I named my Cessna “Orion” for the constellation that was shining majestically above him on the night he became mine. Not too long after Orion was born, I washed and detailed him. (I say “born,” even though he was already five years old.)
Basking in the glow of being a new airplane owner, I wanted to be a responsible and caring owner and give him a thorough cleaning. It was your typical sunny California spring afternoon. I stopped at Pep Boys on the way to the airport to pick up some cleaning supplies and an industrial brush on a pole so I could reach the wings. Orion is a Cessna 172SP, a four-seater, single prop airplane. Even though he’s a fairly small airplane, getting the wings clean was going to be a stretch: I’m a very small girl. (You’d be surprised how many bugs adhere to the leading edge of the wings. They look like flypaper at times during the summer.)
My parking space on the airport grounds didn’t have any hoses, so I had to taxi the plane to the designated wash area. I got out my cleaning stuff and went to work. It was a relatively busy afternoon as it was perfect flying weather. I noticed that a lot of men were really staring at me as they taxied past. I certainly wasn’t wearing anything sexy, just running shorts and a t-shirt. I wondered what the big deal was.
Then it started. One of them taxied past and then walked over after tying down his plane. He introduced himself and asked me if this was my plane. When I said yes, he seemed surprised and then chatted with me for a while and offered his phone number.
Whatever. I wasn’t here to pick up guys, normally a top priority for me; I was here to wash my plane. So I got back to washing. Then another guy walked up and did the same thing. And then another. And another. It was getting to the point that I was a little frustrated over not being able to get my job done.
One of the men finally admitted that he’d known very few women flyers and even fewer women who owned their own planes. And in fact, he never met a woman so young who owned her own plane. I really hadn’t thought about it before.
Then, just as I was finally finishing up, I saw another guy walking toward me. He said, “Hey, honey, is this your husband’s plane?”
I replied, “No, I don’t have a husband.”
Then he said, “Your boyfriend’s then?”
I said, “No, it’s not my boyfriend’s.”
He looked really confused and finally said, “Well, then whose plane is it?”
“It’s my plane,” I said flatly.
He almost swallowed his tongue and then said, laughing, “No, come on, honey, whose plane is this really?”
I said, “Well, honey, it really is my plane and if you were coming over here to pick up on me, you just blew your chance, so move it along.”
When I got home, I called a girlfriend and told her about the veritable parade of men coming to give me their phone number just because I was washing my plane. She asked excitedly when the next time was that I would be washing it and if she could help.
Later, I ordered a t-shirt that I had seen advertised in aviation publications but that hadn’t really caught my eye before. It says: “No, this is not my boyfriend’s airplane.” I wear it every time I go to the airport.
Erin Seidemann is a writer and editor currently working on a memoir about flying her Cessna.