Thursday, April 1, 2004
A world away is as near as the next key stroke
An e-mail that I received said:
Report, can I gain the necessary drawings for independent building given plane PITS. Is it Beforehand thanked for answer,
Whaaat? Is this some sort of new, cyber disguise for a Viagra ad? I get upwards of 150 e-mails a day, so I skim through them in a pretty ruthless manner. I’ve developed the quickest “delete” finger in the West. But this one caught my attention. I glanced up at the e-mail address. It was, indeed, Russian.
In the first skim, I thought I was reading the sentence backward, but, as I studied the words, I finally figured it out: He wanted to know how to get the plans to build a Pitts Special. I grinned and fired back a short e-mail with the URL for Steen Aerolab’s Website. They sell the original Pitts drawings.
In a few minutes, I received this:
Very grateful for letter!
Much interesting on given put. Beside me whole night ahead of!
Respectfully yours, Mihail
I tried to imagine who this person, Mihail, was. In my mind’s eye I saw him in a dark room. A furtive figure glancing both ways as he stroked the keys. Maybe it was a library. Maybe a closed office. On the other side of the globe, he was tapping out a message to a world far outside of his own, and what was he asking? He didn’t ask if I knew Britney Spears (the universal third-world question to an American). He didn’t want to know if I could send him black- market Levi’s. No—he wanted the plans to build an airplane. And not just any airplane, but the little red monster I share my life with, which has affected so many other lives.
“Beside me whole night ahead of!” He was going to keep the new information next to his bed. I love it! Absolutely love it! Pure enthusiasm at its best. Love it!
I don’t pretend to understand what is going on in former Soviet Bloc countries these days, but you can’t help but wonder what it’s like to pop up out of the murky waters of totalitarianism into the sunshine of freedom. All of a sudden, you have to look for a job, rather than having one given to you. You have to decide your own future and wrestle with so many decisions that effect your very survival. This is an entirely new experience and, a decade later, they still haven’t really gotten a handle on the process. If this e-mail is any indication, however, there are folks over there who have more similarities to us, their once-feared enemies, than differences.
Also, according to the short e-mail, it would appear that Mihail is one of those who have decided that freedom has three dimensions, not two. On top of that, his definition of three-dimensional freedom has two wings, not one.
I find it amazing and more than a little heartwarming that a world away, both geographically and politically, the love of edge-of-the-envelope airplanes has formed a bridge between two total strangers whom governments once said should hate one another. I’m not certain how Mihail got my e-mail address, but it doesn’t matter how it happened, only that it did happen. My address popped up on his screen, he started typing and, seconds later, two strangers became less strange. How bizarre! How wonderful!
Mine was the “duck and cover” generation. We knew, for a fact, that the goal of every single Russian citizen was to come over here and occupy our country, but only after they nuked it into the Stone Age. It’s obscene to think that, as grade- schoolers, we accepted nuclear-attack drills (even our parents thought that hiding under a desk would protect us) in the same way as fire drills. We feared, hated and mistrusted an entire population. And they did the same. Governments can be wonderful institutions, can’t they? It was a weird, twisted time.
If you look at my homework notebooks from that time, you’ll find that two themes fill the margins. There are lots of notes about how to escape into the woods during the Russian occupation, and these are separated by lots of drawings of little biplanes. The Cold War eventually disappeared, but the little biplanes didn’t, and it would appear that Mihail had a similar experience. The hate for one another evaporated in the hard light of truth, but the biplanes lived on.
So, even as I’m typing this, somewhere on the other side of the world, a man, Mihail, young or old, I don’t know, goes about his life. Is he married? Does he have children? How does he make his living? Is he tall or short? I don’t know and probably never will know. But, I do know one thing: He likes flying machines. Even more than that, he likes the same kinds of airplanes that I do and that speaks volumes about him. I know little of his life, but his simple request tells me that we would, undoubtedly, become friends, if we were to meet. You can’t share so many of the same feelings about flight and not become friends.
And here’s an absolute fact: If the Internet had been invented in the 1950s, the Cold War would’ve thawed immediately.
Build biplanes, not bombs. Peace, dude!
Budd Davisson is an accomplished aviation writer and photographer, CFII & A, aircraft owner and builder. He has authored two books and lectured at the Smithsonian and NASA’s Langley Research Center. Check out his Website at www.AirBum.com.