Hangar Talk

The story behind the story

August 1, 2002

Every old airplane has stories to tell. The de Havilland Beaver featured in " Beaver Fever," page 118, by Michael Maya Charles is no exception. It starred in the 1982 wilderness adventure movie Mother Lode starring Charlton Heston and Kim Basinger. In the opening scene, the script called for a Beaver floatplane to deliver the film's stars, Heston and Basinger, into a placid, high mountain lake early one morning. But the water was a little too placid — in fact the mirrored surface made it nearly impossible for the pilot to properly judge his landing height. In a horrifying display of spray, the Beaver struck the water long before the pilot thought he was anywhere near the glassy surface, cartwheeled across the lake, and sank. Amazingly, the tough old bird shed no parts and no one was injured. But the Beaver needed a complete rebuild. The unplanned crash scene was subsequently written into the movie's script. Ah, show business. "Cut! That's a print!"

Aircraft accidents by their very nature are disturbing events that cause pilots to question, "Why?" Some, like the Learjet accident near Lebanon, New Hampshire, that author Vincent Czaplyski writes about this month (see " Turbine Pilot: CFIT Claims a Lear," page 133), are especially haunting. It was fraught with both human drama and human error. "As a New Hampshire resident, I closely followed the long-term search for the missing aircraft," says Czaplyski. "It wasn't until I interviewed many of the background players and delved deeper into the facts of this mishap as an aviation consultant that I truly began to appreciate its root causes. I found lessons aplenty for all of us in this unnecessary tragedy."

When researching airparks for this month's article on fly-in communities ( " A Place to Land," page 125), Associate Editor Julie Boatman was struck by how many are truly communities and not just subdivisions that happen to own a runway. "As the pilots prepared to launch the Veteran's Day formation flight mentioned in the story, one pilot got word of the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in Jamaica Bay, New York," she says. "After a period of heavy silence, each separate flight quietly briefed and the mission went forward. The pilot community felt very small at that moment, with the gathered pilots not knowing before they took off whether the accident had been yet another act of terrorism or simply a tragic mishap. It made the flight, which was to honor veterans and inspire with aviation the children at a local school, all that more important to accomplish safely and with pride. Fly-in communities can foster this kind of camaraderie and make events like that Veteran's Day flight possible."

"What does that antenna do? I just bumped it a little with the scrub brush; can't I just glue it back on? Is that gook around the antenna normal?" These are just a few of the questions fielded by Paul Novacek in his years as an avionics technician and flight instructor. "Many pilots are confused as to which antenna is connected to which radio and how to care for those odd-shaped wonders. The belly of an aircraft often can look like an antenna farm, but each antenna is shaped for a specific purpose." Novacek's article " Catch a Wave," page 87, unravels the differences between each antenna and its function.