The Places You'll Go
Kill Cats, Don't They?
Baron - 4
Baron - 3
Baron - 2
Baron - 1
the Cassutt - 2
Up in WV
Rico - 2
on the Roof
must seem to newcomers in our world of aviation that the folks,
who flew in back in 'the day', must be conspiring to weave a
universal tall tale about how aviation was in the old days. They
then take turns telling it while the rest of the codgers nod in
In these times of six and seven dollar
avgas and single engine piston aircraft pushing three quarters
of a million dollars, it's hard to visualize a world of forty
cent fuel and affordable airplanes that factories were pumping
out like popcorn. To imagine a time when we had the freedom to
fly just about anywhere in almost anything, and when almost
anyone who was working could afford an airplane of some kind.
To those of us who lived and flew during those halcyon
days, it only seemed normal. Most of us thought that these times
would continue always and that they were only our due. It also
seemed to us, me anyway, that aviation was probably about the
same in every progressive country and I really had no idea what
an oasis of aeronautical privilege we were living in. But in the
mid seventies I had a jarring epiphany. I was able to view of
our amazing aviation scene here in the US in comparison with
other countries. I was able to get a glimpse of aviation in the
UK and Europe close up, and see firsthand that it was mostly for
the wealthiest. If you can stand a circuitous route to the point
I want to make, I'll tell you the story.
In the spring
of 1976 I was taking a break from flying and spending several
weeks touring the UK. I was doing this while morosely
contemplating the wreckage of my life, since my little world of
aviation had imploded that winter. Alas, my rascally accountant
had made off with the corporate purse and my flying service had
tumbled down around my head. Airplanes, employees, hangar, shop,
charter service and Piper dealership were all gone, and my
ability to make a living along with it. The banks had swooped in
and also taken everything that was worth anything that I owned
personally and I had little left other than my clothes.
was pretty apparent at that point that I had reached one of
life's mileposts. I needed take stock and decide what the rest
of my life would look like, and I needed a change of scenery to
help me do that.
About that time a check showed up
from my bank, the proceeds of a closed out and forgotten
account. I remember holding the check and thinking that it
wasn't enough to change my new and admittedly horrible
lifestyle, but it was enough to take a trip overseas to think
about things. Without hesitating I purchased a round trip ticket
to London and started filling my back pack with the things that
I would need for a month of travel.
I hitched a ride
to JFK with my friend Jake who had a charter there in the King
Air and caught my flight to Heathrow. Soon I was in London and
hiring a car, as they call it there.
was given a Morris Mini, which looked much like the present day
Mini's; except it had wheels so small it made the car resemble a
roller skate. I had seen pictures of them, but never had seen
one for real, and certainly not one with the driving position on
the right (wrong) side. I stowed my gear in the boot (trunk).
I set off with great apprehension, steering from the
wrong side of the car, shifting with the wrong hand and
flinching as cars came at me from the wrong side of the road.
Roundabouts were completely mind boggling and I approached each
one with fear and foreboding, very appropriate feelings for the
melee that they proved to be. After a few miles of this and
several shots of adrenalin in response to cars coming around a
turn on 'my' side of the road, I stopped to fill up the gas tank
at a petrol station and attendants swarmed the tiny car. With
the tank full, fluids checked and preflight complete, I stepped
in the office to settle my bill.
Back outside I jumped
back in the car and stared dumbly at the dash board in front of
me. The steering wheel was gone. Looking to my right I found it,
smugly attached to that side of the car. I looked to my left and
saw three smiling petrol attendants giving me their unblinking
attention. Thinking quickly, I opened the glove compartment and
sorted through the documents there, as though I were looking for
something vitally needed to continue driving. Clutching the
owner's manual I jumped out of my seat and ran around to where
the steering wheel was waiting for me and quickly sped away,
blushing to my hair roots.
Well into the
Northumberland country side now, I was delirious with the
richness of rural England. Stonewalled farms swam by as the two
lane road twisted across the rolling landscape. As I rounded a
bend and came out upon a long valley I saw a runway. Not just a
runway, it was an aerodrome, right out of WWII. There were
Quonset Huts and aging hangars, their interiors guarded by
shadow, and crossing Emerald runways that lacked only landing
Spitfires to convince me that I had traveled back in time. As I
pulled into the parking area one of the strangest and largest
gliders that I'd ever seen was being pulled from one of the
hangars by a half dozen or so smiling men.
introduced myself as a pilot from the US and much to my
confusion, became a sort of instant celebrity. They gathered
about me in a circle and asked many questions about what flying
was like in the States, one after the other submitting their
inquiries, as if this was a very polite interrogation.
they showed me their glider, which was the only aircraft on the
aerodrome. It was a two place, side by side affair, the open
cockpit of which resembled a 30's English Roadster and you sat
in it up to your ears in airplane. The wing span was enormous,
at least 60 feet and as I looked it over they asked me if I'd
like a ride in it. Yes, of course I would, so it was trundled
out to the runway, hooked to a double decked bus which had been
converted into a winch and off we went for a short but memorable
silent tour above green.
Their hospitality didn't stop
there; I was to operate the winch so I did and logged what would
be my career's only winch tow. When it was time to say goodbye I
shook hands with these men, whose fervor for the sky humbled me.
One of them said to me, 'Oh I wish you'd been here last week; we
had a powered airplane come in'.
never forgot that statement and how it brought home just how
privileged those of us who love the sky have been in this
country. My sorrow is how much less accessible US aviation is to
the average person these days. My hope is that we never arrive
at a place where a visit by a powered airplane is an event.