A Reality Check…the Best Prize of ALL!

Anyone from my old blog may remember that I am batso-crazy-pants for airplanes. No. Seriously…I love them. Especially the “two-winged variety.” 

How much?  Well…let’s just say that even though I was a “normal kid” in every other way, including being a good student, a musician, an above average athlete, and one of the “popular kids in school,”  I had a secret, that almost nobody but my immediate family knew about.  This is no joke.  My father, who was usually one of my biggest fans, and nicest guys ever, actually used to shake his head in disgust whenever he saw me “dressed as my alter-ego.”

But I didn’t care…I knew where I was, and who I was, and what my mission was…and nobody was going to talk me out of it.


“Engine check, and contact?” yes.  “Bundled up for the weather over the Western Front?” Yes. Flight jacket, leather helmet, goggles, extra layer of clothes and a scarf…jeans tucked into high laced boots…gloves…and a constitution that can ignore the weather in any condition when I’m in hot pursuit.

Within minutes, I have joined my squadron on a “search and destroy” mission that even if successful…will likely cost the lives of one of my bunk-mates. I know the stats…nearly 80% of everyone who went up in one of these things died. Even Richtofen…but not until he had sent more than 80 of my comrades to a fiery death.  But it has to be done. We are fighting to save France and the Free World from the Bosch! And today, may be the day I get my certified “double ace…” I only need one more, and there is activity reported over the Rhine. Pull back the stick…climb high into the sun where it is hard to see me coming from, when I spot them…I can get my first shot from my trusty Spad XIII, before they know what hit them…as long as there isn’t one of them lagging behind to clean up the stragglers. And just to get my nerves in order…I pull and accelerate…executing a beautiful “Immelmann Turn” that sets me high quickly into the clouds and on may way toward Verdun.”

Except that I’m not really in a plane.  I am really sitting on a lawn chair, on top of my parent’s antique Railway Express cart, in full, authentic, WWI garb…my hand clutched to a “Plumber’s Helper” plunger that I have rigged with a bicycle handle-grim, and a firing pin made of a ten-penny nail…twisting and turning to watch my back, or dive forward upon my target…on missions that could last an hour or more in real time…as my family cringed in horror and confusion.

For almost two full years, after reading the amazing autobiography, “I Flew with the Lafayette Escadrille,” by a surviving member of the same band of intrepid American WWI flyers, I was obsessed…and flew missions regularly.

My copy…along with a clipping of Eddie Rickenbacker’s passing…

Much to my parent’s dismay…this was a regular Saturday activity from the time I read all 335, action-packed pages of Parson’s book, found out that my two great uncles were WWI veterans, and had devoured every book, and movie available…capped off by seeing the amazing “Blue Max,” on of the best WWI action movies (with a little tawdry kissing and nudity), the summer before I started Jr. High.  I was hooked. My imagination took flight…and thankfully for my Dad, stayed for the most part, in the backyard of our house on 116th Place.

Being a WWI pilot was a lifelong dream of mine. I know. I kinda missed it by about 70 years.  But, I could have been one of the GREAT ones!

Oh. Except for the REALITY CHECK I got the first time I went up in a bi-plane with a real live “Barnstormer.”

Since I was old enough to build models…or collect memorabilia… I have collected…and built…and surrounded myself with models of all sorts of WWI planes. My “Man Cave” is LOADED with all sorts of models, figures, lead soldiers and more books on WWI than you can imagine.

But, back the the Reality Check…
I didn’t actually get to fly in a real vintage bi-plane, until 2011, when a “Stearman Fly-In” event happened at a small local airport in Cresswell.  The grounds were loaded with Stearman’s of every make and model, and loads of other vintage planes as well.  There, right next to the parking lot, was the sign, “Biplane Rides – $75.”

“You have to go!” says “she who loves my child-like excitement in all pursuits of trains, planes and vintage automobiles”

What you have to understand, is that a 1929 Curtiss Wright Travelair E-4000 open cockpit biplane (powered by the reliable 220hp Continental Radial), is actually huge, and very “modern” (from the 1930s) compared to the smaller, more dangerous, and very experimental WWI planes. But, knowing that it was as likely as close as I would ever come…I jumped at the chance (sans my vintage goggles, and head gear).

As we taxied up the runway…then finally reaching air speed as the pilot pulled back the stick, I admittedly started giggling like a little girl…and then may have “puppy-tinkled” a bit as he dove hard to the right, to circle out the airport’s flight path.

Did I mention that I actually had confessed to wanting to be a WWI pilot to the REAL pilot as we were preparing for takeoff?  No?  Well…I am pretty sure he was going to give me “my money’s worth” toward my dream.

