I rarely write about an article in AOPA Pilot, but this month's article " Sky and Canvas" was so fantastic I could not resist (December 2006).
The photograph on the opening spread is simply stunning. Although Pilot always has fantastic photos, this one is by far one of the best I have ever seen. My in-laws own and operate an old Fleet biplane and this image made me think of them immediately, and the wonderful flight my father-in-law, Pete Bayer, took me on last Father's Day. Although my Piper Cherokee 140 is a joy to fly, the open-cockpit feeling is something extraordinary and unique.
The entire article was a joy to read, and the online video made my day. Seeing biplanes low and slow over the heartland cornfields is a throwback to a time when our nation recognized and cherished the freedom and treasure of flight.
Thanks for sharing the magic of this very special tour, and for doing such an incredible job of capturing the feeling of the old biplanes and the special folks who fly them. You really did justice to this subject, and this article is an example of why I am always happy to find a new issue of AOPA Pilot in my mailbox.
Your article on the American Barnstormers tour was splendid and skillfully executed. Moving back and forth in time and adding history with such seamlessness are rare. It's nearly impossible to teach. Most writers employ subheads and boxes. It's simply rare for a writer to employ details down to the likely fate of the lost ball cap, yet know which details bring subjects alive.
The story resonated with me. At first the draw of barnstorming was the sheer newness and novelty of flight. Now it's the newness and novelty of aircraft that have long faded from popular memory. The FAA, always on the lookout for unbridled fun, wants to make these Part 135 operations. It probably wants folks to take off their shoes and be wanded as well. As I read your article I imagined someone setting up an airline-style security checkpoint as a gag. Problem is, it would not be funny.
Interesting story on the "new" barnstormers, but I have the real story on the original barnstormers. My dad was Duke Krantz, the original Diavalo, and lived to tell about it as the longest-performing wing walker with Gates [Flying Circus] and, yes, the stories were fascinating. It was not all glory and he watched as many of his friends were killed in crashes. As tough as it was, it sure beat all the airspace regulations we have to deal with today.
I just viewed the new AOPA Pilot Online section with the video and it was great. I especially enjoyed the segment on barnstorming. It made me recall the time when I was just a kid and hung out around the local airport at North Benton, Ohio.
I had just turned 16 and was offered a job by the airport owner to work during the summer and after school. Back then I was paid $20 cash and $20 worth of flight instruction each week. It was my starting point in a long and fun-filled career in aviation. Boy, did the owner make me work. I earned every penny, and by the end of the summer I was two-thirds of the way along toward my private pilot certificate.
" Christmas Tree Transport" was a great article, very interesting (December Pilot). The best part was the online video. It was very nice being able to watch the helicopter in action. Keep it up.
I enjoyed " Proficient Pilot: Christmas Tales" (December Pilot) as I do all the articles in AOPA Pilot. After reading the article and being left with the enticing cliff-hanger about the book The Shepherd, I launched into a search for it. I searched the bookstores, in person and online. Since the book is out of print, when found, it came with a fairly large price tag. I stopped by my local library.
It is a small and limited library, but there it was. A pristine hardbound copy for me to read, absolutely free! An easy one-day read, but unforgettable.
In those times when everything is not fine, you have those flashbacks to your instructor's comforting leadership, coaching you through the problem. I still hear my instructor's advice, guiding me now five years later. We keep in touch, occasionally; my last was to thank him again for instilling in me good piloting skills.
I may not read all of AOPA Pilot every month, but I read "Proficient Pilot" without fail. The knowledge that Barry Schiff has to impart, and the fascinating way he manages to do it, is invaluable. I'm writing to thank him for reminding me of The Shepherd. I purchased the book when it came out, and really enjoyed it. I hadn't read it since, and when he mentioned it in his column I immediately searched it out and reread it.
Frederick Forsyth's The Shepherd is a longtime favorite, especially at Christmas. In 1957 my 78th Tactical Fighter Squadron, based at Royal Air Force Shepherds Grove, East Anglia in England, was flying Republic 84Fs for the Cold War, sitting on NATO alert with nuclear weapons. Forsyth was an RAF Vampire pilot at the time, and his writing is authentic on control procedures and East Anglia weather. North Sea oil was still undiscovered, and each low-pressure area, crossing the Baltic, backed North Sea moisture into England's coal smoke for a definite flying challenge, day in and day out. Forsyth never exaggerates the weather, or oddly enough, formation flying — even with a ghost. Few modern aviators imagine the perspectives, or challenges, Forsyth portrays or the others he hints at. Although a ghost story, the conditions and tactics are very real. For my generation it's the best short story ever written. I would recommend another of his — not a flier's story but it's typical of Forsyth's craft: A Careful Man.
Barry Schiff writes: AOPA members seem to have gobbled up all available used copies of The Shepherd online at a decent price (members wrote they found price tags of $79 to $149 online for the book). May I suggest obtaining a copy of the book as read by Alan Maitland? The CD is The Shepherd and Other Christmas Stories. It is available on Amazon.com and sells for only $10.85. It is more than worth the price.
I enjoyed Steven W. Ells' article on pilotage (" Technique: Where Are You?" December Pilot). As a fairly ancient aviator — my first solo was in August 1944 — I have a fair amount of pilotage experience. I didn't fly an airplane with any usable navigation equipment until the late 1950s. There are a couple of things that I think could have been added to Ells' article. Since the advent of the interstate highway system, these roads make excellent positional references and are better than the traditional "iron compass." In the Midwest, one of the primary pilotage aids is the section line system — pick a section line that runs through your destination, intercept, and follow it.
Steven W. Ells' article "Where Are You?" should be required reading from time to time for all of us. Years ago when I was studying for my CFI, I showed up at the airport and my instructor said, "Tell me about navigation." I gave what I thought was a thorough talk about VOR navigation (that was before GPS) and ended by saying, "When you fly cross-countries, don't just rely on VOR navigation, but keep your pilotage skills sharp because someday you may need them." I felt pretty good until my instructor said, "Fine. Let's fire up and fly to X airport using pilotage." My pilotage on that flight was an unmitigated disaster and I hope I learned a lesson. Ells' article was a great reinforcement for that lesson.
In the January issue, " The Palm Springs Expo Experience," astute readers observed that the caption for the Twin Commanders on page 79 was, shall we say, a little ambitious.
As Walter J. Kaminski, AOPA 4368500, of Mayhill, New Mexico, wrote: "I was certainly impressed with the photo of the pair of Twin Comanches cruising down the street in Palm Springs. I would like to learn about what STCs were used to modify the aircraft. The turbo engines were ingenious! No worries about the possible demise of 100LL. It also appears the engine swap was extended to the wings and fuselage. Most likely to enhance the landing manners. It gives them such a 'commanding' appearance." Pilot regrets the error.
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