"I fly for food," was Dick Rutan's good-humored and modest response when I thanked him for flying the photo flight. Translation: "Even though my aviation career has been full of amazing adventures, such as, oh, a record-setting, nonstop, unrefueled, nine-day flight around the world in the Voyager, a plane my brother Burt designed on the back of a napkin, I'm happy to do all kinds of flying, because I simply love flying." We had just landed after an hour of low-level maneuvering to capture a Cessna Corvalis and Citation Mustang over the rolling surf of the Pacific Ocean, and Rutan's agreeable comment reminded me of why we all fly—because it's fun!
The owner-pilot of the Mustang on our photo flight, Bill Maudru, is a relative newcomer to aviation, but with a passion just as strong. His logbook reads like a page from this issue's buyer's guide: In only four years, beginning with flight training in a Cessna Skyhawk, he progressed from a Stationair to a Grand Caravan and a single-pilot type rating in the Mustang.
Our 2012 buyer's guide covers something for everyone, from light sports and singles to twins and turbines. Budd Davisson goes off-airport into the world of adventure flying, with tales of pilots landing on extreme runways or creating their own airstrips in the remote backcountry. Longtime pro musician Marc Lee knows a thing or two about sound; he gives an overview of headsets that includes more than 50 models. And you may be surprised—what's considered the "best" may not be the best for your specific flying environment. In Marc's open-cockpit Great Lakes, a passive noise reduction headset actually does a better job at protecting him from the loud environment.
Another classic biplane in this issue is the venerable Boeing Stearman. Mike Hanson's story is a bittersweet one; after his good friend passed away, he inherited a beloved 1943 Stearman. Today, Mike runs a business giving biplane rides over the scenic Southern California shoreline in addition to flight instruction. Senior editor Bill Cox, also based at Compton Airport, joined Mike in the radial-powered plane for an idyllic, low and slow (max cruise is 90 knots) excursion off the coast of Rancho Palos Verdes. They flew gentle, sweeping aerobatics; Mike's Stearman has ailerons on the bottom wing only, and rolls at 50 degrees per second.
While the world rotated upside-down and lumbered back to upright through Bill's barnstormer goggles, Patty Wagstaff could have completed seven rolls in her Extra 300 with time to spare! Speed is no stranger to this air show star, who whips around the aerobatic box, pulling 10 G's, pushing 8, and performing inverted ribbon cuts a mere 20 feet above the ground at 150 knots.
Recently, she zoomed her Mini Cooper along Interstate 10, from the West Coast to, well, Texas, where a highway state patrol officer "made her day." For the remainder of the (slower) drive to Florida, she pondered the differences between flying and driving, not just as modes of transportation, but as symbols of freedom.
In her new monthly column, "Let It Roll," Patty shares her observations and philosophical meanderings in and beyond the air show arena as a flight instructor, life adventurer and experience-seeker. In upcoming issues, look forward to many exciting—and sometimes quirky—aviation journeys. Let it roll!