Proficient Pilot

The good, bad, and ugly

September 1, 2000

When I was a flight instructor working my way through college in 1956, a P–51 taxied onto our ramp. Its pilot was Vance Breese, who I believe was the Mustang's original test pilot. During a conversation with him I eventually learned that he had flown more than a hundred types of aircraft.

Wow, I thought, that's quite a variety of airplanes, and it prompted me to check my logbook to see how many I had flown. At the time—July 24, 1956—I had checked out in 18 aircraft types. The first was an Aeronca Champ, and the most recent was a Globe GC–1B Swift. One hundred types seemed an impossible goal, but for reasons I could not then explain, I felt challenged and made it a point to fly as many different aircraft as opportunity would allow.

I am still an avid "collector." Some might even say that I am driven. Thus far, my list contains 263 types, and my current goal is to attain 300. The most recent addition to my list is a Holste MH.1521 Broussard, a 1950s French six-place machine that is similar to a de Havilland Beaver but does not perform quite as well.

As the years marched by and the list grew, I began to realize that I had flown some aircraft that I might not recognize even if I was to spot them clustered together on a ramp. These included such scarce aircraft as the Lombardi FL–3, the Morelli M–100S, and the Warwick Bantam.

Being somewhat obsessive-compulsive, I decided to put together an album containing a representative photo of each aircraft type that I had flown. Just locating the needed photos was more challenging than I had imagined.

When Valerie Walker, then the art director for Plane and Pilot and now a captain for Delta Air Lines, heard about my album, she offered to illustrate the title page. It is a colorful cartoon showing me in an airline pilot's uniform and an airplane standing on its tailfeathers in front of me (belly to belly). My arms are embracing the fuselage and its wings are returning the hug. The title? My Affairs as an Amorous Aviator.

Some may wonder what my incentive is to fly such a large variety of aircraft. For me, every flight in a new airplane is an adventure, an opportunity to sample a designer's talent and ingenuity—some obviously have more than others. While we applaud some designs, such as the SIAI-Marchetti SF.260, one can only wonder what inspired the manufacturers of others to risk the embarrassment of bringing their craft to market. A few are so underpowered that a prayer should be included on their before-takeoff checklists.

Although I have never flown an aircraft I did not like, I certainly have liked some more than others. There was, for example, the Transavia Airtruk, a Volkswagen Beetle lookalike that required nose-up trim as airspeed increased and vice-versa. (The airplane was properly loaded but had a poorly designed CG range.) I had to be unusually careful not to crash-land the Airtruk with flaps down because this prevents the passenger door from opening.

Flying the Broussard mentioned earlier is a joy, but I learned that unless my left forearm muscles were straining mightily during the landing flare, I was not pulling hard enough to prevent a bounce.

Sampling a wide variety of aircraft gives one a chance to compare handling qualities, performance, and systems. It helps us to know what is possible in an aircraft design and to distinguish between the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Determining which aircraft is a new type (to me) and which is not can be subjective. For example, I regard the Cessna 120 and 140 to be the same; there is insufficient difference between them to regard each as a separate type. Similarly, I consider all models of the Cessna 172 to be a single type. On the other hand, there is such a significant difference between the Cessna 182 Skylane and the Wren 460 Beta STOL (a modified 182) that I consider them to be different types. The latter is equipped with a reversible-pitch propeller, a canard-elevator combination on the nose, and spoilers for roll control. These convert an airplane that already has good low-end performance to one that is dramatically better (albeit expensive).

I also regard all Piper Comanches as a single type except for the Comanche 600. When AirResearch replaced the Lycoming engine with a 600-hp Garrett turboprop engine (flat-rated to 400 hp), the machine assumed a startlingly different personality. Sadly, this rocket was never produced.

Most aircraft systems are intuitive and user-friendly, but there are exceptions. The proper combination of levers that must be positioned to operate the landing gear of a DC–3, for example, was seemingly concocted by Rube Goldberg.

Reflecting on my first flights in some aircraft returns me to the memory of where I flew them. For example, I rented a de Havilland Chipmunk in Bristol, England, and recall flying it over the white cliffs of Dover and low over the English Channel while imagining that my wing-mounted twin 50s were armed and at the ready. Ghostly images of the Normandy beaches emerged from the morning mist as the Chipmunk and I dashed to assist in freeing France from the grip of the Hun.

If you have an aircraft that you think I might not have flown (there are thousands), one that needs to have its wings washed in the wind, don't hesitate to let me know. Contact me on my Web site (

Topics Pilots