“We’re out of control!” yelled my father, grabbing the wheel.
“No we’re not.” I replied, grabbing it back.
Ignoring my father wasn’t easy, as he’d been a pilot since before I was born.
He bought his first airplane in 1949, a tiny Aeronca Chief. Soon afterward he traded for an Ercoupe, which he landed in a Missouri farm field to wait out thunderstorms. Pilots don’t do that sort of thing anymore.
“We’re in trouble! I’m taking over!”
“Dad! Please believe me. We’ll be okay…”
Next came a triple-tailed Bellanca Cruisair. “Most efficient airplane I ever owned,” he claimed, “150 mph on 150 hp.”
He earned his instrument rating in that Bellanca, using just a headset, compass, and turn-and-bank indicator. In those days pilots flew airways defined by Morse code — “a” indicated one side of course, and “n,” the other. On course aviators were treated to a steady tone. No frilly moving maps, back then.
My dad’s one metal bender occurred in that Bellanca, which had retractable landing gear manually extended by many turns of a crank…
For those who aren’t familiar, that 1908 sci-fi work is renowned for having presaged modern aerial warfare.
Although the book’s protagonist and his personal story are forgettable (if not downright annoying), Wells is remarkably prescient in predicting the advent of world war, coming 20th-century German and Japanese aggression, and the terror rained down by aerial armadas in World Wars I and II.
And if you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to do battle from dirigibles, or fly a flapping-wing aircraft, here’s your opportunity to find out!
You’ll need to hold your nose through parts of it, but the author’s broader observations and predictions are quite fascinating.
Those who have read it, or choose to, let me know what you think!
The book is available in various print editions, or you can download The War in the Air for Kindle, FREE from amazon.
Usually the skies between Flagstaff and Palm Springs are brutally blue. But this would be no normal journey. En route to AOPA Summit, Jean and I launched our Flying Carpet over a dense silvery blanket of prescribed-forest-fire smoke.
When rare swirling clouds cloaked the primeval and sunbaked Mojave Desert it seemed we were treading not mere miles, but the surreal mists of time. And in a sense we were. For at Summit I met someone connected to my hazy beginnings as a pilot.
Wandering the exhibits, I discovered Morey’s West Coast Adventures. Longtime instructor and pilot examiner Field Morey is legendary for his cross-country instrument-training courses. Field is now based in Medford, Oregon.
But when I was a young University of Wisconsin student he operated family-owned Morey Field, just across Lake Mendota from Madison’s Truax Field where I learned to fly. Introducing myself, I explained how as a newly minted pilot, I’d often flown over Morey Field. We reminisced about examiner Claude Frickelton, who delivered my private pilot check ride.
“I arrived a year later Field, but well remember seeing blue sky through windows of the bombed-out building when walking to class. And the bombing’s ringleader, Karleton Armstrong, still dominated both the local news and anti-war T-shirts.”
“Then I have a story you’ll appreciate…” said Field…
Legendary Arizona seaplane instructor and pilot examiner Joe LaPlaca of Lake Havasu City passed away last week. It seemed appropriate to remember him by sharing my column about training with Joe back in 2000. We’ll miss you, Joe!
“’Need help?’ yelled the guy in the boat.
“’No thanks,’ I replied, not daring turn my head too far, for fear of falling into the water. We were adrift in the middle of the Colorado River, me balanced precariously on the seaplane’s float, face down, pumping water out of the forward float compartments.
“Twice we had tried to take off, unsuccessfully, given today’s calm wind and glassy waters.
“‘You must not have emptied all the water from the floats,’ said examiner Joe La Placa, finally, ‘get out there and do it again.’ Great way to start a checkride, I thought.
“I was here to earn my single-engine seaplane rating from La Placa Flying Service at Lake Havasu City, Arizona…”
Reader Sergio Schaar wrote to ask, “What inspired you to call [your airplane] the Flying Carpet?”
Years have passed since I last explained it, so I thought it appropriate to share my very first Flying Carpet column that tells the story behind the name.
“Magic! The whining of the gyros gave way to mystical drums and rhythmic chanting, crazily mixing images of flight with those of ancient and sacred ceremonies. Chills traveled up and down our spines-we could scarcely have been more astonished if we had arrived by flying carpet.
“Adventurer Richard Halliburton would have appreciated our situation. After hitching ’round the world by freighter and camel in the 1920s, he became obsessed with visiting remote Timbuktu, a legendary mid-Sahara caravan stop. The way to get there, he decided, was by The Flying Carpet, a black-and-crimson Stearman that he bought and shipped to England in 1931.
