FLYING HAS changed. Frankly, it's improved quite a bit, with nicely enclosed cockpits, cabin air heaters, instrumentation that reduces the risk, and airplanes that are so forgiving in nature that anybody almost can be taught to fly one. The tricycle gear, with its drive it on-drive it off feature, spring-loaded landing gear, and the elimination, virtually, of the old control stick, have brought added comfort and safety to general aviation.
Whether you plan a Sunday afternoon of local touch-and-goes, or a long cross-country, You know that everything will be predictably secure, and you may even chance a few simple aerobatics, just to taste some of the thrill once again.
But flying was not always thus. Recently, this writer had the opportunity to climb into the cockpit of a Nieuport 28, circa WW-I, and realized that he had been born too late. The basic (!) instrument grouping, the fuel-control valve that looked like the handle on a steam radiator, and that glorious control stick Oh, that control stick! There's just something wonderful about an open cockpit with a windscreen, and a wing above the below. You sit at a ridiculous angle, nose high, and crane your neck. Those old birds didn't fly themselves, they needed pilots. And as lumbering and gawky as they were on the ground, that's how gracefully they flew in their own element. That was flying, buddy! Wood and fabric, none of your fancy aluminum and rivets!
| Photograph by Beech Aircraft Corp. |
Today's kids don't know beans about "flying wires" or "cabane struts" or "interplane struts." (Just asked my own kid if he knew what flying wires were, and he thought it might be the name of a new rock group!)
The pilots have changed with the times, too. Just look at yourself the next time you go out to fly your bird. Probably wear a business suit, tie, and maybe even an overcoat. Hah! What in the name of Orville Wright ever happened to helmets 'n' goggles'? Who bothers with leather leggings or puttees? And riding breeches and leather jackets? Hah! How many of you modern-day fly boys know how to squint romantically into the sun? Hah! Another lost art.
Pilots Gawd, what glamor that title used to contain -- used to be swashbuckling heroes, and now most of' em buckle when they used to swash. Remember, when you were a kid, and used to visit your local airport? How you used to sit around and listen to the hangar bums talking flying! How they used to extend their hands, palms down, and fly their hands to demonstrate maneuvers? Remember the thrill of watching a biplane grease in a landing, and taxi up to the hangars. How you watched every move the pilot made as he ambled up to buy a Coke?
I watched recently, as an open cockpit biplane landed at my own home base. It suddenly took me back, for the pilot clambered out of the cockpit, and pulled off his helmet and goggles. "Say," I said to nobody in particular, "they don't build 'em like that anymore!" The guy next to me said, "Thank goodness, they don't." And he walked over to his brand-new chromium 16-cylinder Nurkle, unlocked the door, adjusted his seats, hollered clear" and started the engine from inside without having to prop it. This clown actually thought he was FLYING an airplane. He wasn't doin' anything but driving a car with wings.
I can't believe that I'm the last of a dying race. Someplace, on this planet of ours, there MUST be a handful of pilots who grew up too late to taste the thrill of real flying. Pilots who LIKE the noise of an engine. Who LIKE the feel of a leather helmet.
Maybe the manufacturers know what they're about, designing modern lightplanes with the woman in mind, but Amelia was a woman too, wasn't she? Maybe you can't sell ail airplane unless it has interior fabric that matches the paint job. Maybe a modern plane NEEDS a cigar lighter on the dashboard. That's right -- DASHBOARD! All that subdued lighting and padding can't be called an instrument panel.
But come on Beech, Cessna and Piper, c'mon you guys! Give it a try, just one time.
Make an airplane for me, and see how many more there are like me.
Here's what I want.
Give me a plane with a dragging tail, and I want a skid, not a tailwheel. And I don't want one of your confounded steerable devices, either. I want to turn with throttle, brakes and rudder.
Take out that tom fool control wheel that mysteriously vanishes into the panel. I want a stick again, and a throttle that fits in my left hand. I'm not going on any trans-oceanic flights, so get rid of those fancy instruments, too. Gimme an altimeter, an air speed indicator, a turn-and-bank, and a simple engine group. I want to feel the plane, and hear the engine. So I don't need a tachometer, either. I don't need a rate of climb indicator, cause I finally figured it out. When I see the ground coming up, I know I'm going down, and vice-versa.
Give me two wings, so I can get some maneuverability.
And mostly, please, give me an open cockpit. Let the feel the wind and rain in my face. In fact, better make it TWO cockpits, 'cause a lot of my friends are going to want to go up with me.
Don't make my plane too forgiving, either. If I goof and get into some trouble up in the air, I don't want a cop-out excuse like My frammis cut out. I want to be big enough and honest enough to say I goofed.
I want to he a pilot when I grow up.
Sure, I know; a heated cabin lets me fly when it's cold out. And the enclosed cabin keeps the rain off, too. But I do most of my flying VFR, when the sun is shining. And if I DO get cold and wet while I'm flying, boy! Will I be able to spin yarns back at the office the next day!
I know there are homebuilts that meet my requirements, and don't think I haven't investigated these, too. But I'm a pretty sloppy builder-type, and wouldn't stake my life on anything I slapped together.
Oh, it'll happen someday. I'll get hold of the plane of my dreams, and maybe you'll see me barrelling into your own airport. Watch out for me. Look for a two-winged bird with open 'pits. When you see that fat, middle-aged pilot step out with leather jacket, riding breeches, puttees, and helmet and goggles, step up, introduce yourself, and buy me a drink.