Friday, April 23, 2010

Beginnings 1931 - 1944

When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return".                                                          
                                                     Leonardo da Vinci

The first time I remember looking up in wonder was the evening of November 23, 1931, when I was almost 7.  That was a lot closer to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln than to that of Barack Obama, only a generation after the Wright Brothers first flew, and 3 years after Charles Lindbergh turned the eyes of the world skyward with his solo flight from New York to Paris.   Perhaps my favorite comic strip then was Buck Rogers, in which space ships traversed the heavens.   That evening my parents  stopped our car and woke me.  We got out to watch an apparent space ship just above us.   A huge dark cloud obscuring the moon and some stars, it was outlined by white and red and green lights, and accompanied by the thrumming of 8 motors as it  slowly passed perhaps 400 feet overhead.   It could fly that low because there were no TV tower obstructions then.  As newspapers reported the next morning, the apparition was the Navy's  USS Akron (ZRS-4)then the largest of the world's several dirigibles.   It could retrieve, launch and store 5 small planes, and had a range of over ten thousand miles.

Actually the eyes of small boys and adults alike were turned skyward whenever an airplane was seen above.   Accounts of daring aviators distracted adults from the Great Depression, and we boys built model airplanes from balsa wood and tissue paper.

In 1941 I bought the first REAL airplane I ever saw for sale, a tiny Aeronca C2 with tattered fabric, displayed on a lawn.  I could afford the $300 price because I had graduated from delivering newspapers for a penny each to a $75-a-week night-shift job while I attended full-time high school, building Liberty Ships for the coming War.   I was 16, but met the minimum age of 18 by lying about it.    I sold the craft two years later, and never flew in a small plane as pilot or passenger until 1950.

In all the accounts below, distances are in statute miles and speeds in statute miles per hour.   That was current in 1950, but now nautical miles are standard.   Vintage instruments and modern aircraft instruments show that calibration difference.

Segment headings below, like "Beechcraft Musketeer", refer to planes I've owned or others I borrowed or rented that were particularly important to me.   Those mentioned but without headings, that I've owned or  rented or borrowed briefly, and piloted or co-piloted are: Piper C-2, Ryan Navion, Piper Cubs on wheels and floats, Cessna 140 on skis, Pitts Special, Bushmaster (clone of the Ford Trimotor).