I would love to say that I was at ease, and “ready to take the stick” (this is a training plane with double sticks).  But, the fact is, we never got to anything remotely acrobatic, before a million images of WWI disasters began flying through my head…wings coming off in a dives…engines bursting into flames from bad wiring, and bar-b-cuing the pilot, who never wore parachutes due to their bulkiness in the cramped cockpits.

Don’t get me wrong…it was BEAUTIFUL up there… but REALLY loud…and very windy in the open cockpit (go figure), and actually pretty cold for a day in the 90s.

Within a few minutes, I came to a very clear conclusion. “Those guys were nuts!”
The real WWI planes took far more skill, as they were far less stable. They were ALL experimental…every model pushing the boundaries of design and common sense. AND THERE WERE PEOPLE SHOOTING AT YOU!!! From above, the ground, and who knows where else?

It was an amazingly clarifying experience that did little to daunt my enthusiasm for the planes…the people the flew them…and those who preserver them.

And ironically...the VERY BEST PLACE TO LIVE OUT WORLD WAR ONE AVIATION...is actually about an hour from Alissa, and I am guessing is another place she hasn’t been to that “Uncle Pat” is going to have to take Riley to see! (Note from Alissa: Nope, never been.)

I have a FULL POST on the utterly mind-blowing “Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome” on my CrankyOldGuy.com blog.  It doesn’t do it justice…it is absolutely mind-numbingly amazing...and testament to someone more WWI obsessed than I am...by a factor of about a zillion.

So…to bring this full circle, back to TSTO (you knew I’d get there at some point…right?) I am OVERJOYED to get the Biplane in our game!

No…it’s not a recognizable WWI plane…or even a plane that fully breaks out of the “Cartoon” version of every biplane ever drawn (kinda looks like a pregnant Stearman). But it lands and takes off and FLIES (which is more than the automobiles and other vehicles do in the game).  I am a happy camper…and you can bet that Norbert is going to be doing some serious flight time in my game.

And just in case there is any doubt as to my obsession… here are a few pics of my “man cave.” And no…this isn’t even a smidge of what I have. I. Am. Obsessed. 

Here I am at Old Rhinebeck

My model of an Eindecker Fokker D1

Vintage German flats from WW1. They made them flat to conserve on lead for the war effort…but kids have to have their toys…right?

Sopwith Camel Prop replica, the Hindenburg (I know…wrong war) and a Sopwith  Camel…in the foreground is the blimp I used to ask Deb to marry me. Lucky me…

Fokker DR1 Triplane and a Spad XIII. My two favorite WWI planes.

Albatross along with some vintage tin toys from the era.

A small sampling of mixed collections…from authentically garbed figures, to the “Aces of WWI” cigarette cards from that era.  Roul Lufbery   and the “Hat in Ring” squadron with Eddie Rickenbacker after the US joined the war. 

Where have you put YOUR biplane?  Are you as excited to have it as I am? (not likely). Do you want to see a picture of me in my WWI flight gear?  (not gonna happen).  Let us know. We LOVE to hear from you! (but please…no “Old Fokker” jokes!).


43 responses to “A Reality Check…the Best Prize of ALL!

  1. Wow… this post was like a journey back in time for me.
    I fell in love with WWI airplanes thanks to a video game (no, it wasn’t “Red Baron”, it was “Wings!”) and since then I’ve been learning about them and about the pilots that flew ’em (I’m quite good at recognizing planes just looking at the silhouettes).

    P.S. And… YES! I bet I’m as excited as you to have a biplane in TSTO. :-p

  2. Event ended and nowhere was the Wright Brother’s plane from the Zeppelin episode.

  3. Patric – when you first re-joined TSTO, I read your post and at the end, I understood. That post earned a lot of respect from this 42-yr old Canuck. Over the past 5 years, I’ve had a lot of bizarre experiences that have made me look at life and the world in a much different light (good and bad), but most importantly, in a much wiser way.
    Then, you posted this post, and my friend, you have found a whole new level of respect from this Canuck. From the earliest age, I wanted to be a pilot, and the first female Canadian Forces Snowbirds pilot, even going in to the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. Sadly, life threw me one of those unrecoverable curve balls, and my dream was not to be. But it hasn’t stopped my love of flight. (But I will say that one of my cousins flew with the Snowbirds…..)
    If you are ever in Ottawa Canada, I would recommend going to the National Aviation Museum (on Aviation Parkway no less), for some amazing sights. Or if you’re ever near Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, I’d highly recommend the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum – ironically where Hubs and I had our first date!
    My hat is off to you Patric – please keep up your wonderful enthusiasm, delightful posts and joie de vivre. Thanks so very much – from a grateful MapleMama in Saskatoon Canada 🇨🇦

    • Thanks so much!
      Two weddings coming up…then perhaps a bit more travel!

