Wednesday, April 21, 2010

CessnaS 140 and First 170A: 3/1950- 6/1951

In the spring of 1950 I learned to fly, courtesy of the GI Bill, a government schooling subsidy for those who had been in uniform in the recent War.  For each lesson my young instructor, Roger Atwood, would fly his nearly new 2-seat  Cessna 140, registered as NC2189V, up from Northhampton to a tractor path in a corn field near where I lived and worked for a non-profit youth travel organization in Northfield, Massachusetts.   My lessons were ecstasy alternating with despair.  I loved flying, but it seemed Roger was constantly reminding me that I was OK in one dimension while courting disaster in the other two.   However, after almost 8 hours of instruction I was launched on my first solo flight.   Takeoff and cruise are simple, I thought, but I could wreck the plane on landing.   That first flight was supposed to last just a few minutes, but it was suddenly acutely clear that nobody could help me, and I could delay the landing only until the two gas tanks were empty.   So I landed.   It was the best landing I would make for quite a while, as first solo landings are reputed to be.

Now I was allowed to risk the airplane and my own neck in solo flight, but the law required I have 33 more hours, alternating with and without the instructor, until I could take up passengers and risk their necks.  I was taught new skills, like landing in cross winds and high winds, and flights to other states.  I was also taught how to recover from tailspins, which after years of controversy is no longer taught to new pilots.   I was taught "pilotage", the deceptively difficult skill of navigating by comparing a map with the view outside the windows, necessary because many planes lacked radios and GPS hadn't been invented.   Twenty years later, in 1970,  I first flew a plane with a radio, and thirty years after that, in 2000, I first used a GPS.

That Cessna, like most of the planes I've flown since, was a "taildragger", meaning the third wheel to support the plane on the ground is at its tail.   The great majority of modern small planes have the third wheel under the nose of the plane, making it much easier and safer to land at most airports, but very difficult to land on very rough or soggy fields.   So most Alaskan "bush" planes are taildraggers.

A mere 2 1/2 flying hours after I made that first solo, in the 2-seat Cessna 140,  Monroe Smith my father-in-law at the time, let me solo his nearly new Cessna 170A,  registered as NC9115A, which had 4 seats and more horsepower.   The previous link shows the small differences between the 170, the 170A and the 170B.

Monroe was an intrepid risk taker, as allowing a very inexperienced pilot to fly his nearly new airplane costing the price of 5 new Fords would indicate.  He crashed it that year on a very tight Northfield pasture on which I landed successfully 31 years later  in another  Cessna 170A.
Crash 01.jpg
Roger Atwood took these photos of Monroe's 1950 crash & gave them to me in 2001
Crash 02.jpg
After Roger tested and issued my "private pilot ticket" I had 44 1/2 hours of dual and solo time in my logbook.   When I quit flying 53 years later I had accumulated another 1453 hours, but only one more rating: seaplanes.   That meant I was supposed to fly only in VFR (Visual Flight Rules) conditions, and not in IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) conditions.   Some of us amateur pilots maintain that it's safer for us not to be IFR rated, because that would tempt us to fly legally in weather that our lack of recent IFR experience might make dangerous.   But like most VFR-rated pilots of long standing, sometimes I've edged into conditions where I could have used an IFR rating, if I had had the necessary "blind flying" instruments.
I flew no more until I went to Luxembourg a month later.