Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mechanical Addiction

Don’t even try to explain it

I'm not sure if it's a good or a bad thing, but a couple of months ago, I hit 5,000 hours of Pitts dual-given (most of it in the pattern). For me, this is a milestone of sorts, and it got me thinking back. It was early 1971 when I climbed over the side of N22Q, Curtis Pitts' prototype of his then-new two-place biplane. It would be my first flight in a Pitts, and I had no idea how much that flight would change my life. Or that 41 years later, I'd still be flying one.

It's actually pretty amazing the way some inanimate objects can affect your life in so many ways. It could be a P-51D. Or a '57 Chevy. Or an 1873 Colt Single Action. Or a knucklehead Harley Springer. It could be any of a number of different machines that have a special aura that draws people to them and renders them helpless, or at least senseless (as in having no sense).

I can't explain why some machines suck so many of us in like a tar baby. They seem to possess an indefinable mojo that creeps into your soul and becomes part of it before you even know it. Actually, now that I think about it, inanimate objects like these could be considered a form of narcotic. And they certainly aren't inanimate, at least not as the term is defined by the general population.

I'm certain I don't need to be talking about this subject because it's the kind of thing a person either totally understands already or they can't imagine what we're talking about: You either "get" it or you don't. And explaining won't help. It is, however, logical to ask how an inanimate object, like an airplane, can possibly have such a strong effect on what path your life takes.

First, bear in mind that what follows isn't a learned explanation. It's just wild guesses based on my own not-too-limited experience with machine addiction in different areas.

One of the strong attractions appears to be the sense of community that surrounds some machines. This varies from machine to machine, but when the contraption is one that flies, the community can be more properly defined as "family," not just "community." This is what gives rise to type clubs, like the rabid Bonanza Society or the hyper-rabid Swift Association. There is, however, a subtle, hard-to-define difference between Bonanza "enthusiasts" (I hate that term because it trivializes what a near-obsession is), for example, and the Pitts community. The Pitts community is different from the type clubs because a lot of us don't seem to be joiners.

For some indefinable reason, there's no Pitts type club. To a man/woman, each Pitts pilot, whether they fly competition or not—most don't—is a vaguely separate entity. Sort of a loner. While they share a lot of the same tastes, they're as diverse as any group I've ever encountered. Wildly diverse, actually. At the same time, there are very distinct common traits that hide under sometimes deceiving exteriors.


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