      So many wonderful museums.

      • wordsleadmeon

        Just want to second the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum suggestion. From the sounds of this post you’d be a kid in a candy store there. My whole family went, oh, 15 years ago or so. My brother gleefully climbed in a few of them and even my still-in-single-digits at the time little sister (there’s a sizable gap) had a good time. She’s always been the type to get bored very quickly at places so I think that says a lot. Definitely worth the trip if you’re ever in the area. They even have one of the few Lancasters that can still fly. I know, wrong war but I’m weirdly proud Canada has one.

  4. Don’t all planes have at least two wings……great read Paris though initially I thought you had confused your younger self with a certain beagle.

  5. Cool collection! And if you are ever in my neck of the woods, there is an awesome museum in Oberschleissheim, near Munich, the “Flugwerft Schleißheim”. It’s chock full with all sorts of planes, located at the old hangars where the bavarian pilots were stationed 1912-1919. And just a bit further south, in Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance, is the Zeppelin Museum, where among others, the Hindenburg was built.

  6. OrdinarilyBob

    Great read Patric!

    Personally, I too have a fondness for WWI (and WWII) aircraft and related material. Not an obsession, nor any collections, here, and I hesitate to say some of my appreciation swerves into fantasy (Steampunk, and the like…), but I do like the occasional air show, book, poster, etc. Similar with vintage cars and trains. I’ve not been in a biplane (perhaps, some day!), but have been on an authentic/vintage steam locomotive and it was a great trip!

    There’s just something to be said for the “Low Tech” Technology that appeals to me.

    Anyway, I’ve noted Blue Max and will check it out. Thanks for the recommendation and for sharing your obsession with us!

  7. talon8770 // rick m

    I got the same goodyear blimp un built in its original box right from goodyear store down the street . Its gotta be at least 40 years old I was a kid when I got it ( acutally I got two one was built the other was saved). From sometime in the mid 70’s.

  8. Great post, love your enthusiasm. Don’t you also have a love for and collection of model trains?
    One question….who dusts all that stuff in your man cave? LOL!

  9. Hey Cranky

    Being an ex of the Womens Royal Air Force, I too had a most wonderful and also terrifying experience in an old relic of days gone by.

    I was given the opportunity for a “joyride” in a Lancaster Bomber during my service and after about an half an hour of flight which was the wonderful part, I was told to prepare for landing, and was invited to go in the forward gunner area for landing, I was so excited, I was told I had to lay down on my stomach, face first as this was the only way to enter this tight space.

    I did this and the pilot made adjustments for landing, it was so exciting as we were coming into land and then for the terrifying part, it was like a roller coaster thrill as the ground was fast approaching and I realised just the sight of how low I was to the ground, face first, with the landing strip just below me, i wanted to shut my eyes but not wanting too either and seriously hoping the carriage was down as in that position all I could see was the ground.

    It was the scariest and most wonderful experience of my life and talking to the pilot, this was how they used to initiate the gunners on their first mission.

    I will never forget this joyride.


  10. Story time:
    My grandfather is a pilot enthousiast who build with his friends his own aerodrome since there wasn’t any where he lives. And before lung cancer hit (thanks to asbestos and tobacco) he used to fly at least once a week in his “Foxtrot papa [privacy] yankee” plane (he also build it himself). He couldn’t take me with him unless a friend lended him a two places plane but I always loved being up there.
    Bottomline, my grandfather, his plane and smaller planes in general are awesome. And I love that we now have an actual plane and one person able to fly it in the game.

  11. Thanks for this beautifully-nostalgic post. Actually, thanks for this entire site. Sometimes it’s necessary to be reminded why I play this game: because it’s fun and because it reflects so many varied interests. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the “oh man I need more donuts for this new thing/character/building” loop instead of appreciating the game for being a game.

    Also, wow you look exactly like your cartoon avatar!

  12. Thanks for the great post Patric. It made me think of the old Snoopy cartoons. He flew a Sopwith Camel, was shot down behind enemy lines and had to sneak through barbed wire and no man’s land to a French farmhouse or something. Anyway, my dad would play Snoopy vs. the Red Baron on his guitar for us kids, and we loved it.

    I have never visited any WWI specific aeronautic museums, but have seen the Smithsonian exhibits, as well as Kitty Hawk, the birthplace of American aviation. All of it was thrilling, and I am glad you got your dream realized…even if it didn’t exactly match the fantasy.

