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.
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!).