Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Kyle and Amanda: Epilogue

Disclaimer: This is a long-winded one

It's been a while since I've written. In the days since March 12, when I posted the late-night blog about Kyle and Amanda, much of the aviation community (and many new fans outside it) has followed Kyle as he updated us daily on Amanda's condition. Kyle's injuries turned out to be non-life threatening, although he did undergo skin grafts and is still undergoing physical therapy.

It was a roller-coaster ride, and at many times looked like she'd survive. However, infections became uncontrollable and she passed away on May 27. In the meantime, she fought like nobody's business. She became even more of a hero and she didn't even know it.

It's occurred to me many times in the past couple of months how odd this attachment to relative strangers must strike people. And it would be odd, anywhere but aviation. So it was that I found myself flying the first of two of our flight school's 172s to Fayetteville, Arkansas at 0530 yesterday morning. I had brought up the idea of attending Amanda's funeral, and it turned out that our whole professional staff, one student, and one of our controllers from ACT (who also works Oshkosh every year) went.

It was a beautiful, well-attended service. Looking around the church, you could find a true cross-section of the aviation community. Rob Reider, airshow announcer and the host of a lot of Sporty's Pilot Shop's instructional videos, read the obituary and sang a worship song (he's a really good guitar player and singer). Fellow CAF colonels were there in force, wearing their unit shirts. Other airshow fans were there in their airplane-themed Hawaiian shirts. Our buddy Chad, the aforementioned controller, even wore his pink "Oshkosh Tower" shirt (controllers who volunteer to work the world's biggest fly-in wear this shirt as a badge of honor).

At the cemetary, there was a mass flyby (capped by Matt Younkin's twin Beech. He flies a gorgeous airshow routine with it and flew Amanda home in it last week from Texas under the call sign "Amanda One"). There weren't many dry eyes. It was if the airplanes were telling Amanda "goodbye." If you're a pilot, you get that. Airplanes have a soul. Trust me.

Amanda's brother Matt played a solo of amazing grace on his trombone. I don't know how he got through it. And, the five of us got the opportunity to shake hands with Kyle and Matt and thank them---thank them for what their families have done for aviation and thank them for sharing Amanda with all of us.

The other occupants of my 172 were asleep on the flight home, so I had lots of time to think. The whole day was like a somber version of Oshkosh. A family reunion of people who didn't know each other but had a common interest, a common passion, and were on this day mourning for a common reason.

Then I realized why I'm so drawn to the Younkin and Franklin families. They represent the two most important parts of my life: my wife Alisa and my love for aviation. For me and for these families (particularly Kyle and Amanda), those two facets of life are and always will be inseperable. I see a lot of people I know in that relationship---Alisa and I, my sister Amy and her husband Wesley, and many others. We understand things that only people who really live their lives understand, and that connects us in a way that's hard to describe.

If you ever have time, go to the Franklin's Flying Circus page on Facebook and read Kyle's updates...all of them. Kyle's love for Amanda and love for aviation come through in every one, and you'll bawl your eyes out. I'm not afraid to admit that I did often. It hits close to home. It resonates. It reminds me why I do what I do and why I love the woman that I love. It makes me grateful that I grew up at Ball Airport on Saturdays and wondered why the other kids didn't get to go to fly-ins.

That thought process is starting to really help me shape what my calling is in aviation. I want to keep it grass roots, keep it a family activity, and keep it about passionate people who don't meet strangers. People like Kyle and Amanda Franklin do it through airshows, and I want to capture that passion in what I do. And make people feel it. That's going to require me to "stay put" for a while, maybe a long while, as a flight instructor, and I couldn't be more excited or feel more convicted. What I do, and how I want to do it requires every once of a person's being. I'm game.

So now I get it. I can explain that weird pull, in context. I did not know her beyond our Facebook friendship, but she was no stranger. If you're the kind of person to whom that makes sense, I have a calling for you.

Amanda Michelle Franklin


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