  13. thanks for the story and the pictures. F4U corsair fan here 🙂

  14. OMG, you made me remember all of the hours I spent playing an old computer game called “Knights of the Sky.” It was a WWI fighter plane simulator, where you’d be given missions like knocking out enemy balloons that were spotting troop movements or helping take care of a German ace that was plaguing the skies. Now, it may have been the high(er)-tech version of what you did, Pat, but I too was obsessed at the time. I started looking for books and reading them multiple times front to back. If I went outside to play (because I spent too much time on the computer), I’d ride around on my bike and pretend to be a WWI ace. Never been up in a biplane, but I’d love to give it a try!

    Now I need to go and see if GOG has it for download… 🙂

  15. I’ve loved this whole event too. Having grown up on air force bases with a pilot father and uncle, anything aviation is my gig. Truthfully, I’m more about the modern fighters I saw up close most of the days than the old ones, but I loved reading this post and your enthusiasm. Last year I got to see the last flight worthy Lancaster bomber take off from the Ottawa airport, and it was just unbelievable. We knew it was in town for a ceremony but didn’t know it was flying out that day. My son and I were headed up the road directly behind the airport on our way to hockey when we heard the roar, and we could see it absolutely huge, even still far away. That might actually be the coolest thing I’ve ever seen…..and I’ve seen some pretty neat stuff.

  16. Flying missions in the backyard…greatest read ever. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Chris Anderson

    Awesome post! I love your collection and share (although without quite the level of commitment you have) your enthusiasm.

    Have you ever visited the Museum of the US Air Force here in Dayton? If not, you’re missing an exceptional treat for anyone, but especially for an aerophile. We have a huge WWI aviation collection, including a Spad XIII painted in Eddie Rickenbacker’s livery, a Sopwith Camel, as well as a couple Fokkers. We also have Captain Rickenbacker’s Medal of Honor and other personal effects.

    If you’re ever in the Dayton area, I’d be happy to meet you for a tour (if you can stomach hanging out with a middle aged Buckeye fan). Best of all, the museum is FREE!

  18. How many times have you seen the best version of Dawn Patrol? The one starring David Niven, Basil Rathbone and Errol Flynn? my favorite WWI movie.

  19. I have no idea how accurate it is historically but as a fellow WWI and WWII / History enthusiast, you may want to watch Flyboys if you haven’t already…..I think it’s about the Lafayette Escadrille. Has James Franco in a serious role….I liked it! Although ‘The Red Baron’ is changed to I think ‘The Black Falcon’ or something like that…either way….good movie….I’m more of a WWII nerd, but history in general…and while I have serious acrophobia keeping my feet firmly planted not on an airplane I do love them…

    As a fellow Oregonian, I have to ask: have you been to the Evergreen Aviation Museum? I have once….circled the place for 5 hours in awe..

  20. I know you said “no Fokker jokes”. Read b/4 discarding. Scene -an old Norwegian pilot at a ladies club meeting. Here goes. Ya there I vas in my spitfire flying over Germany when dese two Fokkers (all the women gasp) the hostess stands very quickly and says the the group no, no ladies Fokker was a manufacturer of German airplanes durring the war, so now all the women relax. The Norwegian pilot continues, ya der I vas when these two fokkers in there Messerschmitts came up behind me…

  21. Baldy Sinclair

    Hey, Patric, fun post! For the record, I’m sitting in my office in Rhinebeck, NY a few miles from the Aerodrome right now! Having lived here my whole life I have been there, of course, only once!

    • Howdy Neighboreeno! I’m just south of Po’Town. I love the Aerodrome and have been numerous times, not only is it cool to see the old planes on the ground, they put on a GREAT show, low alt. passes, simulated gunfire/explosions, the works!

  22. Ha! This post actually made me laugh out loud!! I love trains planes and automobiles.. in that order… my fondest memory was goin to rangely lakes Maine with my grandparents for summer vacation at the cabin every year. I was 10 years old at the time and no TSA is sight to my grandfather let me go on a seaplane ride. I was sooo excited!!! We went out on the dock my grandfather stayed behind so I could sit as copilot. Wooo!!! We took off from the lake lookin at all the landscapes. We we got high enuff the pilot asked if I want to pilot the plane?!?? …. whaaat?!? Mind blown…. of course I did. He kept a watchful eye on me. And he had full controls on his side as well… but I grabbed the yoke and was flying a plane!! A few ups and downs but then I kept it steady. It was the most amazing time in my childhood. Could barely see out the window. But hey how much traffic is up here anyway?!? I piloted the seaplane for a few minutes more then he took over the controls. He took me around the lake for a Birdseye view of the land. We finally came in for a landing and I couldn’t stop talking about for years. You’re post brought all those moments flooding back. Ty… Vaughn.

  23. MLG Blue haired lawyer

    That is very interesting that you have a love of aviation. I loved Norbert and I thought the air plane he came with was really fun and a nice addition to the airport. I love India Jo so I thought Norbert was full of life and a fun addition to the game.

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