“With pilot Moye Stephens guiding the Stearman, Halliburton traveled the ancient world to exotic places such as Baghdad, the Dead Sea, headhunter country in Borneo, and, yes, Timbuktu. During the course of his journey he enthralled princes and paupers alike as he took them on their first airplane rides.
“It’s tempting to look back at those times and think we missed the real adventure of flying. Well, we didn’t. Flying was out of reach for all but the wealthiest people in Halliburton’s day, so most people could enjoy flying only vicariously through his writing.
“Today we live exploits that Halliburton’s readers could only dream of — piloting our own flying machines on our own adventures.
“On this particular day, our flying carpet had taken us to a mystical and exotic place in the New World — Window Rock, Arizona, capital of the Navajo Nation, where Jean and I had invited friends to spend the day exploring the annual Navajo Nation Fair…”
Top photo: LeRoy Peterson’s black and crimson Stearman biplane, similar in appearance to Richard Halliburton’s Flying Carpet. Lower photo: Miss Navajo Nation at the Navajo Nation Fair, Arizona, as detailed in the column.
Richard Halliburton was a renowned travel writer in the 1920s-30s. Among his most popular works are Richard Halliburton’s Book(s) of Marvels, and The Royal Road to Romance. His lesser-known 1932 book, The Flying Carpet, tells the story of his adventures flying North Africa, Europe, and Asia in a 1929 Stearman biplane.
These weren’t first flights in the sense of first solo, first glider flight, or first balloon flight, although such milestones were memorable each in its own way. Rather, these were moments when I discovered, fresh and new, the pure joy and freedom of flight.
The first of those experiences occurred in a banking turn, flying a Cessna 150 over the cracked ice and windblown snow of Lake Mendota, near Madison, Wisconsin. I don’t remember if it was as a solo student or new private pilot — it doesn’t matter — but at that instant I escaped for the first time the nagging traumas of becoming a pilot and the consuming minutia of doing what pilots must do to remain aloft.
Instead of fearing the terrain as a threat to be avoided, I noted with fascination sailing iceboats and fishing tents among which I’d skated between college classes in the winter. While skating I’d experienced the fast-moving iceboats only as flashes of color passing me by. From the air, however, I could see their forward progress across the lake, and the paths left by their runners for miles behind.
The pressure ridges that blocked my progress when skating could now be seen in their entirety — cracked and buckling they formed huge rational patterns stretching for miles like spider webs across the lake. I soared and gazed, soared and gazed, and knew that day for the first time that I’d achieved the ranks of birdmen and would never be cured.
My second “first flight” occurred on a warm autumn day just short of 30 years later — three weeks and two days after twisted souls hurled peaceful airplanes against skyscrapers. At first the grounding of all things flying seemed appropriate, in homage to those who had died and revulsion to the dark twist taken during the normally beautiful act of flight.
For days afterward I walked our quiet street, gazing up in wonder at a tranquil sky never before seen devoid of airplanes — at least in my lifetime. I’ll admit to enjoying the peace of it for a time, and finding myself content with the quiet and solitude afforded by empty skies. But when airliners were again released to fly my mood changed, and I was soon overwhelmed with jealously…
Cross-country odyssey during the Air Traffic Controllers strike
“Four-four-Mike, I’ve been calling you for two minutes!” I was climbing with Jean and two buddies out of Salt Lake City International Airport, in a Cessna 210. Frantically, I apologized for missing the controller’s calls.
“There are mountains out there!” he chided, “What if you missed a vector?”
There was little danger, as we were in good visual conditions. But missing radio calls on an instrument flight plan is inexcusable. Why such a blunder? While another pilot flew, I was attempting to monitor two frequencies while filing a flight plan four hours in advance of our final leg home to Lafayette, Indiana.
The reason? Three months earlier, in August, 1981, President Reagan had fired 12,000 air traffic controllers in the ugly wake of a strike…
Photo: Santa Catalina Island’s “Airport in the Sky,” California (Chris Dejongh photo). See more photos here. Thanks to all the pilots who provided “Airport in the Sky” photos this month, including Chris Dejongh, Barry Knutilla, and Bill Rote −and extra kudos to Diane Myers, Gabe Wisdom, and Jeff White, who flew dedicated photo missions to help me out!