"The calm before the storm." The young lady at the counter smiles with a twist to her grin.
The clear blue day breezes past in Charleston, South Carolina, but Joanne Ewart isn't talking about the weather. The lobby has emptied of families and colleagues (and their golf clubs) waiting for limos or rental cars, after descending from their Hawkers and Beechcraft King Airs into Corporate Wings, an FBO at Charleston Air Force Base/International Airport.
Only CNN on the flat-screen TV breaks the quiet — and the stately roar of a McDonnell Douglas C-17 Globemaster lifting off. Pilots loiter on the leather chairs. A cup of coffee sits on the glass-topped table, a crossword puzzle filled in at a measured pace tossed aside next to it. There's time on this Saturday afternoon.
Local pilot Jim Ellison has just landed from a sightseeing jaunt, during which he rattled off the names, histories, and associated movies for which the plantations overflown became Hollywood sets. He thinks about a new Cessna 172 for his business, but determines he couldn't make money, considering the payments on an airplane approaching $200,000. Besides, the old N model fits him like a glove as he plies the air, singing back and forth with the tower controller in his low-country patois as he maneuvers through the airspace above Charleston.
The Otis Spunkmeyer cookies in the break room ran out at 11 a.m. — and there's no more dough in the freezer — about the only imperfection to mar the day. The customer service reps express relief that the military traffic is light: Facing pairs of hungry pilots in flight suits with no cookies for their defense is an Air Force relations nightmare for the ladies behind the desk. They don't want to let our troops down.
The staff at the FBO sees crews taxiing in hardware ranging from T-1s (the Beechjet 400s) to Harriers. ("You know how much ramp space an F-16 takes up?" a line attendant asks. "That's a big airplane!") And why, with the base just across the runways? Because the fuel service is faster at Corporate Wings.
The lazy afternoon feels like a blessing. Although Sunday more traditionally marks a day of rest, the beach birds flock inland on Sunday afternoons, launching sleek jets bound for home or office. Next week will prove more hectic, with the Senior PGA Championship scheduled for a resort on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. The ramp, already populated with airplanes ranging from a Piper Cherokee to a Dassault Falcon 900EX, will go from pleasantly satiated to overstuffed.
Better order some cookie dough, ladies. Pilots need more sustenance than a cup of coffee.
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