Flying Journal - Dreams of Alternate Aircraft

I hate getting up early, but after a month without flying, first because of my brutal schedule at the end of last semester, and then because of the unusual winter storm we've all been struggling through, I didn't mind too much getting up to take off at 7 am for a flight with my instrument student and MPA member, Raymond Plaster, to Downtown Kansas City Airport.

We flew the entire route at 3000 MSL to avoid stronger headwinds aloft. The snow in the morning twilight made the trees, rivers and farms along the route stand out vividly. Then, as the sun began to rise through the clear air behind us, a warm orange light crept across the landscape, first gracing the tops of the highest trees and buildings, then moving down to glance across the entire land below us, bringing out the three-dimensional relief of the rolling plains and watersheds of western Missouri. It gave a dream-like golden glow, like a Norman Rockwell painting, to a lovely little town ahead of us. Then I realized it was Appleton City, one of my favorite rest-stops (for Casey's chocolate chip cookies) when I drive to KC, but a view of it I had never seen before.

As the route changed in my mind from that dawn dream view to the familiar route to KC, my sleepy brain realized that in another couple hours, one of my students, Randy Long, would be started out on that same route, which had been assigned as his cross country flight plan, for his Private Pilot checkride.

As we returned home later in the day, (of course the northwest wind which we fought on the way north had naturally died down) I considered that I had flown 10 hours this week, but it had been a month since I had flown before, when I also flew 10 hours the week ending Dec 3.

In that dark month of snow, ice, and no flying, I pondered that Snow Bluff picked the wrong year to close their ski business. I also did a lot of reading, including John McPhee's, The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed, which chronicles a visionary's attempt to create a workable lighter-than-air craft that could cheaply haul heavy loads like a dirigible, but with an airfoil shape that would go farther and faster, like a flying wing.

Rather unstable at first, they finally got a model to fly. Then the man-carrying "Aereon 26," not large enough to hold enough helium for lift, managed to fly many successful test flights in 1971. After spending a couple million dollars of investors' money, nothing came of it.

Until I read McPhee's book, I had not known how successful the large airships had been. In thirty years of commercial service, the only fatalities resulted when the Hindenburg exploded in New Jersey. (The US would not sell helium to 1937 Germany, so it was filled with hydrogen). McPhee speculates it would not have ended that industry (despite the 3000 degree burning hydrogen that consumed the entire ship in 34 seconds, only 13 of 97 aboard died!) were it not for the coincidence of a hysterical reporter who was in position to report it on live radio.

I also pondered, when it is so much fun--and time and space "compressingly" powerful--to fly our "old fashioned" airplanes, why there is this perpetual fascination with other ways of flying.

But then I recalled my own venture (and adventures) in gyroplanes, probably representing this same impulse to take off vertically but to fly horizontally with speed and efficiency. I thought about the billions of dollars and now dozens of lives invested in the tilt-rotor concept of the Osprey.

Then the latest copy of the much-improved American Flyways, the US Pilots Association publication, arrived with a cover story about another hybrid idea, the "spinwing." Remote controlled models have already flown. The craft sits vertically, on its finned nose, for take-off. The top half of the cylinder rotates on bearings so its wings can rotate to counter the thrust of the helicopter-like rotor on the top. Reaching altitude, the craft pivots 90 degrees, a pusher prop begins propelling it, the rotors stop turning and change pitch to become stabilizers, and the wings change pitch to provide efficient horizontal lift. You'd have to see the pictures, but it makes pretty good sense and saves the inefficiencies and complexities of fuselage drag, anti-torque control and retreating blade stall of helicopters.

I also realize I now fly part-time, when I want, with whom I want, mostly for fun, and for me it is an escape from my own "real world" of daily job and bills, and allows me sometimes to ignore the real economic and time powers--and problems--of aviation.

It's expensive enough to operate an airplane (I paid $3 a gallon for 100LL in Louisville in November!) but the real expense lies in the capital expense of runways. Consider why the military wants VTOL. Half of war-time bombing is probably to put airfields out of business. Most of my students dream of a runway of their own or dream of gyros, to fly from home with a minimal runway. Some have already bought land, or live on a residential airpark.

I won't mention names, but consider the perpetual struggle at Springfield (now flowing over to Bolivar and Ozark) between the interests of GA and commercial and political powers, the six-year waiting list for hangars, and the struggle for FBOs to survive.

I'm sure there must be some deep-seated human desire to fly care-free like a bird, but getting my head out of my own fantasy world, I can see that it would indeed be a big deal (and a political, land-use planning, and air traffic control nightmare) to be able to take off in a fast aircraft without depending on a runway system (already subsidized by governments and heavy taxes).

Dream high, and fly safely!

P. S. Oh, yes, when I returned from my "dream flight" to Kansas City, I was pleased to learn that Randy Long had become my thirty-second student to pass his checkride. Way to go, Randy!

Fly safely, for all your hours and holidays!

Flights Logged on 1/7

My four logbooks show no entires on January 7th since I began flying in January 1943. That's 58 long years without a flight on this day. [Editor]

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