A few weeks ago, I was flying from L.A. to the Bay Area for an afternoon with some friends in town from New York and Toronto. As we were cruising up the Salinas Valley on autopilot (the airplane, not me), listening to some tunes pumping from my iPod, my friend Hillary piped up from the backseat. “Hey, can we do a stunt?” she asked with a big smile. “A stunt?” I replied, amused, as visions of the late Bobby Younkin gracefully rolling his red-and-black Beech 18 flashed through my mind. Then I thought about Tex Johnston’s legendary barrel roll of the Boeing Dash 80, the prototype for John Travolta’s choice of personal jet, the Boeing 707. Then, I thought about the scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation where Chevy Chase, I mean, Clark Griswold, falls asleep at the wheel of his ugly, green, wood-paneled station wagon. After sleeping for who knows how long, they bounce off a few guard rails, and Clark and the Griswold family wake up and start screaming as they careen down the road.
During the millisecond it took the little electrical signal in my brain to spark across one of my bad-idea synapses, I thought about these things and about what doing a “stunt” in a Cirrus SR22 meant. “Gosh, Hillary, I don’t think that would be such a good idea,” I said. A number of years back, I used to compete in aerobatics on the entry level, so I know that executing a perfect, 1 G barrel roll takes some pretty good skill, but done right, the plane will never even know it’s inverted. Ever see that video of Bob Hoover barrel-rolling his Shrike Commander while pouring an iced tea? Botch the roll, however, and pretty quickly, you’ll wind up in a situation where spilt tea will be the least of your problems.
Apparently, something like this happened recently, and a Beech Baron carrying five souls broke up in the skies over Georgia. When I read the preliminary accident report for this tragic event, I asked NTSB Debriefer columnist Peter Katz to comment on this in a feature, “The Irresponsible Pilot.” There’s a real lesson to be learned this month on page 54.
For years, Plane & Pilot has run features with titles like, “12 New Year’s Resolutions,” “10 Bargain Classics” and “10 Easy-To-Own Planes.” Aviation, to me, is also for dreamers, and it’s inherently aspirational. If you’re anything like me (and you don’t want to be, trust me), airplanes appeal to you on some transcendental level that only the Dalai Lama can explain. Actually, one of the major tenets of Buddhism is purity of body, speech and mind. In our September issue, we ran a feature that seemed to garner more reader reaction than any other in the time I’ve been here at the magazine, “10 Sexiest Airplanes.” I knew it would touch a nerve, because the planes we included were our choices, and aesthetic sensibilities vary widely. I can’t tell you how many letters and e-mail messages we received calling us crazy for not including this plane and instead including that one. Nevertheless, all the planes featured exude an aesthetically pleasing contour and purity of line and body. Such purity appeals to, and permeates, the mind, and may often leave us speechless. And yes, we should have included the P-51 Mustang on our list, though I really do love the Spitfire’s elliptical wingtips. Vanilla, chocolate? Whatever, it’s all good.