach. “Happy to help,” he said, eyeing the popcorn machine.
Emily, looking up from her map, asked Bud if she could accompany him to see Meg’s airplane. Overwhelmed by the questions flooding her mind, she waited for his answer. Little did she know that Bud rarely passed up an opportunity to talk about avionics with anyone who appeared even remotely interested.
“Sure, that’d be great, um… but don’t you want to rest up for the airshow tomorrow?” Bud needed to get going but didn’t want to pressure her.
“Now is perfect,” Emily said, without hesitation. She offered a glance in JT’s direction. Again, he gave his signature almost imperceptible nod.
“Well?” She turned to Bud, impatiently.
“So, where do you want me to start?” He asked.
Emily smiled, mischief in her eye. “Where do you think? 1937 forward, of course.” Bud took in a slow deep breath, then nodded. They bid adieu to JT and Meg and departed the lounge.
Emily Hart was one of Meg’s idols. She reflected on her own passion for flight as she pulled her favorite gold shoes from their box under the chair. She could hear the faint “all clear” from JT’s headset behind her, followed by his deep voice. “Roger that, Tusk 2.”
“Dragons on the runway again?” Meg asked.
JT shrugged. “Not any more. Trying to wear them out so they don’t disrupt the airshow tomorrow.”
Meg laughed out loud. “Good luck with that! I heard they wanted to be in the show but were told no. No?”
“They applied but are too unpredictable” JT explained. “They don’t exactly play by the rules.”
Meg stared at the legendary Airman. “You’re one to talk,” she said.
JT gave her a wink, but said nothing.
“If you’re talking about keeping the dragons out of the show tomorrow, I’d like to know exactly what your plan is,” the exasperation in Gill’s voice was obvious as he hurried into the lounge.
“We were out there this afternoon trying to practice maneuvers when out of nowhere we’ve got six dragons wanting to dog fight us at 10,000 feet!” Gill shook his head. “Again at 20,000 feet!”
Meg gasped. “They must really want to be in the show.”
“No.” Gill was emphatic.
JT jumped in. “That’s why they were so quick to tire out this evening.”
Gill snapped back. “From dog-fighting us all day? You knew they were on us?”
“We don’t expect any more interruptions.” JT’s voice was calm as he reassured the F18 Captain.
“I hope you are right” Gill said, opening a box of fresh popped corn as he exited the lounge. “I hope you’re right.” Meg could hear his voice trailing in the distance as he repeated it several more times: “I hope you’re right.”
She looked around. The lounge was quiet except for the occasional squawk from JT’s headset, his eyes closed. “Been a long day,” he said settling into the leather sofa.
“You’re going to miss a great opening party downstairs if you sleep now,” Meg said, somewhat envious of her pilot brethren who were performing in the airshow tomorrow. The only thing her Gulfstream could do in the show right now would be to sit on the tarmac looking pretty. She remembered Bud’s words that she’d be back in the air by the end of next week. “I hope he’s right,” she mumbled.
JT responded with the half-snoring of someone drifting off to sleep.
She pulled on her other shoe, placed a small pillow behind the sleeping legendary aviator’s head, turned down the amber lights, then quietly slipped from the lounge.