This weekend, my dear friend R. will be saying a final, final farewell to her daddy. The first time she said goodbye to him was in 2000 when he was buried. Today, the Piasecki CH-21 Shawnee helicopter that he lovingly rebuilt and restored is taking its final flight from its home hangar to the Arkansas Air and Military Museum at Fayetteville (AR) Drake Field. The story of this beautiful bird is recounted here so I’ll let you read about it there.
This weekend has been a long time coming for R. Since the day her daddy died, the aircraft has been a quiet comfort for her, a way in which she was able to keep her daddy close after his untimely passing. Its presence in an airport hangar where she often entertains large social and/or political gatherings (there’s one this evening) has been a frequent reminder of the man whose love and passion went into the rebuilding process. Now that the helicopter is gone from the hangar, there’s going to be a huge void no matter how many other aircraft she manages to cram into its spot.
While I have never had the privilege to own or collect aircraft, I’ve always loved flying and I’m sure I’ve romanticized it beyond any possible reality. Even so, without ever having the firsthand experience, I can understand something of the sacred duty my friend felt her daddy had entrusted into her keeping. Taking over care for the craft was an awesome responsibility in itself; finding a way to honor his memory (and that of his associates) would be even more awesome.
I grieve with my friend (pictured to the left). Moving this flying machine to its permanent location is a step that needed to be taken, but I know it hurts to complete this final farewell to her dad’s “baby.” There’s a sense in which moving the copter to its new home has torn a fresh wound to remind her of her dad’s absence. In my experience, a daughter eventually comes to terms with her dad’s passing, but she misses him everyday no matter how long he’s been gone.
The helicopter will be a stunning and irreplaceable addition to the museum’s collection of military aircraft. In its museum setting, the helicopter will have a place where tourists and local people are able to view the craft, enjoy its unique design and appreciate the veterans whose lifeline it was when they were far from home.
My grandson and I drove over to the hangar this afternoon so he could get a look at the helicopter before it was flown to its new home. This little guy loves machinery of all kinds and when he heard me say we’d be seeing a helicopter, his exuberance increased about twenty-fold. Though we arrived too late to see the bird before it set off on its final flight, he did enjoy standing in the parts helicopter that remains. (I’m not entirely certain he’s even aware of the difference.) But he also had the privilege of sitting in a couple other aircraft parked in the hangar and pretending he was flying a plane was more than sufficient to entertain him.
Since his mama and daddy weren’t with us, I had to take a bunch of pictures to share his moment with them. The picture above is of him standing in the doorway of the parts helicopter. He was thoroughly in awe and excited to have his picture taken! Maybe we have a nascent pilot on our hands?