Notes from the Sideline

by Susan Crandell

Susan Crandell is editor of special publications at American Express Publishing, formerly managing editor at Flying, a pilot and married to Steve Wilkinson. I asked Susan if she would like to write something about "Life with a Falco Builder". Then Steve wrote "Building a Falco, Part II" and stole her big line-but if you can't steal from your wife, who can you steal from?-Alfred Scott

This article appeared in the March 1988 issue of the Falco Builder Letter to accompany our reprint of Building a Falco, Part II.

When Alfred asked me to take a crack at recording some impressions and observations about my connection to the Falco that is taking shape in our barn, the first thing I realized was how little I'd examined the airplane's influence on our lives.

Right now Steve has the airplane about halfway to completion (at least that's what he says; to me, it looks far more finished than that). Yet other than marveling at the peculiar combination of artisan-caliber skill and mind-numbing grunt work that is required, I just hadn't thought about it very much.

Now, having been asked to plot the pluses and minuses of the project, I find that, for the most part, the Falco's creation has been a positive force in our household.

I'm sure I don't have to tell other Falco builders that Steve has spent a whole lot of time and quite a bit of money pursuing the project. But while I'm not particularly excited about owning and flying the Falco someday-we just sold an airplane that better suits our transportation requirements-I do not begrudge the Falco either the effort or expense it demands.

If Steve weren't out slapping plywood against spruce, he'd be engaged in some other equally demanding solitary pursuit. That's just the way he is. And I'd prefer to think he was spending that time away from me building an airplane than playing golf or manicuring the lawn.

In terms of money, Steve has been prudent enough about purchases that I've never felt we were buying seats for the airplane instead of a sofa for the house, or a Lycoming IO-360 in place of a European grand tour. I suspected at the start that I might come to resent the Falco's expense, but it hasn't worked out that way. Steve and I both work, our life is otherwise relatively unadorned, and I guess we've been lucky.

So I've really felt quite comfortable with the Falco on what I suspect are the traditional fronts of inter-spousal discord. Still, there is one significant difficulty with my role vis a vis the airplane.

People often refer rather generously to the Falco as "the airplane that you and Steve are building." Many are surprised to learn that my only role in the Falco project is that of occasional financier-treating Steve to the next kit or a specialty woodworking tool at a birthday or Christmas.

Clearly, many people could not imagine being so close to such a fascinating project and not jumping right in. And that is, in fact, the central problem with being silent partner in a Falco. You're subject to recurrent-and unbecoming-bouts of envy.

Don't misunderstand me. I have no desire to become a co-builder. The Falco asks skills I don't begin to possess. My learning curve would be so much steeper than Steve's that I have no wish to plot them side-by-side.

Brook, Susan and Steve

Nevertheless, I'm smart enough to know this: his willingness to undertake and-more important-to carry through on the building of a Falco puts Steve a light year or so beyond me in terms of courage, tenacity and heart.

Yes, sometimes that makes me glance barn-ward with envy. Yet Steve's eagerness to embrace this project (the phrase "magnificent obsession" comes to mind) is a quality of spirit that drew me to him in the first place. So while I'll admit to feeling envious of this marvelous focus his life has right now, I won't be petty enough to complain.

Besides, the Falco is the ultimate education experience for our daughter, Brook. Imagine watching an entire airplane take shape in back of your house, built by your father. Nobody's ever lectured her about the import of this experience. ("Now dear, you know when people want something and work hard, no matter how difficult, it can happen.") The Falco is simply there-an extraordinary undertaking that we pretty much take for granted day-to-day. I hope she'll take for granted that such things can occur.

So it's been more than okay so far. Curiously, as I figure it, the biggest negative of all is the airplane itself. Chosen as process rather than product-for its builder's-satisfaction quotient rather than its ultimate applicability as transportation for our three-member family-the Falco will make an instant move from the asset to the liability column once it's complete. But I'm far from worrying about that. Between us, I don't think Wilkinson has any idea of how to get it out of the barn.