The other day, we were discussing magazines, writing, flying and other major food groups of life, and I referred to the kind of wordsmithing I've always done as "Gee-Whiz Journalism." From the quizzical looks generated, it was obvious that the phrase was apparently made up, and it made no sense to anyone but me. That seems to happen a lot.
To me, the term "Gee-Whiz Journalism" means the same as "Gee-Whiz Aviation, Gee-Whiz Autos" and gee-whiz other stuff. These are identified as such because they possess some sort of energy factor that occasionally squeezes the old adrenal glands, causing a, "Gee whiz!" or something considerably less PC to pop out involuntarily. They're objects, activities and concepts that are laced with an above-average amount of excitement and, for that reason alone, a lot of us are attracted to them. Other folks, probably those with more common sense, don't give those kinds of pursuits a second thought, something I had never really considered.
For decades, I had assumed that pilots, regardless of what they were flying, were all enamored of unique, high-performance machines. I figured that the appearance of these birds, which often reek of gee-whiz class, would automatically suck people to them. Then, I unwittingly taxied into a local Bonanza fly-in, where I looked like a Martian arriving at a PTA meeting, because I was flying Aviat's rendition of the super-classic clipped-wing Monocoupe Special.
This is an airplane that has so much pure gee-whiz oozing out of its pores that it looks positively evil. With its pugilistic, chin-up stance, tiny tailwheel and even tinier windshield, it appears to be challenging the world, "Come, on, I dare you! Just try to fly me!"
Who can't see themselves as a 1930s, Smilin' Jack character when flying something like that? That's why I was crestfallen, heartbroken and almost insulted that when a meeting broke up, a couple hundred Bonanza owners drifted past the zaney-looking little bird, and not one person even turned their head to look at it. Not a single one!
Apparently, not all of those who fly are in it for the gee-whiz factor. Some of them fly because they enjoy the utilitarian aspects of airplanes: They actually use them to go places! What a concept. They didn't look at my borrowed bird because it looked more like it was going to pick a fight than take them somewhere. Huh! Who'd a thunk?
From time to time, the utilitarian aspects of airplanes actually do weevil their way into my thoughts, e.g., it would be nice to go wafting off over the far horizon to see my kids or something. But then I remember how frustrating cross-country can be, because I see so many things below that almost drive me to land on a nearby road so I can go look at them. Which is probably why when I think about cross-country airplanes, the type I consider generally has a higher gee-whiz factor than the normal A-to-B bird, and speed isn't always part of the equation.
Cross-countries done the way I like them means being down in the dirt looking at interesting stuff, and a helicopter would probably suit the mission better. However, I don't consider them, because I don't want the support headaches. I want to own the airplane, not have it own me.
So I think more in the line of big tires attached to little airplanes with big motors: birds that can make a runway out of a raunchy dirt road, a pasture or a short piece of semi-flat desert. A homebuilt Bearhawk or Patrol would be great. Or a Petersen 260 SE or Katmai (the perfect compromise). Or maybe a Husky on 26-inchers.
If thinking pure, high-altitude cross-country, I tend to think of a gee-whiz factor that's rooted in class, and that means a round motor. My ultimate choice would be a 195 Cessna (which I've owned and loved) that has been upgraded to an M-14 Russian radial (360 hp) or a 985 P&W (450 hp). Here, we'd have machines that aren't only outfitted like a limo and can carry more people and stuff than I really want to take with me, but they sound sooooo good!
And with those engines on that airframe, they wouldn't only look and sound good, but at altitude, where superchargers really do their number, they'd go like stink! Of course, Staggerwing prices are down considerably. Ditto the big engine Stinson Reliant series. Hmmm! There's that round-motor thing again.
And then there's the mix of cross-country and aerobatics, a definite gee-whiz combination. As it happens, some of the best aerobatic airplanes, like the Extra 300L, are actually reasonably good, fast cross-country cruisers. Even a Pitts S-2C can haul the chili cross-country, except of course, it can't haul it very far. However, a Siai-Marchetti S.F. 260 is the hands-down winner in the aerobatic, cross-country arena. Nothing else comes close when it comes to down and dirty gee-whiz aviating: fast, sexy, aerobatic!
It's a given that, eventually, we all have to "settle" for something that's less than ideal: That's just part of life. So, yeah, I have a Spam Can or two in my acceptable list of cross-country airplanes, the top one being a straight-tail 182. Probably a '58 or '59. With 8:00 x 6s on all three wheels and a Texas Skyways 285 hp conversion under the hood. Well…you really don't expect me to leave out the gee-whiz factor do you? And neither should you. That's where the spice in life comes from.